With winter quickly fading into memory our thoughts are now focused getting outside and enjoying warm weather and wilderness. For many this will mean a trip to the trailhead for a short hike and maybe exploring a small town main street and local bistro to complete the day’s adventure. Getting out into the mountains and forests is restorative and no matter what state you live in we’re very fortunate as Americans to have some amazing options for outdoor adventure.
I live in the Hudson Valley of New York and have been guiding professionally for over a decade and enjoying outdoor adventure for almost 30 years. I now focus most of my guiding on international adventure travel but you will still find me out on the trails of the Hudson Highlands, Shawangunks, or Catskill Mountains. Over the last 4 or 5 years I’ve noticed a dramatic increase in folks heading out on the trail lacking the knowledge about what to expect and being dangerously unprepared for what lies ahead.
The internet has made it incredibly easy to learn about previously “hidden gems” that were only listed in guide books or mostly visited by locals but has also removed the associated knowledge about what to bring or what to avoid. That hiking blog you read may have been written by someone with less outdoor experience than you have yet their advice is taken as sage advice because it’s online.
The result in the Hudson Highlands, home to some of the nation’s most popular day hikes (Breakneck Ridge, Mt Beacon, Anthony’s Nose), has been a predicable schedule of rescues each weekend involving local fire departments, search and rescue crews, and rangers as well as an increase in fatal, but easily avoidable, accidents. Follow these simple tips you’ll be a safer, more self-sufficient adventurer and impress all whom you lead into the hills.
YOUR CELL PHONE DOES NOT HAVE GPS: With the increase of smartphones there has also been a huge drop in hikers carrying maps and knowing how to read them. The problem is that your smart phone does not have true satellite GPS, it essentially has cellphone tower triangulation whereby your phone calculates your position in relation to fixed cell towers. When you’re out on a hike the cell service is usually weak and often nonexistent. This means that you cannot rely on your phone to safely guide you through the mountains as if you were trying to find a new restaurant. Carry a map and learn how to read/use it!
RECOGNIZE THAT YOU ARE ABOUT TO ENTER THE WILDERNESS: Just because a hiking trail is open to public use doesn’t mean your safety is guaranteed. Your safety is your responsibility and you have to accept that you are heading into the wilderness and not a city park. There may be sharp drop-offs, fallen trees, stream crossings, loose rocks, and difficult terrain. Most accidents in the wilderness involve falls and many involve improper footwear. This doesn’t mean that you need to go out and buy a new pair of hiking boots, in fact I prefer a trail shoe (sort of a hiking sneaker), but leave the sandals and flip flops in the car and enjoy slipping into them AFTER your hike! Make sure your footwear has good traction and wear wool or synthetic socks to avoid blisters. Finally, stay away from cliff edges. Your selfies will look just as impressive with an extra few feet of separation from the drop.
CARRY ENOUGH WATER: How much to carry obviously depends on the temperature, your level of fitness, and the length and difficulty of the hike you have planned but no matter what the distance, at a minimum, carry 1 Liter of water for hikes of 2 hours or less. Carry 2 Liters for longer hikes and 3 or 4 Liters if it’s going to be a hot day. If you’re pushing some big miles or the temps are in the high 80’s or above, carry some electrolytes to add to your water. I prefer NUUN tablets but there are many products out there that will help boost your energy level when you’ve been sweating all day and “hit the wall!”
CARRY THE ESSENTIALS: Even on a short hike, even if it’s just for a few hours, you need to be prepared to spend a night in the woods if you’re lost or injured. It happens so pack the following list of lightweight essentials and leave them in your daypack:
Headlamp or Flashlight: Even if you’re not lost or injured you might be out later than you planned for and you will not be able to safely find your way through the woods with the light from your phone.
Space Blanket (2 Person Size): These weigh almost nothing and can save your life. Even if it’s warm during the day the temperature can plummet at night. Make sure to face the metallic, reflective side, towards your body. Can also be used to make a shelter from the rain.
