Be prepared whether hiking for an afternoon or backpacking for a week – by Liz Peredun
Witnessing the slow return of light to the territory has brought to mind this popular quote from Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring: “Those who contemplate the beauty of the Earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts. There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature—the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after winter.”
As we move closer to spring, we are reminded of the value in other repeated rhythms. Walking, hiking or backpacking is one of the most uncomplicated ways to connect with the natural world. We can hold different ideas about how to do these things. There’s inherent value and joy in seeing new things while walking or hiking. There is also joy that can be found in deepening one’s relationship with a place by walking familiar trails.
Despite the wide breadth of resources, literature and opinions on backpacking culture, it is an activity that doesn’t need many specialized pieces of gear to find success. It’s important to check local sources, animal sightings and the weather, and ensure you respect and consider those whose land you are traveling on. Whether you are out for a short or long day hike, or planning to camp overnight, here’s a few ideas to have in your back pocket (or your pack).
Before you take a single step, take off your shoes and socks and take a good look at your feet. Are there blisters or sore spots with the shoes you’re currently wearing? Whether you choose to wear a sturdy shoe or a boot, it’s important to ensure the first time you wear them isn’t when you’re about to head off on a long multi-day hike. Wear them around your apartment, climb the stairs and wear them to work. Consider how it feels to be in those shoes all day.
If you’re walking and start feeling a warmth or a pressure on your feet, you’ll want to stop right away and pad that spot out. Medical tape works well, as does moleskin, a type of fuzzy tape that creates a barrier between the sore spot on your foot and the rubbing irritant on your shoe. If you wait until it’s a fully formed blister, it becomes harder to protect that spot as you’re moving. It also becomes increasingly challenging to keep it from getting worse once it forms. Tincture of Benzoin is a good thing to have in a first aid kit. When applied to a hot spot, it helps prevent infection and slippage of medical tape on sweaty feet.
Keeping your feet dry and warm when you get into camp doesn’t sound too important when it’s hot and sunny, but during the in-between of winter and spring, often referred to as “shoulder season,” it becomes crucial. Rain, snow or sleet are all possible. Often, campsites are far from dry. Having dry feet helps prevent immersion foot over long days and also keeps you warm. If you have extra plastic bags, they can be put on outside a pair of dry socks and inside your shoes. Using them as a moisture barrier, especially if your “dry” camp shoes become wet, will keep you warmer as you stand around in camp.
If you’re carrying equipment in a backpack, consider lining the inside of your bag with a large, sturdy garbage bag. This is a simple way to keep the interior of your bag dry when you put it on the ground or use it as a seat while taking a break. A sit pad, or a piece of foam is also a great option for a dry, insulated seat on cold or wet ground.
A good bag will be designed to carry weight on your midsection or hips and not your shoulders. When you’re packing, aim to have the heaviest items sit at the base of your spine when you’re wearing your pack. When you put your bag on, tighten the waist strap first, then the straps on your shoulders.
If you’re packing fuel for a camp stove, pack it on the outside of your bag so that it won’t leak into food or onto your clothes on your bag. Keep a rain jacket, snacks, bear spray and water accessible. With all these things in mind, you should have what you need to start off on the right foot.
Liz Peredun is enthusiastic about sharing her love of the natural world, river travel and building community. She has worked in outdoor and experiential education for the past 10+ years.