Upstate Hiking’s 10 Essentials

Every hike, and hiker, is a bit different – but our list below is a great place to start preparing and packing for your hike.

You can browse around the internet and find a number of lists available that go roughly off the same general guidelines, but I’ve got a few tweaks from thousands of miles on the trails. Here’s what’s in my bag for any hike, whether I’m headed out with clients or out exploring on my own. For most of the items on the list below – use the general rule that estimate what you think you’ll need – and then add a little bit to that for a bit of a safety cushion.

1. Water

This one is pretty obvious. Always have at least 1L of water, unless you are planning to source along the trail using a filter or treatment system. In the summertime, I use a Gregory Hydration Pack that can hold up to 3L. I rarely bring that much, but alway pour what I think I’ll need, and then top off with a little extra, just in case.

In the winter, I carry a wide-mouthed Nalgene bottle, as hydration pack (ie ‘Camelbak’) tubes can quickly freeze in the winter, making hydration challenging at best and impossible at worst. I first learned this lesson after realizing my Camelbak tube and mouthpiece had frozen after just an hour or so out in 20 degree temps. To keep your water from freezing in the winter, you can use warm water, an insulated bottle, or insulating sleeve. Also, carrying it upside down (make sure the cap is screwed on tight) ensures that if it does start to freeze, you can still drink from the bottle (since ice forms from the top down).

2. Navigation

Some places may tell you to bring paper maps along – and that’s a good backup if you’re traveling alone in unfamiliar territory, or around places with water. Phones can be dropped, water damaged, lose their charge, etc – and if that’s your only source of navigation – you’re out of luck. But, if venturing on a known trail, having screenshots or maps downloaded to at least two phones in your group is sufficient. If you wouldn’t know exactly where you are and how to get back without your phone’s maps, bring along a paper backup in a plastic bag just in case. As you venture farther off the beaten path or plan for trips longer than a few hours, it’s worth considering getting a unit such as a Garmin InReach or other GPS/Emergency device.

3. First Aid Kit

Now, don’t go packing like a combat medic or anything here – for most single day or shorter trips, a basic first aid kit with some of the essentials will do just fine. At the bare minimum, you should have:

  • some various bandages
  • antibiotic ointment
  • a pair of gloves
  • an Ace Bandage or wrap
  • blister treatment (moleskin or hydrated bandages)
  • anti-inflammatory (ibProfen)
  • anti-histamines (Benadryl).
  • Electrolyte powder or tablets
  • In addition to that, I carry assorted gauze, tweezers, small scissors, athletic tape, adhesive sports wrap, a hinged knee brace, and a few other things that you can read about in my ‘Oh Sh** Kit’ as I call it. Keep in mind, as a guide trained in Wilderness First Aid, I carry a bit more than what is needed by the typical hiker.

As always, you should do additional research for the hike or trip you’re planning to go on and make some tweaks if necessary.

4. Jacket(s)

The type of jacket (and number of them) will obviously depend on the weather outlook and season, but I generally go by the rule of what I think I’ll safely need, plus one extra emergency layer. And whether it’s the hottest summer day or the coldest winter one – I’ve always got a waterproof/windproof shell in my pack. This can even be an ultralight one, but it is essential for a reason. You can get hypothermia even in the summer if its rainy and windy!

5. Headlamp

Remember – a phone light is not a great source of light in the night. Its beam doesn’t reach that far and it might quickly drain your phone battery as well. Having a headlamp (and an extra set of batteries) means that if you’re out longer than expected and have to head back past sunset, you won’t risk tripping and stumbling or losing the trail. It gets dark a lot sooner in the winter – and hiking in areas like valleys, gorges, or certain sides of mountains will get dark even quicker.

6. Sun Protection

Even on days that have a cloudy forecast, make sure to have sunglasses and a small tube of sunscreen with you. Sun can be more direct on mountaintops or in the winter time. One time, I realized too far into a hike that I had forgotten my sunglasses, and nearly had to turn back due to sun blindness. At one point on the trail, I was asking any passerby if they had an extra pair I could buy off of them. Now, I’ve almost alway got a cheap pair of polarized lenses stashed away in my bag. Depending on where you’re hiking, sun protection might also mean a wide-brimmed hat, a neck-gaiter, long sleeves or snow glasses.

7. Food!

Even on the shortest of hikes, I’ve always got at least some trail mix, a grain bar or two, and a few snacks stashed away. When you’re hiking – you’re burning a ton of calories, and need to make sure to keep your body fueled through the day with a mix of fats, salts, sugar and carbs to keep you going. On a full day of hiking, you might burn 2,000+ extra calories over your resting rate – so make sure to pack energy dense foods.

For myself, I often find food seems far less appealing on the trail – so a good rule of thumb is that if you’re not crazy about a snack on normal days, you’re not suddenly going to love it when you’re out hiking. So, pack foods you know that you really look forward to or enjoy eating – so that you don’t forget to eat while you’re out there.

Also, anytime you’re outdoors in areas that may have animals (ie just about anywhere), make sure your food is either in hand, in your bag, or secured safely. I’ve had a wrap snatched by a squirrel in a matter of moments. And I really was looking forward to that wrap. If you’re camping – make sure that your food is secured and away from where you’re sleeping. And don’t eat in the tent.

8. Fire

Being able to get a fire going in an emergency can mean the difference between life and death – and a Bic Lighter is just about all you need for most cases. Those things are near indestructible and waterproof, and probably one of the most reliable items you can buy under $2. If you’re going somewhere particularly windy, having a small torch lighter too may be a good option, but if you’re going to a place like that anyways, I’d want to have a Bic a a backup. I also carry one or two small fire starter cubes (cotton balls soaked in petroleum jelly also work just fine) and a few stormproof matches.

9. Knife or Multi-Tool

Don’t be that person carrying a 12-inch buck knife on one hip and a machete on the other for a three mile hike – Danny Trejo is likely the only person that could pull that one off. But, having a small pocketknife or multitool in the pack can be used for first-aid, gear repair, getting firewood, fending off BigFoot, etc.

10. An Emergency Shelter

A good question to ask yourself is, if I were to be stranded in this location for 72 hours awaiting rescue, and couldn’t move or make a fire – would I be warm and dry? That question is almost always no, and for that reason – I’ve always got some way to make an emergency shelter. Usually its an emergency bivvy – a space blanket sleeping bag that weighs just a few ounces at the bottom of my pack. I’ve actually used it twice on trips in the Adirondacks when I needed a way to stay dry and warm through quick storms. A tarp, simple space blanket, or even large contractor style trash can work wonders in an emergency as well.

As mentioned above – hypothermia can, and often does, occur in the summertime when you might not be prepared to be cold and wet.

11. I thought you said 10 things?

The last thing I’ll say to always bring on every hike is the willingness to turn around if things don’t feel right, if you don’t feel right, or you lose function on some critical piece of equipment. The mountains will always be there!

Looking to get out out on some hikes in Upstate New York, but not sure where to start? Check out our Guided Hiking Experiences and join the adventure!

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