As residents of Southern Arizona, we are fortunate to have a choice of multiple hiking trails. Our National Parks oﬀer additional beautiful trails, and opportunities for hiking and backpacking worldwide are plentiful. This month’s article will review how to prepare for a hike that meets individual abilities and prepares you to deal with the challenges of the great outdoors.
Picking a Trail
Picking the right trail for everyone’s abilities is very important. Trails are rated by distance of the hike, altitude, steepness of the trail, need for navigation assistance, and obstacles presented by the terrain. Planning a hike should factor in a round trip. How long will it take to reach your destination, explore the area, and return to the trail head before sunset? Are the trails easy to follow or poorly marked? Will climbing be necessary at any point in the trail? Are elevation changes going to occur? There are many charts available for assessing the difficulty of the rating of a trail. These, however, are intended as a general guide. Physical fitness and general health need to be factored in. Weather conditions for the time of year you plan the hike should be considered. Will it be raining? Will it be very hot? Very cold? Are you physically limited by orthopedic or respiratory considerations? For all these reasons it is often a good idea to speak with someone who knows the trails and areas you plan on adventuring in.
For a general idea of trail ratings, we provide a link below for the IMBA Trail Diﬃculty Rating System. There are many trail rating systems available. Other rating systems are the Yosemite Decimal System, and the Sierra Club Rating System, which are also widely used. Whatever trail you choose, start out with easy trails if you are new to hiking. If you picked a trail that is more diﬃcult than anticipated, it is okay to turn back.
Let’s start with clothing: In general clothing should be weather appropriate. If the morning is cold and the afternoon hot, you should consider layering your clothing. Fabric that will prevent you from getting soaked, from rain or ground water, such as moisture wicking, is an excellent choice. Comfortable, sturdy shoes, such as hiking boots are always a must. Sturdy shoes are shoes that will protect your feet from injury, provide support, and provide traction to prevent slipping and falling. A hat for sun protection is a great idea. Hats can block up to 98 % of UV light (UPF 50). Additionally, sun hats are porous and thus allow air to get in. If it is winter, keeping your ears and head warm is a consideration. If rain is a possibility, hats should be a complete equipment list from the American Red Cross for hiking, ranging from insect repellent to light sources, and tools and navigation aids and building a ﬁre. See the link below for more.
Food for Your Hike
Generally high calorie, protein and carbohydrate rich foods are advised for hiking. If the hike is a Day Trip of several hours, foods in the nut, seed and fruit category are recommended. Examples are energy bars, granola bars, or trail mix. Fruit that does not need to be refrigerated such as oranges, and apples and bananas are good energy sources as well. Sandwiches on whole grain bread with food that does not require refrigeration, such as peanut butter or almond butter are also appropriate. Food that requires refrigeration needs to be kept below 40 degrees. If the hike will last a few days, cereal, fruits or vegetables in squeeze packets, protein sources of chicken or ﬁsh from a can are good choices. Mayonnaise and mustard should be in individual packets.
Water for Your Hike
Water consumption while hiking is especially important. A good rule is to drink one liter of water for every 2 hours of hiking. This formula tries to consider that it will take a longer time to hike in diﬃcult terrain than mileage alone would account for. Water, intended for drinking, cooking, use in food preparation, washing food or dishes should be bottled and brought with you. Trail water may be contaminated with bacteria, viruses, and parasites despite appearing clear and clean. It is often not possible on a hike to know where the water originated from. To prevent becoming ill and avoiding vomiting and diarrhea while on the trail, bottled water of known origin is recommended. Understanding that this may be impractical for long hikes, an alternative is water puriﬁcation.
Boiling water is a time-honored method. Boil water for at least one minute or 3 minutes if altitude is above 6,500 feet. A beverage warmer or heating coil is eﬀective but does require electricity. Alternatives to boiling fall under the categories of disinfectants which DO NOT remove harmful chemicals. Filtration will remove most but not all bacteria and viruses, but not parasites. Puriﬁers check all the boxes to remove parasites, bacteria, and viruses.
Combining ﬁlters and disinfectants (chlorine iodine, chlorine dioxide) adds more coverage against parasites than either ﬁltration or disaﬀection alone. Outdoor recreation stores sell these products and reviewing usage and ease of portability can be discussed with store personnel.
Before You Go
Ahead of your trip, ﬁnd out and stay current on wildlife risk, such as bears and lions. Know if there are park alerts, or trail alerts. Familiarize yourself with weather conditions in the area and weather forecast for your hike.
It is important to share your plans with a friend or family member. Speciﬁcally let this person know your start date/time, return date/time, where you are hiking and the speciﬁc trail. No one plans on getting injured or lost, however, if this occurs, someone who can direct a search team with accuracy is important. In that same discussion of taking care of yourself if injured, taking a CPR and ﬁrst Aid class prior to your hike is quite useful and a resource that can be utilized anywhere at any time.
Your cell phone may not be dependable if there is no connectivity. Protect the battery life of your cell phone by turning it oﬀ. Alternatively, put your cell phone in airplane mode. Using your cell phone as a light source depletes battery life.
No hiking article is complete without mentioning the Unoﬃcial Hiking Etiquette Rules from the American Hiking Society. These are listed below in no speciﬁc order of importance:
“Leave alone or leave behind” Rules:
- Leave plants and animals This is as much for your protection as the protection of the plants and animals.
- DO NOT leave trash There is no garbage collection on hiking trails. Garbage endangers you and other hikers by attracting animals.
- DO LEAVE anything you ﬁnd along the trail Speciﬁcally, do not take souvenirs from your hike.
- Speak quietly on the Cell phones should be on low or oﬀ.
- Do not block the Move both yourself and your gear aside if you need a rest.
- Remain on the trail if you encounter mud or a Walking around a puddle can widen the trail.
- Hikers going downhill yield to those going
- The slowest hiker in a group sets the pace and hikes up front, so that they do not lag behind and get lost.
- If you can hike and talk comfortably you are hiking at the perfect speed for
- Don’t get lost!
Some helpful links to keep you safe
Chart for rating hiking trail diﬃculty: https://adventurenerds.com/guide-notes/ratings/backpacking-hiking-trail-difficulty-ratings/
Drinking Water Treatment Guide: https://www.cdc.gov/healthywater/drinking/travel/backcountry_water_treatment.html
What to pack in your backpack: safety-essentials-to-bring-in-your-backpack-for-your-next-hike
Lightening Safety Tips: https://www.cdc.gov/disasters/lightning/safetytips.html