There is a particular joy one feels when hiking in the wilderness that is hard to put into words. The overwhelming solitude that you experience during a hike brings you closer to yourself, and lends a deeper meaning to life.
However, there risks involved with venturing alone into the wilderness. While these risks should not deter you from going, you’ll be a better-prepared, safer backpacker if you keep the following in mind.
10 Tips You Must Keep in Mind When Backpacking
1. Carry essentials at all times
Whether you are hiking through the wilderness of Yellowstone, or the countryside of Vietnam, it is important to always carry these essentials:
- An LED flashlight with at least 1,000 lumens and a range of 150 meters is vital. Preferably, the light should have a long-lasting, rechargeable battery. It should be IP66 rated, and have a spotlight/floodlight toggle.
- Lots of chocolates. Not fancy ones, but something like chocolate-peanut bars. They take up very little space, and you can carry at least five in one pocket. In an emergency, they can provide a couple of days of necessary nutrition.
- Plenty of water. Understand how much water you’ll need to consume to stay hydrated based on the temperature and humidity, and carry plenty more than that. It is also a good idea to carry a portable water filtration device to filter water from lakes, streams, and puddles in an emergency. Remember, your life depends on carrying enough water.
2. Know how to use a compass and map
You really only need to know how to read a map and work out where you are in relation to landforms, as well as how to use a pocket compass. If your GPS device runs out of charge, this is the only way that you will be able to find your way back to civilization. Basic techniques such as triangulation can be learned easily from YouTube tutorials.
3. Research the area
Too many hikers are eager to start their trip without any research. You need to know where you are hiking, the weather conditions, where the trip starts and ends, and the places where you can find other people.
You need to learn about the trail. Your best source is a map, the internet, and locals. You have to know the distance that you will need to cover each day, and what the weather conditions will be. In certain weather, you could get exhausted quickly, or risk falling ill.
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4. Carry a first-aid kit
The importance of carrying a first aid kit cannot be overstated. There is a genuine possibility of injury, especially cuts or sprains, while outdoors.
Bandages, surgical dressing, and even small splints are helpful. Medicines should include painkillers such as ibuprofen, and antihistamines. A topical pain-relieving spray is also useful. A first-aid kit is used only for emergency treatment until you can reach medical care.
Your travel insurance or travel medical insurance plan can help cover your medical care expenses. However, it is important to note that not every insurance plan will cover all hazardous activities. Be sure to research and purchase insurance that can provide coverage for all the activities you plan to participate in during your trip.
5. Stay on the trail
It might seem obvious when you’re alone in an unfamiliar place, but many hikers seem to enjoy wandering off the path. There could be an interesting waterfall or other site you want to explore. However, it is important to understand the risks involved in doing this.
The primary risk is that, if something were to happen to you, a search party would not know to immediately look for you off the trail. Additionally, wild animals can be less active near well-used trails due to human activity. This may not be the case away from the trail.
6. Use quality equipment
Ensure that your flashlight, boots and pocket knife are made by reputable brands, and try to test them before you go. If possible, use your gear on a shorter, local trip before setting off internationally. It’s better to discover that your flashlight isn’t waterproof or that your boots give you blisters close to home than on a big hike in a different country.
7. Stay hydrated
Running out of water is one of the most dangerous things that can happen during a hike. Dehydration can quickly cause the loss of your cognitive abilities, physical exhaustion, and in extreme cases, death.
The amount of water you need to drink depends largely on the conditions. Plan on drinking at least a liter per hour in temperate weather. For hot, sunny, or tropical conditions, you may need to drink significantly more. Make sure you research where you can resupply with water along your route, and do not hesitate to refill your bottles with clean water whenever you get the opportunity.
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8. Pack smartly
It’s easy to get carried away and pack stuff that you won’t need. While you don’t want to pack too little, leave unnecessary items like books and electronic gadgets at home. Being burdened by a backpack that’s too heavy is a quick way to spoil your trip.
Also, dress appropriately. Full or half-length cargo pants, a stout shirt made from 100% long-staple cotton, wool, or synthetic fabric, socks and boots are the best options and are lightweight. It is also a good idea to carry a poncho in case it rains, and a battery to recharge your cellphone or GPS unit.
9. Carry identification
If something were to happen that renders you unconscious, it’s important to have ID so people have a way to contact your loved ones. Ensure you have a card that lists your blood type, allergies, and any conditions you suffer from. A neatly typed and laminated leaflet stating your name and information, and the name and information of your emergency contact be sufficient.
Also, be sure to tell someone you know where you are going and when you will be back. Someone needs to raise the alarm in the worst-case scenario.
10. Ensure you are in good enough shape
Attempting a solo backpacking trip that’s beyond your physical abilities is more than unpleasant; it’s dangerous. Fatigue and exhaustion can quickly lead to injuries, or worse.
Even if you’ve hiked a similar distance before, it may not have been on the same sort of terrain, or at the same elevation as your planned trip. A rougher trail requires more physical effort, and hiking at higher elevations than you’re used to can leave you gasping in the thin air. It’s essential to research and train properly for the route you plan to hike. Understand your limits, and stay within them.
Last Words of Caution
It is good to be enthusiastic, but not safe to go overboard.
A Washington Post article a few years ago claimed that more than 120 people become lost in national parks around the U.S. every year. Globally, the number is likely many more.
Your hike is about making you feel liberated and joyous. A small oversight can turn that into a harrowing experience, so be mindful of your actions on the backpacking trail.
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