When the weather is beautiful outside, it’s a perfect opportunity to round up the entire family and head out on a hike. Turn off the TV, grab their phones or video game controls and point the clan in the direction of the nearest beautiful trail.
But before you go, ensure that the experience is both fun – and safe – for everyone. Whether you’re taking to a local path or the Appalachian Trail, hiking requires safety and awareness; the National Park Service notes hundreds of “search and rescue” operations each year. The three biggest reasons for hiking-related fatalities? Lack of knowledge, lack of experience and poor judgment. Deviating from the trail, swollen rivers, territorial animals, poorly-prepared backpacks….these are just some of the variables that can quickly result in disaster on the trail.
So ensure that you make it there and back again without incident. Here are ten “musts” for your family’s summer hike.
Before you go, let someone at home know where you’re headed and when you should be back. Familiarize yourself with the trail and any possible natural hazards, and ensure that you have a fully-charged cellphone and GPS device.
Technology can fail, so an old-fashioned map and compass are essential. Ensure that you’ve read the details of where you’re headed, and know how to use these hiking tools.
Grab a lightweight backpack to tote musts like sunscreen, bug spray and water bottles. Look for padded backpacks that come with compression and sternum straps; they’re more comfortable.
Also, stash snacks like string cheese, dried fruit, nuts and energy bars – and plenty of water. Speaking of which, always pack more water than you think you’ll need. Depending on where you’ll be hiking, some pros recommend packing a one-day supply of food and water, just in case you get lost. Extra socks and layers (for unexpected weather changes), plastic rain ponchos and an emergency blanket(s) are also recommended by experienced hikers.
A first-aid kit packed with things like band-aids, acetaminophen, “friction block” gel to prevent blisters, splints, alcohol pads and an ice pack. A roll of duct tape may also come in handy. If you ever watched “MacGyver” on TV, you know that duct tape can do anything! A pocket knife with tools – like a Swiss Army knife – is also essential, and waterproof matches are another great thing to have at the ready.
Give your family’s feet the right kind of support for trekking terrain, whether its hiking shoes or boots. There are also hiking “sandals” designed with rugged soles, and perfect if you’re on a trail with watery crossings. Tip: always break in shoes before your hike.
Hats are another key element to summer hiking. They’ll keep the hot sun from making you miserable, especially if they feature a neck shroud.
Trekking poles. When the terrain gets a little tricky, you’ll appreciate the support a lightweight pole can provide. There are aluminum versions that are sturdy, but retractable.
Don’t push it. Fatigue and dehydration are vey real dangers in hiking, especially when it comes to the younger members of your party. Even for a day hike, set realistic expectations, and no matter how cool the scenery, quit before you’re too tired to make it back safely. And remind little ones to always stay close to adults to avoid any potential attacks by wild animals (yes, it does happen…)
Speaking of kids, equip them with whistles and mirrors just in case they get lost. Have them practice using the mirror to reflect sunlight and create “signals.”
Every member of your hiking party should know how to recognize (and to stay away from) potentially dangerous plants like poison ivy. Also, making noise while hiking will scare off predators like bears.
If things really go sideways on your hike, the main thing is to stay calm. Find shelter if you can, figure out a way to stay warm (with your emergency blanket and waterproof matches to build a fire) and know how to signal for help (that’s where the whistles and mirrors come in handy).
Hiking is a perfect way to rediscover the beauty and wonders of Mother Nature – and to bond with your family, minus today’s annoying electronic distractions. Be smart, be safe, get those backpacks ready and hit the trail!