The Ten Essentials of Hiking- Be Prepared on the Trail

posted in: Adventure, Health, Hiking | 4

Numerous memes mock the hikers who like to be well prepared.  Folks may find it funny until they end up being the ones needing rescued. In 2019, there were 250 hikers rescued from the Phoenix Mountains. In many cases, these rescues are due to the heat;  hikers don’t realize how quickly they can become dehydrated.  This happens more often with out of state visitors.

   “Tourists often mistakenly believe they can handle the Arizona heat and go out hiking during peak temperatures”.

Even if you plan on going out for a half day hike- it’s always a good idea to have these essentials with you.  If you break an ankle or lose your way, these hiking essentials could save your life.



Lady holding a map

Carrying a map with you might seem old school, but it’s always a good idea. You can start out on a route from the guide book, but may find once you get out there it’s not as easy as they made it look.  A detailed map can be a life saver if you get lost.  Make photocopies from the guidebook if you need to; and make sure that important details such as the contour lines, trail markings, and place names are legible.

Besides a map, you should also carry a compass.  There are smartphones, GPS devices, and watches that include a compass, but it’s smart to bring along a standard baseplate compass.  This type of compass weighs very little and doesn’t rely on batteries.  Learn how to use a compass.

In addition to a basic map and compass, experts also suggest bringing an altimeter watch, GPS and a personal locator beacon (PLB) or satellite messenger.



You should always pack a reliable light source in case you’re still hiking when the sun goes down and you are three miles away from your car or campsite.  You should pack a light and extra batteries even on those day hikes when you expect to be back well before dark.  In my opinion, headlamps are way better than using a flashlight.  With a headlamp, your hands are still free and they are more durable, have better lighting systems and are more convenient overall.  


Knives/Repair Kit


Lady holding a knife

Knives come in handy for food prep, first aid, and other various emergencies. The ideal hiking knife should have a small, sharp, 2-3 inch-long blade. Even a better option is to have a multitool.  These combine a knife with other useful gadgets like files, pliers, and scissors.  They can come with many different features, but here are the most important to have:

  • Sharp Blade for cutting and slicing
  • Serrated blade for sawing wood or fabric
  • Pliers for hot handles, containers
  • Ruler for measuring the distance on a map
  • Can opener

Gear Repair Kit: This kit should have a few basic, but versatile items that can fix gear problems long enough until you get home.  If you are day hiking, then you may not need to bring a gear repair kit.  Chances of something breaking are fairly slim.  However, if you are going on a weekend hike, then these are the items I recommend bringing along:

  • Extra shoelaces
  • Needle and thread
  • Safety pins
  • Plastic zip ties
  • Tubes of seam grip
  • Nylon adhesive patches and nylon tape





It is crucial to carry a first aid kit and also know how to use it.   Wallet size kits are great for day and weekend hikes, while toilet -kit sizes are more appropriate for the trips that last a week or longer.   The following are the types of injuries that your first aid kit should be able to treat depending on the length of your hike:

  • Day Hike: Blisters, cuts, sprains, scrapes, insect bites, muscle aches or swelling, and allergic reactions.
  • Weekend Hike: All day-hiking injuries, plus bleeding wounds, burns, infections, diarrhea, and dehydration.
  • Week long Hike: All weekend hiking injuries and severe bleeding and bone fractures.

Solo hikers should always carry a first aid kit on all hikes, even on short day trips. In a group, there should be at least one kit for every 2-3 hikers.  It’s also a good idea to carry a compact guide for how to deal with emergencies.

Fire Starters

The ability to start a fire is critical to survival in many instances.  You should carry a reliable ignition source and tinder that can burn easily.  A butane cigarette lighter is the fire starter of choice for many hikers; they are handy for lighting up gas-powered cook stoves and can also light regular fires as well.

They are durable, inexpensive, and can be purchased anywhere. Another option is to use waterproof matches stored in a plastic container.  The waterproof matches have the ends dipped in wax or nail polish.  Before using, you must remove the coating to expose the striking surface.  As far as tinder, you can buy commercially or create your own form simple household items:

  • Lint from your dryer
  • Cotton balls (soaked in petroleum jelly)
  • Steel Wool
  • Birthday candles
  • Cardboard that is wax-coated


Emergency Shelter & Extra Clothing/Rain Gear


Carrying extra clothes, rain gear and an emergency shelter is great insurance against a rough unplanned night outdoors.  All it takes is a wrong turn, twisted ankle or a high river to extend your trip.  Packing an extra insulating layer like a fleece jacket and a winter hat will help you to retain body heat.

