My friend, bearded Rick Vaughn, and I were hiking through the Snowbird Mountains of North Carolina, in the Nantahala National Forest, south of the Smokies. The upper reaches of this backcountry area are seldom-traveled. The trails are rough, overgrown — and unmarked. I was leading the trek, and kept coming to unsigned trail intersections, each time wondering which way to go. The map I carried was old and obviously incomplete.
I would pick one way based on the lay of the land — and a little luck, I hoped. Nervous Rick, an inexperienced hiker, was wary of my seemingly random route choices. At the next trail junction, he had had enough and stated, “Let me hold the map.”
Obviously, having a map in hand — even a bad one — gave him some measure of comfort. Maps are good things to have while hiking, and are one of the 10 essentials equipped hikers take with them.
One of the first rules of hiking is to be prepared for anything. Always consider worst-case scenarios like getting lost, hiking in the dark, broken gear, twisting an ankle, or enduring a brutal thunderstorm. The items listed below don’t cost much money, don’t take up much room in a pack, and don’t weigh much, but they might just save your life.
Water: The easiest way is to bring treated water from home. Use durable bottles that don’t leak. Consider bringing a water treatment system, either iodine tablets or a filter.
Map: A plastic trail map is best, such as the National Geographic series maps. Even if you are hiking at a state park like Warriors Path, or a preserve such as Bays Mountain, obtain a map over the Internet or at visitor’s centers before you embark.
Compass: A compass will help you properly orient your map. A GPS loaded with topo maps is even better.
First-aid kit: A good-quality kit, including first-aid instructions, can help with a deep cut or simple sprains.
Knife: A multi-tool device with pliers is best. You can pull out a splinter or repair a daypack. It is amazing how these come into use.
Light: A headlamp with extra batteries can save you from stumbling your way back to the trailhead. I wish I had a dime for every story someone has told me about their hike taking longer than expected.
Fire: A lighter is one of the best inventions for outdoor enthusiasts. Bring a lighter and perhaps something to start a fire if you become chilled, lost, stranded overnight or all the above.
Extra food: You should always have food in your pack when you’ve finished hiking. Keep wrapped, nonperishable foods such as nutrition bars in your pack in addition to what you add each outing.
Extra clothes: rain protection, warm layers, gloves, warm hat. These will change with the seasons, but a rain jacket should be carried at all times, to keep you dry and warm enough to make it back to the trailhead.
Sun protection: sunglasses, lip balm, sunblock, sun hat. This applies if you are hiking before spring leaf-out or traversing balds like those atop Roan Mountain.
With the above 10 essentials you can focus on the beauty around you and have a safe, happy hike.
Johnny Molloy is the author of several outdoors guidebooks. Visit www.johnnymolloy.com.