When it comes to low-impact, low-intensity exercise, nothing beats hiking.
Not only can hiking offer a wide range of physical health benefits, but simply being out in nature can also do wonders for your mental health. Hiking is something that nearly anyone can take up, as you can customize your treks to be as arduous or easy-going as you wish.
While simply going for a short hike in a nearby park or reserve doesn’t require much if any planning, those looking to take their hikes to the next level by planning a multi-day trek in the wilderness will be required to do a bit of preparation.
If you’re a beginner hiker who’s decided that trekking in the great outdoors beats the monotony of using a treadmill, you may have considered challenging yourself even further by planning your first multi-day trek.
The first step to planning a multi-day hike is to research your trail choices to make sure you’re selecting one that matches your current fitness level. The next step is making sure you pack all the essential items to ensure your comfort and safety.
Essential Items to Pack for a Multi-Day Hiking Trip
Yes, hikers have survived centuries without smartphones, but they are such a useful tool that you should never be without one while hiking, especially in the backcountry.
Not only can your smartphone be used to call for help in an emergency, assuming you have reception, it can also act as a GPS thanks to a number of great GPS apps you can download which may be able to be used offline.
Smartphones come in handy for when you are forced to wait out bad weather in your tent and need to keep yourself entertained.
You can also utilize your smartphone camera to not only document your hiking adventures, but also to take photos of useful landmarks to help with navigation and avoid getting lost if you find yourself without a GPS or compass.
All this being said, you should never solely rely on your phone alone.
In case your phone’s battery should die and you have no way to recharge or you can’t get a signal, it’s wise to carry an emergency locator beacon as well as a compass for added safety.
Multi-day trekking means carrying some kind of shelter unless you will be ending each day at an established hut or glamping accommodation. The goal is to pack a tent that won’t weigh you down considerably but will also accommodate you and your gear comfortably.
When hiking with family or friends, you may be tempted to invest in a larger, fancier multi-chamber tent that can accommodate everyone, but these can be very bulky and heavy.
It may be wiser for everyone to pack their own single-person tent which are often crafted with more lightweight materials and are nice and compact when broken down.
Be sure to map out ideal areas where you can set up your tent, whether it’s at an established campground or nice flat, soft ground deep in the wilderness.
While the notion of sleeping under the stars sans tent may seem romantic, you can never be assured it won’t rain or that there won’t be biting insects to deal with, so always opt for some kind of tent or accommodation each night of your multi-day hike.
In addition to having proper shelter each night to shield you from rain, wind, and the cold, you will also need to pack proper clothing for the climate you will be facing.
Most seasoned hikers have learned to dress in layers, consisting of a base layer, mid-insulating layer, and a protective outer shell. Doing this allows you to easily remove or add clothing as needed to ensure you maintain a healthy body temperature.
Weather of course is often unpredictable and storms can develop out of nowhere, while hot day-time temps can drop considerably after the sun goes down in places like the desert. For this reason, always pack clothing that might come in handy even if you believe you may not need it.
You of course don’t want to weigh yourself down by packing your entire wardrobe, so you’ll need to be selective with what you choose.
The best hiking clothes are ones that are lightweight, dry quickly, low odor-absorbing, and durable. Polyester, polypropylene, and natural merino fabrics will be much better than cotton for hiking.
Lastly, make sure to pack any necessary accessories such as gloves, scarves, and beanies if you will be hiking in especially cold temperatures. Pack dedicated sleepwear that will ensure you can sleep in dry clothes that are free of dirt, debris, and smells you may pick up during each day of hiking.
Wearing proper footwear is crucial since you’ll be on your feet for considerable amounts of time during a multi day trek. You want to select a pair of hiking shoes or boots that are designed for the types of terrain and elements you will face during your trek.
You don’t necessarily need the most rugged and expensive pair of brand name hiking boots, but good hiking footwear should offer proper ankle support and be waterproof or at the very least water resistant.
Many beginner hikers undertaking their first multi-day trek go out and purchase a new pair of hiking shoes and make the mistake of not breaking them in first with shorter walks before their trip.
This can result in painful blisters caused by friction.
If you do find that you have failed to break-in your new hiking shoes, you will want to wear a thicker pair of socks and tend to any blisters quickly with bandages and added cushion.
The general rule is that humans can survive without water for about three days, but when you’re exerting yourself while hiking in extreme heat, you could suffer severe and even deadly consequences such at heat stroke after just a few hours or less without proper hydration to cool you down.
While you may be able to pack enough water for yourself during a short hike or even a day hike, you more than likely won’t be able to carry enough water for drinking and cooking to last through a multi-day trek.
Therefore, it may be vital to pack some sort of method to sterilize water sourced from natural sources. This can be achieved by using either a device like a specialized straw filter, UV-treatment, boiling water in a pan, or with water treatment drops/tablets.
Sterilizing water will ensure you don’t pick up any water-borne illnesses such as dysentery, giardia, or E.coli. When it comes to storing your sterilized water, use a rugged reusable high-density polyethylene bottle to save on weight or an insulated aluminum/stainless steel bottle if you wish to keep your liquids cold or hot.
You want a large enough bottle to carry the required amount you’ll need while hiking each day but don’t want to weigh yourself down. It is said that men require at least 100 ounces of water per day while women need at least 75.
With most water bottles falling into the range of 16-32 ounce capacity, you may need to carry at least two bottles during your hikes and then get your extra daily hydration requirements in the mornings and evenings at camp.
