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Tips For Making Hiking More Enjoyable

 

It sounds a bit odd, really - tips for making your next hiking trip enjoyable? Isn't that the reason you are going hiking in the first place - to have fun doing something you love?

Going backpacking means committing days - maybe weeks - to being outdoors, away from the conveniences of everyday life. This means planning and preparation. Here's a list to help you be sure you're getting the most out of your "trail time!"

Research

Before you hit the trail, and preferably, before you even leave your house, research the area that you will be hiking in.

Many maps and trailguides can be found at your local bookstore, or online. When purchasing a map or guide, be sure it is the most recent copy; new editions are published for a reason. Trails may have been rerouted, bridges may be out, or any number of things may have changed. You may also be able to obtain a map by writing the Forest Service, Park Service, or other local organization beforehand. If the area you are hiking has a Ranger Station or Visitor's Center, check it out before your hike to learn about last-minute info such as river levels, fire bans, or bear activity.

Some other things to research before your hike include:

Terrain - Have a good idea of the difficulty of the terrain you will be hiking on. If the area is more difficult or strenuous than you expected, you might be discouraged. No matter what the terrain is, you should, however, take some time in the weeks (or months, depending on the length of your trip) to physically prepare yourself. The opposite is also true; experienced hikers can get bored when the trails are too easy.

Weather - Although it's subject to change, it never hurts to check the weather forecast before leaving. If the weather is destined to be foul, at least you can make the necessary preparations - with your hiking gear, and your mindset.

Campsites - Many areas do not permit dispersed camping, and only allow overnight stays at designated sites. If the trails don't have signs directing you to campsites, or if you underestimate your hiking time, you will be glad that you already know where sites are, how far apart they are, and how many sites are available.

Shelters - If you plan on staying at a trail shelter on your trip, find out how many are available, and their locations. They can fill up fast, so you may want to plan shorter mileage days, or on following an earlier schedule so that you are more likely to be the first to arrive at a shelter, thus securing a spot for the night.

Water - Water sources are a key factor in planning your hike. Know where lakes, rivers, or other water sources are located, and plan your mileage around resupply. Maps don't always give much of an indication of how large a river or stream is. A river crossing on the map might turn out to be a muddy swamp during dry weather. Drink what you can when near a good water source and be sure to refill before you move on. It is also preferable to make camp near a water source for ease of meal preparation and cleanup.

Points of Interest - You're hiking along, happy as a lark - oblivious to the fact that you've just passed a side trail leading to the world's largest ball of backcountry twine, or some such thing. Read up on the area you'll be hiking through before your trip, instead of regretting what you missed once you get home.

Flora & Fauna - If you're a nature enthusiast (which most hikers are!), or have any interest at all in what's around, you might find it beneficial to do some reading into local plants and wildlife before you head out on your hike. Checking into the local flora could come in handy, particularly if you're inclined to pick berries, or try an herbal remedy.

Check Hiking Gear Before You Leave

Much of your outdoor gear is only used when hiking or backpacking. Once you get home, it gets shoved into the closet until the next outing. Be sure to check that all of your equipment is in working condition before you leave home - preferably a few days early, in case you need to do some cleaning or replace parts. There's nothing worse than having a vital item, such as your stove, break down on the first night out - or 40 miles into the backcountry!

When you get back home, remember to clean everything thoroughly. Vacuum out the zippers of your pack, sleeping bag, and outerwear to prevent wear caused by dirt and grime. Grease your boots so they're clean and (re)waterproofed for your next hiking trip. Clean the nozzles on your stove to prevent buildup. Regular maintenance will extend the life of your gear.

Prepare For The Weather

Having the proper equipment for inclement weather is necessary when backpacking. You'll want to be prepared for rain, cold temperatures, and even the sun.

To prepare for hiking in wet conditions, you'll need raingear. The best option is a waterproof breathable jacket. Rainpants are also good to have, especially when the weather and winds are cool. In warmer conditions, they often are not necessary, especially if you have hiking pants made of a quick dry material. When spending the entire day hiking in the rain, it's virtually impossible to stay completely dry. Purchase clothing that is made from synthetic, quick-dry materials so that when you do get wet, it's easier and faster to dry Oct. A raincover for your pack is also a necessity. A lightweight alternative to carrying a rainjacket and pack cover is to use a hooded poncho large enough to cover yourself and your pack all at once.

No matter how nice you expect the weather to be during your hiking trip, you should always have: raingear, a hat, gloves, an extra set of dry clothes (for emergency and/or sleeping in), an extra pair of socks, and waterproof boots. Even if you plan on staying in trail shelters, you should always have your own shelter, even if it is as simple as a tarp. Having two fire sources is also a smart idea. Obviously, this is just a quick, basic list; backpacking in extreme conditions requires extra equipment.

Bring Something To Do

Being out in the woods 24 hours a day, after day, after day, can sometimes get a bit monotonous. Once in a while you start to get the feeling that, if you've seen one tree, rock, river, mountain, etc., you've seen them all! Keep boredom at bay by bringing some sort of "luxury" item - whatever it is that you enjoy doing, and is small enough to bring along.

Some ideas are:

Book - Keep a few old books around to take with you backpacking - ones that you don't mind getting dirty and/or ruined.
Journal - Document your hiking trip. It's fun to look back and relive your hiking experiences. You might use it to measure your progress or mileage over the years, to keep a log of the pictures you take, or to track how much food you use so that you can lighten your load on the next trip.
Trail Game - Many games are available in small travel-sized editions - perfect for backpacking! Other options include a deck of cards, dice, or games made specifically for the trail.
Fishing Pole - Small, retractable rods make it easy to attach a pole to your pack. Check regulations (license, live bait restrictions, species restrictions and seasons) beforehand, but in many National Parks, you can fish without a license.
Instrument - Pass the time with your recorder, harmonica, strumstick, or backpacking guitar. Learn an instrument or perfect your talents, and amuse your hiking group while you're at it.
Sketchbook - Keep a sketch journal to document the landscapes, plants, birds, and animals; leave the camera at home!
Plant/Bird/Wildlife Checklist or Book - Once you're off of the trail for the day, note all the critters you've seen by marking a checklist. Or, pull out your guide to learn more about them.

Other Ideas

One sure way to make your trip easier and more enjoyable is to hike with a lighter pack. Volumes have been written on this subject. The basic idea is to look at your gear, well before you leave for your trip, and decide what you can do without, and what is absolutely necessary.

If the area you're hiking in doesn't have a loop trail, have one person drop their car at a point further down the trail, or have someone pick you up. Backtracking can be anticlimactic.

Bring some good food - real food. There isn't much you think about more when hiking than what you're going to have for supper. Too much ramen and mashed potatoes gets dull, dull, dull. Take some extra spices, fresh fruit or vegetables, hardy meats (like pepperoni or summer sausage) and cheeses, or s'mores. Yum yum!


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