Thank you for visiting my page, whether you’re an experienced hiker or a newbie. I’m happy to have you here. Safety is something I don’t feel like gets talked about enough, especially when you are first starting off. It tends to be one of those “you don’t know….until you know.” And hopefully, it’s not too late when you figure that out.

At the beginning of my hiking journey, I was utterly ill-equipped. I had no idea about what I should have carried with me during hikes. I even chalked at friends who were hikers gave me suggestions of what to bring. In fact, I quickly learned I was never traveling with enough water, and I had absolutely nothing in case of an emergency.

My “Ah-ha!” moment came when my friend, Chelle, who is now an avid hiking partner, and I went to hike Ampersand Mountain in Saranac Lake, NY. Even though I had frequently hiked trails before, the level of hiking that day was significantly more challenging. In fact, it was the most challenging hike I had done to that date. Although I had a backpack, with water and snacks, I had no first aid kit, didn’t tell anyone where I was going, and had no extra clothes, shelter, light, or fire. Even though nothing went wrong, the kind of hiking we did that day was pretty humbling. I realized that this wasn’t even a “hard” hike, and if I was going to continue on this journey in the mountains, I really needed to get my shit together.

As I spent more time in the mountains, I started staying at a local hostel, Tmax-N-Topo’s (10/10 highly recommend!) in Lake Placid. In those walls, I listened, I learned, and I got to ask questions about what to do, what not to do, what to bring… and rarely, what not to bring. I quickly realized that I needed to pack for an emergency all of the time because you never know. And, because we are in the middle northern section of rural New York, you aren’t as easily retrieved as you might be somewhere else. So taking extra safety measures is really important.

I had heard of Leave No Trace, but as I read more about it, it was WAY more than what I thought it was and it also led me to learn more about hiking with the “10 Essentials.” (We will talk about Leave No Trace in another blog post.) The 10 Essentials is a set of basic items that can assist you in case of minor injuries, sudden weather changes, or unexpected delays. Keep in mind that the 10 Essentials are just the fundamental items that you should carry with you.

10 Essentials

1.) Navigation: I will be the first to admit I barely know how to use a map and compass WHEN I am out in the forest. However! I will always spend lots of time planning and preparing for a hike with a map in hand. I mainly rely on my AllTrails navigation on my phone while also carrying (usually Chelle, my hiking partner brings one) an extra battery pack in case my phone dies. I turn on navigation for EVERY… SINGLE… HIKE, I go on. Yep, even if I have done it many times, you never know. What if you end up off-trail? There are courses locally in the Adirondacks through the Adirondack Mountain Club for learning navigation. Also, YouTube is a great resource for books, forums, and scouts. (If you have other resources locally that teach navigation, please reach out and let me know so I can list them!)

2.) Sun Protection: Yes, even when it’s cloudy. This refers to sunscreen, sunglasses, hats (which also come in handy in the bug season to throw a bug net over), and sun-protection clothing. I know this seems like a “Duh!” but I assure you, you or a friend WILL forget and if you have a long day out on the trails, you will be wishing you had it with you!

3.) Light: Never rely on your phone for a flashlight because it will die! And the woods are dark, like, really, really, really dark. I recommend carrying a headlamp and changing the batteries frequently. I hike a lot. So, I make sure to change my batteries every third hike when I use it. And, for safe measure, bring extra batteries. Do you know where a good place to keep those are? In an extra headlamp! (Thanks Topo for that one!) I travel with two headlamps and extra batteries. Guess what happens when you don’t bring a headlamp? You will unexpectedly have to hike out in the dark, and hopefully, your phone has enough power to get you out. Yes, I speak from experience.

4.) First Aid: Yes, it adds extra weight to your pack. You will (hopefully) never need it when you’re hiking. But the second you take it out, you or someone else will wish you didn’t. I bought this off Amazon. It’s basic, no frills, but has all the stuff! It also comes in handy while you’re traveling in case something comes up. You never know!

5.) Repair Kit and Tools: I’m still working this out to my liking, but essentially, have a multipurpose tool with you that has everything. This is good when you are winter hiking and have to fix a snowshoe or you have other gear that needs tending to. Pack anything that may be specific and helpful to your trip.

6.) Fire: (cha-cha-cha!) Having waterproof matches, a lighter, and something to ignite quickly and easily is good to have. If you are in an emergency, this can provide you with heat, light, and alerting people to a problem.

7.) Shelter: This can change depending on the weather, but if you are seeking higher altitudes, assume it’s colder where you are traveling to. Having a shelter in an emergency can save your life. Having either a bivy, emergency blanket, tent, or tarp is critical. Having something to cover you keeps you safe from severe conditions and exposure to the elements. I carry one of these with me at all times. They are cheap, light, and take up barely any space. You will likely want something more substantial if you go out further and longer away.

8.) Nutrition: Bring snackies! If you are cranky, check if it’s been a while since you ate or if you are thirsty. Bring an extra day of food if your pack allows. You never know if you or someone you run into will need it. Trail mixes are great and easy to digest. I’m a big fan of having peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, trail mixes, beef sticks, cheese sticks, and usually some candy. (Jolly Rancher chews are the bomb!)

9.) Hydration: This is one of the most important things you will always have with you. Having a water system of some kind is essential, plus, it doesn’t hurt to carry a filtration system as well. Research your hikes before you go. Know if there are water sources and fill up with them before you go further. You know yourself and water your water habits are. I am an excessive water drinker when I am anxious and tired. I have found this out by being in the wilderness a lot. I pack 2 liters of water and I add electrolyte tabs in them. Then, I carry a filtration system with two one-liter holding bags. In the winter, I tend not to drink as much, even though I should. You also want to watch out for water tubes freezing and have a good system going in before you go to know how you will keep water available throughout your trip. A lot of people carry a Nalgene Wide Mouth water bottle. Plus! What if there is an emergency? The last thing you need on top of that is dehydration.

10.) Extra Layers: I know, we all want lighter packs, but we also need to make sure if we have wet clothes on, they need to be changed, especially in the winter. If the temperature drops, you need more insulation. If it’s windy on top of the mountain, you will want something to keep you from being miserable. Weather changes quickly in the mountains. So be ready to need to regulate up or down quickly. I am a sweaty person. So I am bold, and start cold in the winter. Meaning, I start hiking with a light baselayer. Usually, within 5 minutes, I’m burning up and glad I did that. But I am a little grouchy to start, and I fully admit that! But from there on, I typically feel pretty good.

After all those things, it can sound intimidating. But bad circumstances are MORE intimidating, and you don’t want that for your story. I recommend if you are not used to carrying a pack with all those things, start by taking yourself for a walk around with your pack. If you don’t have everything yet, put some weights or books in your pack and get used to carrying the weight. I’m always jealous of the people zipping by on trails who have tiny little bags on their backs. But then I remember they don’t have ANYTHING with them that can help them in an emergency. So if I’m not just carrying these things for me, I am carrying them for others and I will gladly help anyone out.

Be safe. Be prepared. Be kind.

James Appleton, with the 46 of 46 Podcast, has three episodes of winter hiking tips. These are great and packed with helpful information.