Rain Gear: Having rain gear can limit your odds of getting hypothermia. Many deaths related to hiking are due to this condition. You can get hypothermia when your body loses heat faster than it can protect it.

Even in the desert, temperatures can drop once the night hits.  Even during the summer, it’s still a good idea to pack a winter hat. If your entire body is insulated, but your head is bare, you will burn a lot more energy trying to keep your head warm.  If you actually hike during the winter, you should take a sleeping bag with you in addition to extra warm layers and a hat.


 Sun Protection

You often hear that in AZ you should use heavy amounts of sunscreen.


Since I live & hike in AZ, this is one I take very seriously.  Proper protection against the sun includes sunglasses, hat, sun protected clothing, and sunscreen.  The results of not using sun protection could result in sunburns, premature aging, skin cancer and cataracts/eye issues.

Too much sun can quickly turn your face and arms red before you know it. It is the ultraviolet rays that cause the sunburns, premature aging, and skin cancer.  You should apply a sunscreen that is at least rated SPF 30 and also has a formula to block UVA and UVB rays. If you hike during the winter, you still want to wear SPF because the sun’s rays reflect off the white snow.

Sunglasses:  Protect your peepers from harmful ultraviolet light.  If you are planning to go on a long trek on snow or ice- then you’ll need extra dark glacier glasses.  Make sure you buy sunglasses that block 100 % of ultraviolet light (UVA and UVB).


Sun protection clothing:   Can block UV rays from reaching your skin (if you want to use less sunscreen).   Hiking attire is available in materials that are lightweight, synthetic, and have UV protection.



Extra Water

While you are hiking, it’s a good rule of thumb to drink at least 1 liter of water every 2 hours.  In hotter weather, you need to increase the amount of water you drink even more. The Nalgene water bottle in this picture is right at 1 liter.




Signaling Devices

To increase your chances of getting saved or being heard, the least you should carry is a whistle and ideally a signal mirror and cell phone. A whistle is one of the most valuable safety devices you can carry. It is a little item, but can carry for a mile- which is much further than a human voice.  If you get in trouble, remember that three sharp blasts form a whistle is the international signal for distress.  A signal mirror is a small, rectangular piece of reflective glass that turns sunlight into a bright flash of light- this light can be seen up to 10 miles away.  You could get a bad rap for carrying a cell phone with you, but if have a signal and can actually call 911 then it could save hours of hiking and waiting for  a rescue.

Extra Food 

The amount of food  you bring on a hike should match the number of days you spend on the trail-plus extra in case of emergency.  One of my good friends lost her bear canister with all her food day two on a week long hiking trip.  They had to get food from other hikers until they reached their destination.  On a backpacking trip, you should bring at least one extra meal and pack this separately so you don’t end up eating it for a snack.

The food you bring should have the following:

  • High Calorie Content
  • Long Shelf Life
  • Edible w/out adding hot water
  • Low protein content (High protein foods increase thirst)
  • Wont melt or freeze

Choosing emergency rations that won’t spoil ensures that you won’t need to replace every time your go for a hike and it will still be good when you need it. These include energy bars, tuna packs, mac and cheese packets, freeze dried mashed potatoes and dried fruit packets.




It might seem like overkill to have these even on short hikes- but you can never be too prepared. Once again- here is a list of Essentials to bring with you on every hike.

  • Navigation
  • Light/Headlamp
  • Multi-Tool with Knife
  • First Aid Kit
  • Fire Starters
  • Extra Food
  • Extra Water
  • Emergency Shelter/ Rain Gear
  • Signaling Device
  • Sun Protection


Have an experience you would like to share?  Please leave in the comments below!

4 Responses

  1. Esperanza Ross

    Great points! I am looking to start hiking longer distance and wish to have a good list of what I need to bring. I appreciate that you have provided everything that I will need to bring and things that I need to look out for. Overall these are great topics, I can’t wait read more of your insights. Thank you for sharing your interests! I wish you the best of luck! Thanks for putting yourself out there!

  2. Rick Brigg

    Hey Misty! I’m quite a keen walker and wanting to broaden my horizons and take on more challenging hiking trails so this article really helps. Over here in the UK we have the “three peak challenge” which is where you have to climb the three highest peaks in the UK over a set period of time. I intend to complete this in 2021 and I will definitely be using your website and this post specifically as part of my toolkit! Thanks Rick 

    • admin

      Hi Rick- we have a similar challenge in the Phoenix area!  These types of events are a great motivator. Thanks for taking the time to comment.

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