Saturday, May 16, 2015

"Scaling" your gear...determining what to take for a safe dayhike.

Often when I go out hiking I always find myself studying other day hikers to see what gear they might be carrying. In my observations, this usually this means little or no gear whatsoever. I would say the average day hiker carries a cellphone and *maybe* a  half liter bottle of water. This might be acceptable for some hikes, but I am always surprised when I am 5 or 6 miles out on a back country trail and encounter someone with water and no gear whatsoever.

The further out you go, the more gear you should take.
Anyone who follows this blog knows that this is an especial pet peeve of mine, and that I have often suggested that there is "No such thing as a day hike"; in other words, plan & prepare for an overnight stay. My wife is an experienced obstacle racer and trail runner and we have had several discussions about this. She is of the opposite opinion; that you really don't need any extra gear...just a bottle of water and a knife is adequate for most outings. And for some people that may be all right.

In this blog post, I am going to provide some thoughts and ideas for selecting and scaling your gear for the level of hike you are taking to ensure a safe and enjoyable outing.

To begin, I think we need to consider is "What is the purpose of gear?" Basically, gear is intended to facilitate the outing so that it is done safely, comfortably, and enjoyably. The reverse is also true: too much gear can make an outing unsafe [pack weight impair balance or exhaust bearer] and/or unenjoyable. Some people develop "Kit Mentality", in which gear becomes the focus of their outing, rather than enjoying the natural outdoors.

What we are talking about is "Scaling your gear"; Striking a balance, and taking only what might be needed given the dynamics of the hike we are planning..  

Next, I think we need to define what types of hikes we might find ourselves on. I consider hikes to be of three levels:

LEVEL 1 - Short hikes, usually less than 3 miles [5K] total distance, on heavily foot trafficked trails within more or less constant sight of a community or habitation. These would be hikes in open space areas, such as public parks, located within or adjacent to an urban or suburban area. Trails are well defined and cared for. Cellphone service is assured, and you can easily reach a location where you can signal assistance [yelling, whistle, mirror flash]. These are outing of less than 2 hours duration.

LEVEL 2 - Medium hikes which will usually be less than 6 miles [10K] round trip with moderate traffic [occasional mountain bikers and/or hikers].  These would be trails that will take you out of sight of roads or habitation. Trails are worn and intermittently marked with the occasional sign. A map is useful but not necessary.  Cellphone service will likely be spotty and unreliable.

Can you yell this far and be heard?
LEVEL 3 - Long hikes more than 6 miles [10K] in one direction on isolated trails with little or no likelihood of encountering other hikers if assistance was needed. These would be outings of several miles and several hours duration which would take one well out into wilderness or back country regions. Trails may be very rarely marked, not maintained, overgrown, and a map is an absolute necessity.  Cellphone service would likely be non-existent.  These are day long outings. 

Next, I am going to provide some suggestions of what I would recommend one take for each of these levels of outings:

For a LEVEL 1 hike, I think one probably can pull off a hike with, as my wife has suggested  little more than a bottle of water and a knife. Of course, having your cellphone along is very helpful. In the photo below, I show items carried on a recent L1 hike: A fleece jacket, water bottle, wallet cutting tool, sun hat, warm knit cap, small flashlight, cellphone. A pack is not required...all of these items can easily be carried in one's pockets.

Light kit for a quick hike
On a LEVEL 2 hike, I think a small day pack or hydration pack or fanny pack will suffice. Besides those items shown in the L1, carry a few snacks, extra water, a whistle and a small First Aid kit [read cuts and scrapes].

Finally, on a LEVEL 3 hike I recommend you "go heavy" and treat it as an overnight stay, just in case that becomes a reality. In the photo below I have laid out my kit for such an outing. We see that the kit covers First Aid, shelter material, fire making, hydration, food, signaling, cordage, and many other useful items for surviving a night or two lost or injured on a trail.

Overnight Trail Kit
I think we need to consider that there are always variables that we need take into account, and should always adjust our kit to accommodate:

- Weather: Hot or cold conditions, precipitation. It may be that you live in a region where weather can change dramatically and quickly. In that case it might be wise to carry a bit of extra clothing, perhaps a jacket with hood.

- Fitness: Your level of conditioning [or lack thereof] medical issues, required medications. Do not exceed your ability. If invited on a hike assess to determine whether it is within your ability. Make any hike host aware of your limits or medical issues in advance of the hike. 

- Terrain: elevation gain, trail conditions and strata [loose rocks, deep sand, etc.] not only affect shoe choice, but whether a hiking stick or trekking poles should be carried. Obviously these would not be needed on a flat, smooth park path.

- Dangers: Dangerous wildlife has increasingly been seen coming into the front country of many areas. You don't just see them in the back country anymore. Be aware of tracks and how to deal with wildlife should you encounter them on the trail.

Coyote track along trail
A final word: Nothing I have said here is intended to dissuade anyone from carrying more gear should they decide to do so. In my own case, I prefer to always carry a day pack equipped with some extra clothing,  a GRABBER "Sportsman" reflective blanket, extra water, some food, medical supplies, a sheath knife, signaling and fire making tools; essentially everything needed to spend a night on the trail if it were necessary to do so and to care for myself or render aid to another were an injury to occur.  I have on at least one occasion provided water to a person suffering dehydration. I have arrived late at 2 injury scenes where help was being provided, but expect someday it may fall on me to help with a trail injury victim. 
I hope you have found this article helpful and useful.
Happy Hiking!

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