Trail Sense

What you need to know before you go, from what to bring to what not to leave behind

waterintakeHow much water should I take?

Hikers lose water quickly when perspiring—as much as a half gallon every hour. The amount of liquid you should replenish depends on your sweat gland count, but a good rule of thumb is to drink half a pint every 15 minutes. That’s the minimum when hiking in 90-degree heat. If the temperature is a comfy 70, ease up on that canteen.


boots_skilljoyHow much boot is enough?
It doesn’t matter if you’re a light hiker or a backpacker—first look for support. Softer shoes may feel comfortable at a fitting, but stiff soles with thick tread provide stability and protection from rocks on final descents. If your ankles twist easily (longer hikes mean more sprains), buy leather boots. A bruised ligament can ruin your day.


compassI’m lost—now what?
Unless you packed a compass and a map, stay put. Trying to find your own way out can make matters worse. Locate a clearing, conserve movement, look for helicopters, and use anything reflective—a soda can, knife blade, bright jacket, even candy wrappers—to draw attention. If hours turn to days, remember the human body can last three weeks or longer without food. The bad news? You’ll need water in 72 hours.


thermometerIs this heat stroke?
Possibly. Do you feel flushed, disoriented, and nauseated and have a rapid pulse and intense headache? Coma and a permanent out-of-body experience may follow if you don’t cool down. Immerse yourself in cold water (drink some, too), or find shade and remain still. Early symptoms of heatstroke frequently go unnoticed, so consider investing in a digital ear thermometer. When your body temperature hits 100 degrees, you need to slow down. At 104, you’ve stroked.


soilCan I poop?
The conscientious hiker leaves no trace behind. If you must make a deposit, dig a hole eight inches deep—where the biologically active soil layer is found—and at least 100 feet from water. Or buy a WAG bag. The biodegradable Ziploc-type bag converts waste into a stable gel and neutralizes odor. It’s available at REI, $32 for a dozen (reading material not included).


Images courtesy (in order): (1) Flickr/darkpatator, (2) Flickr/sergeantkilljoy, (3) Flickr/becosky, (4) Flickr/mhoey, (5) Flickr/bigtallguy