Hiking Essentials

Pack For Safety And For Fun

Series: Hiking America | Story 4

September 1, 2015

I've been telling you about a lot of great hikes lately, and hiking is one of my favorite outdoor activities. Because I've been hiking and hunting for so many years, I've learned a thing or two about what to carry.

Thing is, you want to be prepared because you could be miles from the car with no cell service, but you don't want to lug around a lot of extra weight. I am always the one with the backpack on our family adventures, and I sure don't want that thing heavier than it needs to be.

So, here are some of my favorite things. Some, like first aid and survival gear, are what I consider essential. Others are optional, but I've found that they really make my hiking experience more fun.

Survival Kit

I am a white-haired grandma now, and I have never gotten lost long enough to need a survival kit. Nevertheless, I always carry one when I'm hiking. Seems like every other week you hear a news story about someone lost for days or even weeks in the wild, and it's hard to keep up hope after a while, especially when the lost person is a child.

For a child's survival kit, the absolute minimum is a blaze orange or other highly visible vest or kerchief, plus a very loud whistle. You should drill it into their little heads that the instant they realize they are lost, they need to sit down in the open with their vest on, and blow the whistle off and on.

Let your children know that since someone will be looking for them almost immediately, it's very important for them to stay put. The more they walk, the harder they will be to find. The whistle can be heard farther than shouts, plus it takes much less energy to blow a whistle.

Again, stress that they are to stay put. The first instinct is to panic and start running around screaming, but make them understand that they don't need to do that because you will be coming for them very soon and all they need to do is stay visible, stay in one place, and keep using the whistle.

There are runner's belts that are very comfortable and compact, and they will hold a kerchief or vest and a whistle. Don't even let your kid out of the car without these two things.

I also carry a survival kit for myself. The Tender Corporation has one that is only about 5 inches square and weighs just over 6 ounces. It's got a good blade, water-purification tablets plus a water bag, a signal mirror and 100dB whistle, fire-starting tools, an LED micro-light, waterproof survival instructions, and tinder that will burn for up to two minutes even when it's wet.

The Pocket Survival Pak Plus costs $80, but I think my life is worth a lot more than that. You can find this kit and a lot of other great outdoor kits at http://www.adventuremedicalkits.com.

First Aid Kit

Again, I have a dandy Adventure Medical Kits first aid kit in my pack at all times. Now this one I have used over and over. You can buy one ready made, or you can build your own, but be sure to include special blister bandages, different sizes of adhesive bandages, headache medicine, etc.

Adventure Medical Kits has a great Family First Aid Kit with information on how to care for hurt kids outdoors, medications for adults and kids, and a big stock of high-use items so you can supply a large group. There is a wide elastic bandage and an instant cold pack too. On the Adventure Medical Kits Web site, you can choose your outdoor sport and you will find a variety of kits that will suit your needs.


I'm always amazed at the people I see on the trail who are carrying nothing but a single water bottle. What is up with that? Those are the people who have to get rescued off mountains and out of canyons all the time because of dehydration and hyperthermia. Sorry, that's a pet peeve of mine.

I bought a brand new Osprey dayhiker pack in Flagstaff on our last trip, and it is awesome. Not only is it a gorgeous aqua color, but also it is made to fit women and it has a mesh back that keeps the bag off your back so air can circulate and keep you cool. I love it!

The Osprey holds a hydration bladder, which is very important, plus it has a nice wide, padded belt that transfers the weight to your hips instead of your shoulders. This is a very important feature in a hiking pack.

On the Osprey, there are two small zipper pouches on the belt so you can keep essentials at hand. When you shop for your pack, be sure to try it on and adjust the straps to fit you. Anything that rubs in the wrong place is going to be maddening after a few miles, so don't be afraid to be picky.

Hiking Stick

I know not everyone likes hiking sticks, but I love them. One really helps steady me, especially on downhills or really rough parts of the trail. My hiking stick has saved me from a twisted ankle more times than I can count. My family is very grateful because they don't want to carry me out of the woods.

The best thing about my hiking stick is that it doubles as a tripod for my camera. It's a Trek Pod, and the cork top pops off to reveal a powerful magnet that couples with the magnet screwed onto the bottom of my camera. If I just want a quick shot but need it to be very steady, I use the Trek Pod as a monopod. But if I want a photo of me and my family on the trail, I just undo the Velcro at the bottom of the Trek Pod and spread out the three legs - voil√°: a tripod.

I use this thing all the time and I've had it for over ten years. Yes, it's pricey - models range from $110 -$300, but remember that mine is over a decade old and still good and sturdy. All I ever had to do was replace the Velcro and the rubber leg tips. To me, the Trek Pod is worth every dime.

Water Bottles

My pack has a hydration bladder, but I'm not foolish enough to rely on just that for all four of us on the trail. So, the girls and grandpa carry their own water bottles, plus I always have a couple more in my pack.

I was at Dick's Sporting Goods a while back and I spotted some bottles called O2Cool Mist 'n Sip. They are double-walled insulated water bottles that include a mister attachment to cool your face off on the trail. My teenaged granddaughters love them!

We fill them halfway up at night and stick them in the fridge, then in the morning we add ice to top them off. Since they are insulated, they stay cool all day long, and the misting really does help cool you off. It's a very fine mist so you don't waste all your drinking water. You can get one at Amazon, too - they're about $17.

The Aquabot is a cap that turns a regular water bottle into a spray bottle with a mister, hose, and shower all in one. You can use the mister to cool off and the shower to clean dirty hands, plus it's great for giving your dog a drink if you forgot the bowl.

In a water fight, the jet will spray a 25-foot stream! It even works upside down, and it fits most wide-mouth bottles such as Nalgene and CamelBak. They start at $20 and you can get one with a bottle included. Check them out at https://www.thegrommet.com/lunatec-gear-aquabot.


I don't know about you, but whenever we happen upon a cave of any kind, one of my intrepid granddaughters wants to venture in. Many hikes lead specifically to caves, and they all have one thing in common: They are dark.

I always carry a flashlight, and since I love things that serve dual purposes, my flashlight is not only solar powered, it's also a charger. Yep - my granddaughters can charge their phones with my flashlight.

I found this little gem at the ISE show this past year. It was about $40, but it's completely waterproof (when the end is screwed on), and it floats. It's bright yellow so it's easy to find even in the bottom of my pack, and it will charge either by sunlight or a charging cord. I leave it on the dash and let it charge until we hit the trail. It's awesome. You can find one at http://www.azhybridlight.com.

Topping Off My Pack

Those are just a few of my favorite things to take on a hike. My pack is big enough to hold lunch, too, and the great thing about that is that after we eat, my pack is so much lighter. If we're having sandwiches, I make them the night before and freeze them wrapped in foil. They are thawed but still cold by lunch time.

I also make my own trail mix because we have a deadly peanut allergy to contend with, and the girls like mine better than any of the ready-made kind. I include Teddy Grahams, Craisins, pecans, Goldfish Pretzels, and any other tasty little things that I can find. We are especially fond of the S'mores Teddy Grahams.

We also pack a lot of fruit on the trail because it helps hydrate you. Of course, always pack all your trash out. Outdoorsmen have a long history of being conservationists, and I hope we continue that forever. Have fun out there, stay safe, and don't leave anything but footprints!


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