Hiking is one of the most accessible of outdoor activities. It can be done almost anywhere with very little specialized gear and almost no prior experience or training. Most every hiker learns their hike-craft by doing it and by gleaning knowledge through direct experience or by talking to more experienced hikers.
Here are 26 tidbits of information (anecdotes, opinions…) for you from my hiking experience.
Hiking the Appalachian Trail
The Appalachian Trail (AT) has boomed in popularity recently largely due to movies like A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson and Wild by Cheryl Strayed (although that was the PCT – not the AT). In fact, the Appalachian Trail has actually gotten far more fame than is good for it, leading to ecological impacts from over-hiking by too many people.
The Appalachian Trail is NOT the only or even the ultimate trail for you to hike on. Believe me, the trail would thank you and the hikers that are already there would thank you to find some other place to hike until you just can’t stand it any more and you HAVE to do an AT hike.
There is a joke – What is the difference between hiking and walking? If you can get to your destination wearing sneakers then you’re walking, but if you have to have really expensive boots with lots of tread on the bottom and a Gore-Tex lining, then you’re hiking! But seriously, boots can be a hiker’s best friend or worst enemy. Click here to check out the Roaming Parkers’ favorite hiking boots ever!
An often overlooked piece of hiking equipment is a backpacking chair. You can get folding seats that are super-lightweight and provide you a dry, slightly cushy place to sit with a little bit of back support. Having one of these handy backpacking chairs can turn a 5-minute break into a much more restful, almost civilized experience.
There is a difference between a daypack and a backpack. For short day-hikes, you’ll want a day-pack – something small and light – barely big enough to carry water, trail snack, and first aid kit. But a day pack will not be sufficient if you are camping and hiking multiple days. In that case you’ll need a backpack large enough to carry all your stuff that you need to keep yourself alive on the trail. If you are doing base hiking, where you set up camp and do day-hikes from there, you might want both a backpack and a daypack. Here is my personal favorite backpack and here is the daypack that I use.
Most outdoor gurus say that there are about 10 outdoor essentials that you should have with you any time you go farther into the great outdoors than your yard. Different gurus have different preferences, but most agree that the (approximately) 10 essentials include things like the following list adapted from the REI website.
- Navigation (map and compass)
- Sun protection (sunglasses and sunscreen)
- Insulation (extra clothing)
- Illumination (headlamp/flashlight)
- First-aid supplies
- Fire (waterproof matches/lighter/candles)
- Repair kit and tools (or at least a pocket knife)
- Nutrition (extra food)
- Hydration (extra water)
- Emergency shelter (like a Mylar blanket)
Hiking First Aid Kit
Each hiker in your party should have their own personal first aid kit. You can buy small personal kits, but you can always put your own together less expensively and more comprehensively.
Get a Ziploc bag and throw in the following items suggested by the Boy Scouts of America.
- Six adhesive bandages
- Two 3-by-3-inch sterile gauze pads
- One small roll of adhesive tape
- One 3-by-6-inch piece of moleskin (duct tape works far better than moleskin)
- One travel-size bottle of hand sanitizer
- One small tube of antibiotic ointment
- One pair of scissors
- One pair of non-latex disposable gloves
- One CPR breathing barrier
- Pencil and paper
Hiking GPS receiver
The gurus say that the responsible thing to do is to tell folks to keep a GPS receiver with them as a navigation aid when they go hiking. I say phooey! GPS just furthers your dependence on technology (which is part of what you’re trying to get away from in hiking anyway) and diminishes your natural powers of observation. Instead, get a copy of Finding Your Way Without Map or Compass and practice those skills and you’ll never need an expensive piece of technology to tell you what direction to walk!
Whether you are backpacking for days on end, or doing day-hikes, a fantastic way to rest and relax. They are lightweight, quick and easy to set up in many environments, and perfect for summer camping. With a little additional gear (underquilt, sleeping bag, mylar tarp, sleeping pad) you can adjust your hammock kit to keep you comfortable through 3-4 seasons of camping bliss! The best place by far hands down to get your hammock system is Sierra Madre Research. They are not the cheapest hammocks, but they are easily the best and a huge plus is that the good folks at Sierra Madre are huge environmental and humanitarian champions!
Hiking in Mississippi
Mississippi and adjoining Louisiana are not often thought of as a hiker’s paradise, mostly because of the ungodly heat, humidity, and insects – but if you can get past those relatively minor obstacles, there are some great hikes in Mississippi especially hikes with hills, roadside hikes, and swampy hikes!
My dad told me one of the most valuable practices I could develop is daily journaling. I didn’t start writing journals (and I don’t think he ever did either) but I did start blogging, first about martial arts and then about outdoor adventure – and it turns out that blogging is even better than journaling because it helps you engage with other enthusiasts in your niche.
In the context of hiking, keeping a journal (or blogging) is valuable because it forces you to be more mindful of what you are doing and why and what you see along the way and what that has to do with anything.