Fire Starting Kit: Avoid building campfires along the trail and in heavily trafficked areas only use designated fire rings at campsites and shelters but in an emergency a fire can keep you warm and also warm your spirits. Having to make a bow drill or rub sticks together means you didn’t plan properly so pack the following:
“Napalm Balls”: Take cotton balls and smear them in petroleum jelly before packing them in an old film container or sandwich bag. When you need to get a fire started they will stick to your tinder, ignite easily, and burn hot for a long time.
Waterproof matches (as a backup)
First Aid Kit: There are many small and lightweight kits on the market but always make sure to add a day’s worth of any personal medication you need, just in case you’re out overnight. If you choose to make your own kit here’s a minimum of what you should carry:Band-Aids (12 of varying sizes)
Gauze pads (2)
Alcohol Pads (6)
First aid ointment
Antihistamine cream: For bug bites or other irritants
Antihistamine/Benadryl (4 tablets):
Anti-inflammatory tablets (Alleve/Motrin/Advil) (4 tablets) for strains and sprains
Sterile gloves (2)
EpiPen: If you or someone in your group has a potentially life-threatening allergy
Moleskin (aka Second Skin)(1 Sheet) for blisters
Tweezers: To remove ticks or splinters
Personal medications (1 day minimum)
Hand sanitizer if not otherwise in your pack
Water purification tablets (2-4 tablets): There’s a good chance the beautiful stream you’re taking a break at contains bacteria and viruses. Iodine was the old standby but only treats for Giardia. Carry a few Chlorine Dioxide tablets to purify your drinking water against Bacteria, Viruses, and Cysts. Plan ahead if you need water as it may take 4 hours for the process to be complete and the water safe to drink.
Paracord (25-50’): Paracord is useful for so many things be that rigging a tarp shelter, replacing broken shoe laces, or hanging your food at night.
Extra Food: Through 1 or 2 energy bars per person into your pack just in case.
Small Knife or Multitool: Emphasis on SMALL!!! You don’t need to bring your Rambo knife on a day hike and really just need to be prepared to cut things like rope, prepare meals, or less pleasant, pop a blister.
Duct Tape: Some brands sell very small rolls (about ½” in diameter) or just wrap a few feet around your water bottle. Duct tape comes in handy for backcountry gear repairs but is also useful in avoiding blisters. When you feel a burning “hot spot” on your foot, stop, remove your footwear and socks and place a piece of duct tape directly on your skin. This will reduce the friction on your skin and prevent a blister.
TELL SOMEONE YOUR PLAN: 127 Hours may have been an incredible movie to watch but I’m sure Aron Rolston will be the first to tell you that he’s no hero. Never venture into the wilderness without letting someone you trust know where you’re going and when you’ll be back. You want to leave your info with someone that will follow up if they don’t hear from you on time and not someone who will just assume you forgot to call. If you don’t have anyone to leave your info with I suggest writing it down on an index card, flipping it over, and writing “Hike Info” on the opposite side before placing it on your car’s dashboard. This will save time if rescuers are trying to locate you. In any event, leave the following information:
Location of the trailhead and the name of the nearest town
A list of the trails you plan to hike in consecutive order
When you expect to be back (and have cell service)
When to worry (I usually give a 1 or 2 hour cushion in case I’m running late)
Follow these tips and get out there and enjoy the wilderness this Spring. I hope to see you on the trail and if you’re looking for bucket list adventure this year please check out our upcoming trips.
Iceland has certainly become a popular destination for viewing the northern lights but you might be asking yourself why? The truth is that the aurora borealis are visible in many places that are near and above the arctic circle so why Iceland?
ADVENTURE TRAVEL! Even the words sound exciting, but what exactly is it? While there’s a wide range of options to choose from the central element of adventure travel is a focus on an outdoor adventure experience that is the highlight of the trip. This may mean a multiday backpacking trip, an overnight kayak trip, or even a series of day hikes. Whatever your experience or ability level there’s an adventure out there for you and I know from experience that the memories from adventure travel always last longer than those from a more traditional vacation.