You will never know everything when it comes to the wilderness. In all my years of wandering the wild, I have learned lessons from both Man and Mother Nature. I am still learning and that is the passion that keeps me writing. These are 10 hiking best practices when tackling the outdoors on foot.
- Wear Comfortable Hiking Shoes/Boots
Many guests have arrived with only flip flops or flats. These provide little or no protection and will result in discomfort, i.e. blisters, cuts or even a twisted ankle. Trail shoes are fine but boots offer ankle support. I prefer this, and most boots come water-proofed, which is a huge bonus for comfort. No one wants wet socks and manky feet.
- Drink Water
Whether a hydration bladder or water bottle, you need to fuel up. Two liters per person per four hours of hiking is the recommended intake. Our bodies are mostly H20; and when in the wild and on foot, we lose it rapidly, via heat and sweat. Remember to hydrate often. Do not wait until you are thirsty. By then you are already showing the first sign of dehydration.
Bring already made, light, and easy to eat snacks. Like water, your body needs to replenish the energy spent up those steep ascents and long treks. Think of hiking as a marathon. You need to eat to go further, to reach the summit. Just remember that once you are up, you have to get down.
- Bring a Warm Top
Sweat plus cold equals misery. Mountains create ominous weather behavior. The wind picks up, clouds come in, the temperature drops, and it rains. This can happen in the space of only an hour. Even if your day is thirty degrees plus, pack a warm top and preferably a waterproof shell.
- Apply Sun Protection
Sunscreen, a cap, long pants and sleeves and a bandana are all a win. Sun Burn, eish! Your muscles won’t be the only pain of the next day. Lube up! Be aware of areas like your face, ears, neck, arms, calves and even scalp. I suggest a hat or bandana for those with thin/no hair. This also helps with the sweat and sunscreen mix dripping into your eyes. Burn! A pair of sunglasses can make life easier too.
- Pack Survival Essentials
Basic first aid can be purchased at any outdoor store. You may dehydrate, get burned, fall, scratch yourself, get stung by a plant or insect, get chafe…. I have experienced all of this personally. Even the most minor ailment can cause a miserable experience, if not attended to. A simple lotion or a band-aid can mitigate this. Then you can think about a space blanket, compass, flash-light, fire starters, spare batteries, para-cord, cable ties and a Leatherman or knife. You never know when your awesome experience or life will depend on it.
- Learn Basic Map Work
Buy a basic topographical map of the area, if you are unfamiliar. Become familiar with reading “topo” maps. This is an undervalued wilderness skill, which I recommend highly. If you are a tech head you can buy a GPS and download maps onto it. This can help greatly in finding your waypoints and is easier than a map. Just remember not to follow a GPS blindly. GPS’s do not take into consideration cliff faces for example…
- Charge your Cell Phone
Not only for photos, selfies, and memories of your awesome experience but for GPS apps, Maps, and Emergencies. Save your local wilderness search and rescue number on your phone. Keep a portable charger in case your battery dies (mine always does). Your cell phone can save your life or another’s, in an event of an emergency.
- Leave Early
Give yourself enough time. Unless you are doing a sunset or full moon hike up Lion’s Head in Cape Town, there is no reason to delay your departure up the mountain. The night hikes I have done for wildfire fighter training were enough to teach me that Mother Nature owns the night. It is dark but it is cold and disorientating. Be home before sunset.
- Caution on your Way Down
Ascending a mountain slope can be like a leg day at the gym. Your legs are powering up those rocky steps. At the summit, you will relax a bit and your muscles will start to fatigue. Coming down, they may feel like jelly. On top of this, you will be mentally tired and lose focus. Be careful where you step, do not rush to get back home to your shower, food, and bed. Home is not going anywhere. You do not want to fall and take another few hours to be rescued off the mountain. Take caution.
That’s it for this round folks. If you have any questions about my top ten, please contact me and I will be happy to answer/find the answer. Always remember, safety first and then go wild!