Multi-day hikes require you to carefully plan out how much food you’ll need each day and weather you’ll be able to carry it all for the entire duration of your trek. For longer hikes, the planning of food drops or caches may be required.
You also need to consider what types of food you’ll be able to keep fresh. While you can easily pack a large cooler full of ice for perishables during a weekend camping trip that you simple drive to, you won’t be able to carry a heavy cooler with you on a multi-day hike.
The goal is to pack food items that pack the most nutrition and energy for their weight. You also want to pack foods that don’t require refrigeration. This equates to foods like nuts, jerky, dried rice you can cook over a portable gas stove or fire, beans, cereals, and fruits.
It’s always a good idea to make yourself familiar with how to use any camp cooking equipment before your trip if you’ve never used such equipment before or simply to check that older equipment is still in good working order. Make sure to pack any utensils you may need and always store your food securely at camp so as to not attract wildlife.
Lastly, you can pack fishing equipment if bodies of water will be present along your multi-day trek. This offers a great way to replenish your food supply and get some protein.
I would caution against picking wild fruit like berries or seeking out mushrooms unless you are highly trained in knowing what is and isn’t poisonous.
No matter how short or tame you think your multi-day hike will be, it’s always wise to pack at least a small first-aid kit. Small cuts and scrapes are quite common on hikes, and even something seemingly insignificant can end up getting infected and turn serious without proper treatment.
The basics of any kit should include bandages to cover wounds, antiseptic cream to clean wounds, immobilization / compression bandages which can aid in the treatment of snake bites and sprained joints, eye wash, painkillers, diarrhea medication, and of course a first-aid manual which will show you how to treat many of the common ailments you may face.
While you may always be extra cautious and stay out of trouble, that doesn’t mean your hiking partner isn’t accident prone. Your first-aid kit may end up coming to the aid of someone else beside yourself that needs treatment.
This is also why it’s a good idea to take a first-aid course which will teach you how to care for a range of injuries and sicknesses that others in your hiking party may experience.
It’s often hard to escape biting insects nearly anywhere in the wild. Not being prepared for them can turn any multi-day trek into a miserable experience.
Insect sprays and creams with DEET can effectively keep mosquitoes and many other biting insects at bay, while a head fly net can stop the need to be constantly swatting flies from your face.
The first line of defence against biting insects is of course to cover up. While it may not be comfortable, you should stick to long pants and long sleeved shirts that are thick enough to stop insects from penetrating when insects are especially numerous.
Carry insect relief creams to care for any bites or stings you do receive, and make yourself familiar with what types of potentially harmful insects you may encounter in the area you will be hiking, knowing the best deterrents and treatments to use for each.
Packing an EpiPen may be essential if you are prone to anaphylaxis, a serious allergic reaction, which can occur most frequently from bee stings and the stings of various ant species in some people.
There are many additional dangers beside mosquitoes and other flying insects as well. These can include certain caterpillars which can leave a nasty rash when coming in contact with your skin, venomous snakes, and leeches.
Read up on ways to prevent each of these from ruining your hike.
Whether you’re hiking along a coastal trail in summer or on snow-covered mountains in winter, you should always be sure to have proper sun protection.
Good sun protection includes wearing a hat, quality sunglasses that block harmful UV rays, high rated SPF sunscreen, and lip balm.
Sunburn can be quite painful and serious. It can also come about within a few hours or much quicker for fairer skinned people.
While you may think sunburn is a summer beach thing, you can just as easily get severe sunburns in winter, especially when hiking at high altitudes in snow where the sun’s rays are reflected off the white snow.
Hiking along beach sand or along bodies of water can also see the sun’s rays be stronger due to reflection. If you do end up getting burned, using aloe vera gel or spray can aid in relief.
Hiking for several days means you will have to carry a number of toiletries unless you don’t mind smelling and being unhygienic.
Some camps offer up showers and toilets, but you will have to carry a shovel and biodegradable toilet paper along with a portable camp shower for those nights when facilities aren’t provided such as in the backcountry.
Women may need to pack sanitary products and hikers that wear contacts will want to carry a lens case alongside plenty of disinfecting saline storage solution.
Having a pair of prescription glasses is also a wise idea as a backup. Products like hand soap, shampoo, and dish soap should all be environmentally-friendly and not introduce harmful chemicals that could endanger the ecosystem.
Multi-day hikes mean having to endure darkness back at camp and possibly on the trails. It’s almost essential to pack some form of light to safely make your way to camp in darkness, cook at night, and for night-time bathroom breaks.
There are all kinds of different camping lights and flashlights available, ranging from convenient head torches that free up your hands to lanterns that can light up your entire camp.
The most important thing is making sure your artificial light will have power. Battery-operated flashlights can have a short life, so investing in a solar powered or hand crank model may be wise for longer journeys.
Note that incandescent flashlights are often inexpensive, but models with LED bulbs will provide more powerful light and offer longer battery life.
Other Survival Tools
I have already mentioned a number of items on this list which can save your life such as a GPS unit, emergency locator beacon, and cell phone, but there are also other essential survival tools you should have on you during a multi-day wilderness hike.
A knife, or better yet multi-tool, will come in handy for performing a number of functions such as opening canned goods, removing hooks from fish, descaling fish, making repairs to gear, etc.
You will also most likely need some way of creating fire whether it’s through using waterproof matches, a flint, or simple lighter. A bit of rope and duct tape can always come in handy as well.
The level of survival gear you’ll need will of course depend on where you’ll be hiking and for how long.
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