Camping is a time to experience nature. One great way to do this is hiking. That’s not to say that the two have to go hand in hand, but most campgrounds either have day trails, or are located near areas where trails are available. These trails are usually clearly marked, come in various distances and are already mapped. If you are thinking to yourself, what fun is hiking on a trail that everyone uses you obviously haven’t spent much time in the woods. There comes a time (especially for first time hikers) when all those trees look alike. It is easy to become disoriented. Unless you are already a pro at using a compass and a topographical map you should start small and work your way up to a full wilderness hike.
The first step in determining what trail or how long you will hike is to evaluate whom you will be hiking with. If you are hiking with small children or babies, you will want to start with a relatively short trail. Remember it is not a race. You came to the great outdoors to relax. Young children tend to dawdle and if it is their first time in the woods they will want to explore every rock, tree, bug and pile of animal poop that they come across. What may start as a short, two-mile hike may take a couple of hours.
Also, if it the first time your family or group has engaged in this type of activity, you may find that you have to carry a smaller child if you try to hike too far. This is not as easy as it may sound. Most parents have carried their kids around the mall, or the carnival. Most parents have carried babies at one time in some type of pack. But if you are out hiking you will already be carrying some type of pack already, and the additional weight of a tired child can be brutal. You need to carry what you need, but don’t take too much. Be prepared for every emergency, but the heavier the pack when you start, the heavier it becomes as you exert yourself. Huh?
Even on a day hike you need to be prepared for emergencies. This takes advanced preparation. A basic first-aid kit should be put together ahead of time. Be sure to include any medication necessary. You should take extra doses with you just incase you get lost, but don’t take the entire supply in case it gets lost. Sunscreen is also necessary, along with insect repellant, sunglasses, some type of rain gear (folding ponchos are very lightweight), and a plastic bag to pack out your trash. If you know how to use it, bring a compass. If you don’t know how to use it, don’t bring it now is not the time to learn! If you are a parent you will need to take some baby wipes and perhaps a roll of toilet paper.
Each hiker will require at least 1 bottle of water, 2 or more if it is hot or you will be hiking all day. Even young children are capable of carrying their own water bottles in a front pack with some snacks or a sandwich. Food should provide energy. Trail-mix, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, bagels, fruit, and chocolate chip cookies are easy and agreeable fare for most day hikers. Make sure children take only what’s necessary. Leave toys and games at the campsite. Not only do you not want them to get left in the woods, you don’t want to end up carry them too.
What about clothing and shoes? The old adage dress in layers still applies. Check the weather and prepare. There are many types of clothing designed for hikers that are necessary if you are going on a long or over night hike. If you are just hiking day trails you can get by on your everyday cloths, but take a jacket or sweatshirt even if the day is hot when you start out. Anything can happen in the woods and you might find yourself spending the night with Bambi if you or someone in your group gets lost or injured. Long, strenuous hikes in wild terrain require hiking boots. Shorter day hikes can be competed in a good sturdy pair of sneakers, provided they have a good, aggressive tread. No smooth Keds or China flats. Remember to wear socks to prevent blisters. If you do go all out and purchase hiking boots, have them properly fitted, and for God’s sake break them in before you get in the woods!
Have a great hike.
by Sandra M. Webaster