The Fundamental Four – Essential items for every hiking trip

The Fundamental Four – Essential items for every hiking trip

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  1. There has likely been as many articles written on what essential items to take hiking or backpacking as there are people who hike.  Some of the same items will appear on different lists time and again; each hiker having their own preferences and unique methods of performing a particular task.

    Much of the gear a person takes hiking will be determined by factors such as the terrain, the time of year and the duration of the hike, as well as the physical abilities of the hiker. Depending on any one of these factors, the list can easily turn into a top ten or top twenty essential items.

    Whether day hiking or planning a multi-day trip into the backcountry, there are a few basic items the prepared hiker should carry with them regardless of where they go or how long they plan to be out. By no means is this a comprehensive list.  Think of the following items as the American Express of hiking and never leave home without them.

    The knife: Knives come in many shapes and sizes from pocket knives to gadget-packed multi-tool knives to more sophisticated survival knives. Which one you carry is a matter of preference. Obviously, the multi-tool and survival knives offer more features and options, but a good sharp folding knife that fits securely in your pocked can be an invaluable tool. A knife can be used to clean fish or other game, shave tinder for a fire, manufacture spears for hunting and protection, cut strips of cloth for bandages and remove bullets taken in a gunfight at the OK corral. OK, so it is unlikely you will need the latter, but it did get your attention, didn’t it?

    Lighter or flint and steel: The ability to start a fire can mean the difference between life and death. Fires provide warmth, cooking, light and protection. They can be used to signal for help and provide comfort. A large part of successful outdoor survival depends on your psychological health and a fire can be one of the most essential elements in maintaining that health. Carry at least one good lighter. A lighter is essentially water-proof and easy to use when you are in a hurry to get the fire built. Wind-proof lighters are inexpensive and are an excellent investment.  Flint and Steel kits or magnesium fire starters are practically indestructible and with a little practice, can start a fire fairly quick. Water-proof matches are seldom as effective and can be difficult to light. There are more primitive means of starting a fire… like rubbing two sticks together, but unless one of those sticks is a match – it can take a lot of time and a lot of trial and error to get a fire going. Time you may not have.

    Water purification system:  The average person under average circumstances can live 3 days without water. Toss in extreme temperatures and exertion and that number is drastically reduced. Carry enough drinking water adequate for the circumstances – then double it. Always err on the side of safety. Water is heavy and carrying enough for an extended period of time might not be feasible. In addition to what you can carry, pack some sort of water purification system.  There are numerous systems on the market. Which system you pick is a matter of preference dictated by the type of hiking you undertake. Smaller systems include individual filtration bottles. Filtration bottles look much like any other water bottle, but have a filtration system built into them. As you squeeze or suck on the bottle – the water is forced through the filter. Water purification tablets are another means of water purification and are light and take up little room in your pack. Tablets do little for the palatability of water, but are sufficient to kill disease causing bacteria such as Giardia and Cryptosporidium. Drinking unfiltered or unpurified water runs the risk of becoming contaminated with one of these bugs. The last thing you need while out hiking is a bad case of beaver fever.

    Bandana: A bandana is the Leatherman of apparel. A bandana can be used to keep the sweat out of your eyes or dipped in cold water and hung around your neck to keep you cool. They can be used to keep the hair out of your eyes if you have it and to protect your head from sunburn if you don’t.  A brightly colored bandana can be used to signal your location should you get lost. Cut into small pieces, the bandana can be used to mark your trail if needed. Applied properly, it can be used as an emergency tourniquet or compression bandage. Use a bandana to soak up water for drinking in an emergency and as a filter to remove sediment; remember to purify the water before drinking if at all possible. Last but not least, tie the bandana around your head and look every bit as cool as Rambo while continuing safely on your hiking adventure.

    One might wonder why food is not on this list of essential items. As stated earlier – a person can only live an average of three days without water; the same person can live 3 weeks without food. The items listed in this article are basic, essential items, that can be stored in your pack at all times. Each takes up very little room in your pack but could make the difference between an enjoyable hiking experience and a harrowing plight of survival; not to mention how cool you will look in that Rambo bandana. Happy hiking and stay safe.

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