August 3, 2006 - Admin

Six Hiking and Backpacking Tips

Hiking and backpacking in the wilderness means leaving the safety and predictability of civilization behind. That is part of the adventure, and part of the danger. Here are six hiking and backpacking tips you can use to make it much safer, without taking away from the adventure.

1. Carry a compass, a map, and the knowledge of how to use them. Even if you don’t have a good map, any map is better than nothing. People lost in the wilderness have often hiked farther into it because they had no idea in which direction was the nearest road. Practice with the compass near home, and use it before you need it, just to keep in practice.

2. Bring the necessary safety items and knowledge. On Mount Whitney I saw hikers eight miles from the nearest road, at nightfall, with no water, facing a sub-freezing night with short sleeves. They underestimated the time they needed for the trip. They also hadn’t prepared for the possibility of their hike taking longer than expected, or for possible changes in the weather. Check weather reports, think of all the possibilities, and have some preparation and planning for each before you leave.

3. Take care of your feet. Your feet might not take you back out to safety if they are covered in blisters. Stop to air out your feet a few time daily. Condition them beforehand. Bring a spare pair of socks to change into in case your feet get wet or too sweaty. Cover “hot spots” on your feet with moleskin before they become blisters. Stop to shake stones and sticks out of your shoes or hiking boots.

4. Carry matches and practice making a fire. Try making a fire and lighting it with one match. Try it in near home when it is raining, and try it in the snow too. A fire really can save your life. People rarely die from starvation in the wilderness, but they commonly die from exposure. Learn how to keep yourself warm and dry when hiking and backpacking, and always carry matches and a lighter.

5. Let people know where you are. How can anyone come to the rescue if nobody knows where you are? Leave an itinerary behind with someone you trust. Should you carry a cell phone? I don’t care for them myself, but they do save lives all the time. You might want to take it and just leave the ringer off until you need it. Just be sure to charge the battery before you go.

6. Learn a few survival skills. Basic survival skills make hiking and backpacking safer as well as more interesting. Just remembering that sleeping under a pile of dry grass or leaves can keep you warm could save your life someday. Knowledge of a few wild edible plants can feed you when you lose your food, and make a trip more interesting in any case.

People new to the wilderness, but also experienced outdoorsmen have paid the ultimate price when they forgot or refused to take a few basic precautions. It helps to read hiking and backpacking tips like these, but apply them too.

Steve Gillman is a long-time advocate of lightweight backpacking. His tips, photos, gear recommendations and a free book can be found at

Hiking and Backpacking

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