Another tidbit that I got from my dad was to always carry a pocket knife and always keep it sharp. A pocketknife is probably the one most useful tool that you’ll ever have. My favorite rugged all-purpose EDC knife is the Spyderco Endura.
The ideal trail food is lightweight, high in calories, and requires no cooking and no refrigeration. I prefer GORP (also known as trail mix), nutty granola bars, and foil tuna packets. If you want to splurge on fresh fruit (I love oranges on hikes), know that it is relatively heavy and low in calories so it’s fine for a day hike but if you take fresh fruit on a backpacking trek, eat it the first day or two and be done with it so you don’t have to carry it.
Another great place to glean info and inspiration about hiking is in magazines. There are several good ones that feature hiking, but among the best are Backpacker and Outside. And of course, for pure inspiration and beautiful photos, there is none better than National Geographic Magazine.
Hiking on National Trails
In 1968, Congress created a set of National scenic, historical, and recreational trails. They are basically a bunch of really long, skinny National Parks. You probably only know of a couple of them, although one is almost certainly near you if you live in the Continental U.S. Here is a link to some more info and maps.
Setting out to hike to a place that is not on a developed trail is what folks around here call bushwhacking – because you’ll probably have to carry and use a machete. Off-trail hiking can be a fun adventure but you have to make sure that the landowner or the appropriate authorities don’t mind you exploring game trails or blazing a new trail where none existed before.
Hiking poles may seem like just another nicety, but they make a HUGE difference especially when you are on uneven ground, steep inclines, or when your’e wearing a backpack (backpacks raise your center of gravity and make you less stable). You really want 2 hiking poles anytime you are doing anything more than the most basic of dayhikes. Here are the hiking poles that I use.
It may sound trite, but cool sayings by adventurers and outdoor experts can be surprisingly inspirational. If you are the type that enjoys inspirational quotes, then you might peruse some online collections (Google something like “nature quotes” or “hiking quotes”) and write a handful of them on index cards to take with you for something to think about on your next adventure. Or check out the inspirational material that I post on Sundays!
Hiking Rain Gear
Outdoor adventurers are well-advised to check the weather forecast before any outing, but take it with a grain of salt. Expert outdoorsmen almost never call off an outing due to forecast rain because weather forecasting is so rarely accurate. Instead the thing to do is go on your adventure anyway, but take some lightweight rain gear with you – not the rubber Noah’s Arc rainsuits that mom made you wear to wait for the school bus, but something lightweight and breathable like the polypropylene Frogg Toggs Ultra Lite2.
Almost nobody pays sufficient attention to their socks unless they are a seriously experienced hiker. Good quality hiking socks make a big difference in your enjoyment of the hike because they provide a touch of extra cushioning and they keep your feet relatively dry, which reduces blisters. You’ll probably have to experiment to find your favorite hiking socks (and maybe liners too) – but when you find what works for you, make sure you always carry an extra pair with you in the great outdoors!
There are a lot of ways to shelter when you are camping – and it’s kind of fun to alternate your methods. You can take a tent or an ultralight cot with you or you can sleep on a ground pad in a sleeping bag or a bivy. You might dispense with the tent and hang a hammock. You can take a tarp and some paracord and hang a rain fly. If the landowner doesn’t mind you can even improvise a quick shelter using natural materials.
I recommend trying all of these methods until you find what makes your hikes most fun and comfortable
Underwear is another seldom thought-of issue – until you get in the middle of a hike with the wrong sort. The important functions of underwear are to reduce moisture (sweat) and to reduce chafing. The best way I’ve found to do this is to use a tight-fitting synthetic compression underwear, like Under Armour, that keeps everything from moving and wicks moisture away from your skin.
You can even plan a vacation around hiking – and you can find anything from pub crawls after which you collapse into a hotel bed to walking tours where you spend the nights in beautiful B&Bs to rugged Volunteer Vacations where you help with conservation or trail maintenance during your time off.
Hiking Water Bottles
Water is one of your most important considerations in hiking. Drink lots of water or you will die! And sodas and fruit juices do not count! Even Gatorade has as much sugar as a Coca Cola! Also, Please PLEASE, buy a couple of refillable durable water bottles like a Nalgene bottle – and do not ever buy another disposable bottle of water again! Disposable water bottles are a huge economic and environmental and humanitarian disaster!
Hiking Xmas Gifts
Any of the products mentioned in this article (or items like them) would make great Christmas or birthday presents for the hikers in your life!
Hiking YouTube Videos
YouTube is another fantastic place to find information and inspiration about hiking, like this video – WOW! I’ve got to all all 10 of those to my bucket list!
Hiking Zip-off Pants
Zip-off pants are the greatest thing ever! They can be shorts or they can be pants. They usually have lots of great pockets and they’re just about the only thing my boys ever wear now.