The Tenderfoot Hiker and the Ten Essentials
By Christina Hiebert (The Backpack Chronicles)
On a gorgeous evening, I joined Backcountry Women at Birds Hill Provincial Park to lead a speaking event about the Ten Essentials of hiking. First off, I want to thank everyone who came out. We shared a lot of laughs and learned quite a bit from one another. This event was a true testament to what can be accomplished when women empower women.
Each of us hike our own hike and what that means is we will all do things a little differently. The gear that we decide to carry will differ based on the trail we choose, our comfort levels, and how long we plan to stay. What should not change is that the Ten Essentials are covered in one way or another.
The Ten Essentials of hiking were created to answer two questions:
- Can you respond positively to an accident or emergency?
- Can you safely spend a night or longer on the trail?
Planning your route should be one of the first things that you do when deciding to go on a hike. Here are some questions and points to consider, even before stepping onto the trail:
- How much time do you have? Can the trail that you have chosen be completed in your time frame?
- Be honest with yourself about your endurance level. While it is amazing to move outside of comfort zones, safety should remain a priority.
- Always let someone who has an investment in you know your itinerary. This person needs to be able to act quickly and appropriately if you do not check in.
Navigation essentials to consider packing: detailed maps, compass (familiarize yourself with the basics of how to use, GPS based maps on cell phones or other handheld device such as a Garmin inReach.
Photo: MEC (www.mec.ca)
- SUN PROTECTION
It might seem strange to wear long sleeves in the middle of summer but clothing technology has come a long way with moisture wicking and cooling abilities. A bonus to a long-sleeved top for sun coverage is that it can also protect against bug bites and scrapes. Under Armour Heatgear is an example of the type of product that you should look for.
We also touched on the signs and risk of heat exhaustion so hikers knew what to look out for:
- Signs of heat exhaustion: Headache, dizziness, muscle weakness or cramping, and nausea
- Complications of heat exhaustion: this can lead to heat stroke and will become a life-threatening condition
Sun protection essentials to consider packing: sunglasses, sunscreen (don’t forget about your lips), hat, long-sleeved tops and bottoms
- INSULATION AND CLOTHING
We as Manitobans know that mother nature is unpredictable. It is easier to remove layers when you are warm than it is to add layers if you are cold, especially if you do not have them with you to being with. Plan for your layers to keep you comfortable 10° cooler than what the weather report is calling for. Did you know that hypothermia can happen even in the summer due to staying in wet clothing?
Clothing to consider packing: rain gear / poncho, extra socks, down or synthetic vest (keep core warm), merino wool base layer, hat, gloves (seasonally dependent)
Our cellphones can do everything, including to help us see in the dark. I personally choose not to rely on my cell phone for light because I want to save the battery. Bringing something to help you see in the dark, even on a day hike is essential because you never know if you will find yourself on the trail later than planned.
I prefer a headlamp to a flashlight so that my hands stay free. We also learned about waist lights from a fellow group member who trail runs.
Illumination to consider packing: headlamp, emergency mirror, compact lantern
- FIRST-AID SUPPLIES
There are many options for pre-made first-aid kits and they are a great way to get started. As time goes on, you can round out your kit to suit you personal or group needs (think about your pet too if they hike with you.)
When I personally venture a couple of hours away from home for a day hike, I bring along “tomorrow’s dose” of my daily medication. I am not a doctor, nor do I play one on TV but life saving medications should not be held back on in an effort to reduce weight.
First-Aid to consider packing: bandages, blister treatment, painkillers and anti-inflammatory, antihistamine tablets, water treatment tablets, Pepto-Bismol, antiseptic
Before heading out on the trail, hikers should familiarize themselves with the current regulations in the park that they are visiting. Hikers often share trail updates to local social media groups, so Facebook groups are a good place to start your research.
A fire can be an emergency signal and a heat source for cooking and staying warm so even if you are not planning on making a fire, having fire starter with you is an essential. The group talked about different types of fire starter including dryer lint, Vaseline on cotton balls, and a flint striker. In addition to carrying something to start a fire, hikers should ensure that they have a lighter (ensure it works before you leave 711!) and / or waterproof matches.
Fire related items to consider packing: firestarter of choice and waterproof matches / lighter
- REPAIR KIT AND TOOLS
Pocket sized multi-tools can be as robust or as simple as you chose them to be with numerous options available. Did you know that Leatherman has customizable options?
Above all, a small knife should always accompany you onto the trail, even if you just use it to open packages of food. You never know if you will have to use the knife to strip bark to make kindling to keep yourself warm overnight.
Tools to consider packing: multi-tool, knife, tape, needle and thread
“We pack our fears,” is a saying in the hiking community and for a very long time, I overpacked food for fear of starvation. Let’s be honest, I have a body that clearly loves cheese so it will take me awhile to whittle away from starvation (and by then, SAR will be on their way to me - thank you Garmin inReach.) That being said, I still pack a no-cook option for an emergency when I day hike in case I do need to spend the night on the trail. I chose ones that are high fat with good nutritional value that my body needs to work to burn.
Keeping our electrolytes up while hiking, especially in hot weather is important to aid in keeping us hydrated. Salty and easy to digest snacks like trail mix and granola bars are good options.
Nutrition to consider packing: rations of choice and wholesome food to fuel your body well
We talked about the importance of not starting out on a hike in a dehydrated state. It is ideal to drink 16 to 24 ounces of water (about 3 cups) in the hour before you start hiking. When it comes to carrying weight, water is one thing that I do not skimp on. I know my body best and I carry a full 3L water bladder with me.
We talked about preventing dehydration and what to look out for:
- Drink water often before you feel thirsty.
- On really hot days, replenish and boost electrolytes through gels, salty snacks, or water enhancers such as MiO and Gatorade powders
- Signs of dehydration that you may notice while hiking: dry mouth and lips, headache, nausea, and dizziness. Also, be watchful of your urine color. If your urine is dark and you already have a headache, chances are you are well on your way to dehydration.
- Risk of dehydration: Confused, disoriented, fatigue
Hydration to consider packing: filter of choice and water bottle or bladder
- EMERGENCY SHELTER
Shelter is one of the most important elements during an emergency survival situation. It can protect you from severe weather conditions and exposure to the elements.
Emergency shelter to consider packing: bivy sack, emergency space blanket, and tarp
Bonus 11th Essential - Leave No Trace
There are seven principles to Leave No Trace. Here are a few topics that we talked about:
- Bear bins are not garbage cans. Pack your garbage out and do not leave food to rot inside the bins.
- Do not vandalize shelters and trees. No one cares that you love Johnny.
- Be considerate of other visitors-
- Let the sound of nature prevail and avoid loud noises including music and voices.
- Uphill hikers have right away when passing downhill hikers on the trail. Upward momentum is harder to get back when it is lost.
- Respect wildlife and do not feed them, not even squirrels. Feeding wildlife damages their health, alters natural behaviors, and exposes them to predators and other dangers.
- Respect fire regulations and bans when they are in place and only use established fire rings (unless in a survival situation.) Ensure the fire is out before you leave! Visit Smokey the Bear for more information on fire safety.
- Dispose of waste properly. To wash yourself or your dishes, carry water 200 feet away from the water source and use small amounts of biodegradable soap. Scatter strained dishwater.
- Deposit solid human waste (poop) in catholes that are dug 6 to 8 inches deep, at least 200 feet from water sources, camp, and trails. Cover and disguise the cathole when finished.
See you on the trail!