I think a lot of potential hikers get scared away by the GEAR: there’s so much of it, and it’s so expensive, and ads for it often feature impossibly rugged-looking people clinging to cliff faces. Sure, for a long trek that involves camping or climbing, major supplies are essential. But day hikes, or even multi-day hikes with nights spent under roofs, don’t require you to make a purchase at your local purveyor of rugged-person equipment. Hiking is, after all, just walking, but I think a lot of “indoor kids” are missing out because they’re intimidated by the intense earthy-crunchy vibes.
There are hikes for all tastes and abilities, and pricy gear is not a prerequisite to enjoying fresh air. However, there are a few super-cheap basics that will make any hike easier, all packable in a small day backpack (which can be a backpack you use for other things too, and not necessarily a hiking-designated fancy-bag):
- Enough water. It’s important to stay hydrated, but you don’t need a Camelback– just stick a couple of 1-liter water bottles in your bag (more or less, depending on the length of your hike and the weather). It may be heavy at first, but remember it will only get lighter as the hike goes on. And as efficient as it is to be able to sip water through a tube as you hike, having to stop to drink from a water bottle is also a great excuse to catch your breath.
- A couple of plastic bags. If it rains you can protect your phone and wallet!
- Good fuel. When it comes to packing food calories, avoid anything messy or stinky, and make sure to combine carbs and protein for energy and fullness. Some suggestions: fruits and veggies (carrot sticks, grape or cherry tomatoes, apples, tangerines, dried figs and apricots, etc.), with whole wheat English muffin peanut butter sandwiches or mixed nuts. It’s good to make sure you include a little saltiness to help replace the sodium you’re sweating out.
- Pre-loaded Google Maps. Save some screenshots or download some maps of the area you plan to hike. Even if you have a great phone plan, you never know when service might drop out.
- Comfortable shoes you don’t mind wrecking. You’ll want to support your feet and feel OK about trudging through mud and/or manure.
- A light-weight book. If you plan to rely on public transportation to get you to your hiking location, you’ll want something to read while you wait for a not-so-frequent bus or train to arrive to take you home.
- A pocket knife (or a pen and scissors) and rubber bands. You never know when you’ll need to cut or manipulate something, or MacGyver a way to keep something in one piece or place. Examples: broken shoelaces, pebble stuck in your sneaker treads, bag of crumbly snacks that reeeealllly wants to fulfill its destiny of popping open in your bag and filling it with food dust, a zipper off its tracks, a jammed train ticket machine, etc., etc.
- Bandaids and wipes. You will fall or get scratched. Suck it up, clean it out, and slap a bandage on it.
- Mini pack of tissues. This is obviously a multi-purpose inclusion: good for wrapping things, cushioning things, and literally saving your ass.
- Cash. If you get stranded somewhere, you’ll be glad to have some funds ready to get a meal, room, or ride. If you’re in even a slightly remote area, you shouldn’t rely on the availability of ATM machines.
- Layers. Outside of cities and large towns, temperatures often vary widely from morning to evening, and weather can change very quickly. You’ll want layers to remain comfortable and safe, especially if you’re hiking in a mountainous area. It’s unpleasant (and, not to be dramatic, potentially dangerous) to be caught in the fading daylight without enough insulation for your frail human body.
- Extra battery life. Being in a remote area can drain your phone battery, especially if you don’t switch it to some equivalent of “airplane mode.” Bring along some extra juice to plug your phone into in case a hike ends up taking longer than planned.
This is really all I ever need to have a successful, casual hike and deal with almost any obstacle in my path. There’s nothing wrong with being a gear enthusiast– to each his/her own, and there’s some really cool stuff out there. I wrote this post not because I think that these are particularly mind-blowing packing tips, but to illustrate that hiking as a pastime is not as impenetrable as it sometimes seems. If you want to start hiking, you don’t need much in the way of supplies and training. Work up from short walks over easy terrain to full days or several days spent on trails through more difficult terrain.
There is one thing you should not bring along, under any circumstance: your whiny inner prince/princess. Things go wrong A LOT of the time when hiking, but dealing with that is part of the adventure. You’ll get lost, and rained-on, and come across scary critters, and realize you’re going to be caught outside after dark, and find out that the only bus home has been cancelled, and fall down a hill covered in sharp rocks, and summit only to find that nothing can be seen through the fog. But being outside isn’t about control– it’s about reacting to and having a sense of wonder about what’s around you. No matter what, you’ll have a story, something indoor kids can definitely appreciate.