Whether hiking the paved Cushman Trail or the heavily-wooded McCormick Forest Park, packing a few essentials will make your journey more enjoyable. These 6 must-have items ensure you'll be prepared for your next trek over the trails.
Even if you're only planning a 45-minute hike along a paved trail, hydration is essential. Carry at least a quart of water for a one-hour hike along an easy trail in comfortable weather, or three quarts per person for a day-long hike. When it's hot, pack a couple extra bottles. A hydration calculator can help you figure out the ideal amount of water based upon your body and the trail conditions. Leave extra jugs of water in the car to rehydrate after the hike, too.
You never know when you may get sidetracked, lose the trail or otherwise end up spending far more time on your hike than initially expected. Choose mess-free treats that travel well without refrigeration. Healthy, portable snacks such as granola bars, trail mix, and whole fruits such as apples, bananas or oranges offer good sources of on-the-go nourishment. The ideal foods can be stashed in a pocket and snacked upon as you walk. Stow the empty packaging or peel and discard it at home after the hike, or in a trashcan at the park.
While athletic shoes may suffice for basic hikes, they don't offer the traction and protection necessary for rugged terrain, loose rocks or mud. Hiking boots, especially those that are high enough to offer ankle support, are a better option. When hiking in damp weather or trekking through puddles or streams, opt for waterproof hiking boots to keep your feet snug and dry. Spare socks also come in handy, especially on long hikes. It's worth investing in socks designed for hiking, as they'll offer more protection and comfort for your feet over the long haul.
Even if a sunny day ends in a cloudburst, no worries. Carry a hooded weatherproof jacket or a light rain poncho. If your hike lasts a few hours, pack extra socks, just in case. Wool-based clothing helps wick moisture away, keeping you dry; it can also help keep you warm as the temperature drops or the wind picks up. Dress in layers so you can stay comfortable through ever-changing weather conditions.
If any portion of your hiking trail isn't shaded and it's a sunny day, you'll need protection from the sun's rays. Choose sunglasses that block all ultraviolet light – especially if you hike near waterways, since the water can reflect the sun much like a mirror. Lightweight sun-protective clothing helps keep you cool while covering your skin. If wearing shorts or a short-sleeved shirt, apply a sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15 every couple of hours. A sun-blocking lip balm is also a good idea.
Unless you're camping and need a tent and sleeping bags, a lightweight backpack should do the trick for a basic hike. A hydration backpack with a shape-fitting water storage area is a practical option for long hikes. Choose a pack with smaller compartments to stash essentials like a flashlight, small first aid kit and a fully-charged, GPS-enabled cell phone.