Ever head out on a hiking adventure and find that you are not prepared? Spring brings mud, and elevation can bring drops in temperature. Admittedly so, I have been in more than a few situations where I loaded the dogs up in the truck and took off for the hills without preparing for what lies ahead. Though this is sometimes the best way to learn of what to bring on your next hike, you can also save yourself the agony and follow a foolproof hiking checklist.
While hiking Colorado’s mountains, hikers should always prepare for a wide range of temperatures and weather conditions. At high elevations, temperatures typically fluctuate as weather patterns change, and at any given time of the year, you can expect temperatures to be at least 10 to 15 degrees cooler.
This checklist should allow you to have an enjoyable and comfortable hike, function at your best as a hiker, and, most importantly, protect you in the worst scenario the trail may throw at you.
A backpack is an essential asset of any hiking checklist since it is what will hold all your essential hiking gear while you are out on the trail! If you are preparing for an extended backpacking trip, then you will want a larger pack to carry more gear for camping, cooking, and other overnight essentials. For day hiking, a smaller bag like a 22 liter or 18-liter size should suffice. Preferably backpacks that come equipped with hydration bladders are great conveniences for in the pack as it cuts down on space in your bag.
Hydration systems are crucial when it comes to hiking. The length of your hike will help guide your decision on how minimalist and lightweight you want to get. If you are doing extended hiking near rivers and streams, consider using Lifestraws. These gadgets are very compact and lightweight, allowing you to drink straight from a water source. Another similar option is water purification tablets. With tablets, you can fill up your hydration bladder or water bottle at a water source and drop the tablets in. These tablets purify the water allowing you to hydrate on your hike safely.
For a day hike, a traditional water bottle will suffice. However, it would be best if you always planned for the worst-case scenario. If bringing a water bottle as your primary hydration source, expect to have a backup. Throw some water filtration tablets in your pack for emergencies. The same goes for hydration bladders. Hydration bladders are great for hiking because you don’t have to stop each time you want to take a sip of water. But like mentioned above, if it is your primary source, prepare yourself with emergency backup.
Another thing to mention is, if hiking with dogs, make sure you bring plenty of water for your furry friends as well.
Bugs, mud, ice, elevation, and sun are a few of the elements you need to plan for while hiking. For sun protection, especially here in Colorado, make sure you pack sunscreen with high SPF, a hat, sunglasses, and chapstick. Polarized sunglasses can come in handy not only on sunny hikes but on snowy trails as well. Sunglasses help reduce the reflection off of the snow and its glare.
If you get turned around on your day hike or your hike goes longer than expected, always be prepared for darkness. Make sure to always have a headlamp in your bag in case you find your surroundings reaching low visibility. Headlamps are a no-brainer because they are a hands-free method of shedding some light.
Having navigation and knowing how to use it can be life-saving. Navigation systems designed to keep you on the trail are continually evolving. These systems are incredibly effective at lowering your odds of getting lost.
A compass is another crucial tool you should always have in your pack. Compasses are great, traditional tools if used correctly.
Your smartphone can be another tool used for navigation with the many apps available to download and track your location on the trails today. With apps like AllTrails come paid subscriptions but will allow you to track outside of cellphone coverage. Of course, this is useless if your phone loses charge. If planning on using your smartphone for survival, pack a charger and extra battery packs.
Packing an emergency weatherproof tarp or tent is a simple way to provide shelter from the elements. For warmth, add an emergency blanket to your pack. Emergency blankets and tarps are lightweight, compact, and easy to fit into your backpack. When setting out for a day hike, no one plans for spending the night on the trail, however with the worst-case scenario in mind, your overnight will be much more survivable with these items in your pack.
Colorado hikers love their layers. Layers for hiking can be broken down by base layers, mid-layers, and outer shell layers. Top and bottom layers should be breathable and moisture-wicking. Avoid cotton since it does not conduct heat and moisture well and will weigh you down once you start sweating. Mid-layers are for added warmth, and an excellent go-to for these layers is wool. Outer shell layers should protect you against the elements such as wind, rain, or snow.
When planning your clothing, don’t forget to prepare for your feet, hands, and head, especially when expecting colder weather. In Colorado, you may start a hike in the ’80s but find the temperature has dropped into the 30’s or 40’s once the sun is down. Pack extra breathable socks, like Darn Tough, which make wool socks for hiking and running. Make sure you have a hat in your pack as well. From sun protection to a beanie for winter months, it is good to protect your cap from the elements. Finally, make sure you have a pair of gloves in your pack, especially in colder environments.
Lastly, make sure you have the right footwear. Trail runners or hiking boots are great to invest in and will keep your feet comfortable on the trail. If hiking on snow and ice, make sure to pack some ice grips you can attach to your footwear.
Before heading out down the trail, make sure you pack a well equipped first aid kit. It is essential to keep your first aid kit in a waterproof container and keep items up-to-date and replenished. Before heading out, it wouldn’t hurt to take a First Aid class and a CPR class to become current with your skills. Your first aid kit and emergency should include everything from pain management to bear spray. Aspirin and blister protection will ensure that you can keep going. If you encounter any irritants, anti-itch creams and antihistamine medication come in handy. Save your life by packing a whistle and a signaling mirror. These can draw attention to yourself if you find yourself in a debilitating situation on the trail. If there is a possibility of encountering bears on your hike than go prepared with bear spray. For stopping and going to the bathroom along the path, baby wipes are a great choice to pack. Remember to pack Ziplocs so you can pack out.
Owning the right tools to be able to fix things sufficiently is imperative to your ability to keep on moving. Packing a multi-tool, with multiple functions, can get you out of a myriad of different types of binds. Make sure this tool includes an all-purpose knife, or you will need to invest in one of those separately. Duct tape or specialty types of repair tapes are good to have on hand, especially for fixing hiking and trekking gear. And of course, in case you need to tie down or tie up something, it is good to have a reasonable length of cord in your pack as well.
It is always good to have the basics of a fire starter kit in your pack. A lighter and some fire starter squares can work in conjunction to start any fire. In less than cooperative environments, it is helpful to bring as much fire starter as you can.
When hiking, it is best to pack snacks that will give you lasting energy. Pack complex carbohydrates that are high energy, easily digestible. Include proteins and healthy fats to aid in sustaining your energy throughout the day. To save space, pack lightweight, compact-able, and easy to fit foods.