10 es­sen­tials you should al­ways have in your back­pack

The Denver Post - - LIFE & CULTURE - By Erin Dou­glas He­len H. Richard­son, Den­ver Post file

Colorado sum­mers are as beau­ti­ful as they are volatile. Be­fore you head into the high coun­try for a hike this sea­son, check your back­pack. A well-packed bag can be the dif­fer­ence be­tween a great day in the moun­tains and al­ti­tude sick­ness or — worst-case sce­nario — a res­cue.

Ac­cord­ing to a re­port based on Na­tional Park Ser­vice data, the most com­mon con­tribut­ing fac­tors to search-and-res­cue in­ci­dents are mak­ing an er­ror in judge­ment; fa­tigue and phys­i­cal con­di­tions; and in­suf­fi­cient equip­ment, cloth­ing and ex­pe­ri­ence. Many of th­ese fac­tors can be avoided by pack­ing (and then act­ing) smarter for a day in the wilder­ness.

This list is based on rec­om­men­da­tions by the U.S. For­est Ser­vice, the Na­tional Park Ser­vice, the 10 es­sen­tials adopted by the Amer­i­can Hik­ing So­ci­ety and other groups, as well as some Coloradospe­cific ad­vice.

“The 10 es­sen­tials is a good place to start, and the list varies de­pend­ing on the or­ga­ni­za­tion and the peo­ple,” said Jeff Golden, mar­ket­ing man­ager for Colorado Moun­tain Club and an ex­pe­ri­enced moun­taineer.

Here are 10 things you must have in your all-pur­pose day-trip pack:

1. Wa­ter

Peo­ple need wa­ter. This es­sen­tial is eas­ily for­got­ten — not at home, but on the trail. Not drink­ing enough wa­ter is a ma­jor con­trib­u­tor to al­ti­tude sick­ness. Na­tives, you al­ready know this, but here’s

some­thing else to con­sider: If you’re tak­ing friends and fam­ily to a higher al­ti­tude than nor­mal, grab an ex­tra wa­ter bot­tle for them just in case they need it. In or­der to pre­vent de­hy­dra­tion, drink wa­ter slowly and fre­quently over sev­eral hours. If you are show­ing signs of al­ti­tude sick­ness — headache, nau­sea, fa­tigue — drinks with elec­trolytes can help you re­cover.

“We al­ways rec­om­mend peo­ple carry more wa­ter and food than you think you’ll need,” Golden said.

2. Food

Don’t fool your­self — even if you’re plan­ning to be back by lunch, hik­ing burns more calo­ries than you think. Hik­ing with a light­weight pack can burn about 500 calo­ries an hour, ac­cord­ing to Nu­tiS­trat­egy Nu­tri­tion and Fit­ness.

If you start early in the morn­ing, it’s likely you will be hun­gry by 10 a.m. If you are go­ing for a full day, don’t for­get snacks. When you feel like you can’t move your feet any fur­ther, or if you start to feel nau­seous, a snack with sodium (and calo­ries) can help.

“You’re sweat­ing out all that sodium,” Golden said. “Bring good, salty food that you’re go­ing to want to eat when you feel tired or sick. Candy bars are key.”

The U.S. For­est Ser­vice and Na­tional Park Ser­vice rec­om­mend bring­ing high-en­ergy bars, gra­nola, candy or fruit. Since fruit can be heavy in your pack, or eas­ily crushed, con­sider bring­ing dried fruit or pack­ing a fruit trail mix.

3. Nav­i­ga­tion tools

Other than food and wa­ter, the most im­por­tant thing you can put in your bag is a map. In ad­di­tion to your map, it’s a good idea to bring a com­pass and al­time­ter in or­der to read your map. Be sure to look it over be­fore you start your ad­ven­ture, and stay on marked trails.

Al­ter­na­tively, bring a GPS, but if you do, make sure you have ex­tra bat­ter­ies.

“It’s a lit­tle old school, but we still en­cour­age peo­ple to carry a map and know how to read it,” Golden said. “It doesn’t need bat­ter­ies.”

You can ob­tain a trail map from your for­est’s ranger dis­trict of­fice or through the Na­tional For­est Ser­vice. Many state parks pro­vide free maps upon en­trance.

4. Rain pro­tec­tion and shel­ter

Bring a wa­ter­proof rain­coat for those fre­quent af­ter­noon thun­der­storms we get in Colorado. Weather can change dra­mat­i­cally in the high coun­try, and in an emer­gency, a good rain­coat might be the dif­fer­ence be­tween com­fort­ably re­turn­ing to the trail­head and hy­pother­mia.

A light­weight tarp, pon­cho or tent is a good idea to have on hand in case you find your­self trapped in a storm and need shel­ter.

“Sum­mer thun­der­storms are pretty rou­tine in the Rock­ies,” Golden said. “You want to be able to con­fi­dently sur­vive a night out. For some peo­ple that’s a tarp, and oth­ers, it’s a tent. It’s good to have at the bot­tom of the pack. It could be some­thing as sim­ple as car­ry­ing an ex­tra jacket.”

5. Ex­tra cloth­ing

If you plan to travel above 10,000 feet, bring a fleece and long pants, even on the hottest sum­mer days, and make sure you wear ap­pro­pri­ate cloth­ing and boots for the ter­rain.

Tem­per­a­tures drop three to five de­grees for ev­ery 1,000 feet of el­e­va­tion gain, ac­cord­ing to the U.S. For­est Ser­vice. Weather quickly changes and the risk of hy­pother­mia is real, even on a short day hike.

Avoid cot­ton T-shirts and jeans be­cause th­ese ma­te­ri­als are slow to dry. If you get sweaty at the be­gin­ning of your hike and the weather turns, the stakes could be high.

“It could be sunny but all of the sud­den, a storm rolls in. That’s how a lot of peo­ple get hy­pother­mia when you least ex­pect it,” Golden said.

6. Sun pro­tec­tion

No mat­ter where you’re go­ing, you should at least bring one of th­ese three (if not all three): a hat, sun­screen or sun­glasses. Do not be fooled by cool tem­per­a­tures at el­e­va­tion — it is eas­ier to get sun­burned at high al­ti­tude than it is at a hotter, lower al­ti­tude.

For ev­ery 1,000 feet of el­e­va­tion gain, there is an ap­prox­i­mate 8 to 10 per­cent in­crease in UV in­ten­sity, ac­cord­ing to a study by Ron­ald Perel­man with the New York Univer­sity School of Medicine.

“Wear sun­screen even though it feels weird at high el­e­va­tion,” Golden said. “Wear sun­glasses — es­pe­cially if there’s snow on the ground. You’ll get sun­burned places you wouldn’t even think about just be­cause the sun is re­flect­ing off the snow.”

7. First aid kit

Bring a light­weight first aid kit on any day hike. Rocks, tree roots, holes and fallen branches are a recipe for sprained an­kles and cuts, and th­ese haz­ards can­not be avoided on any Colorado hike.

If you’re hik­ing with a group, each per­son should have their own kit.

“This is some­thing we supris­ingly see peo­ple skip on,” Golden said.

8. Il­lu­mi­na­tion

Par­tic­u­larly if you start your hike late in the day — or, just as a gen­eral prac­tice — you should bring a flash­light or head­lamp to make sure you can find your way if you get caught out after dark.

If you are start­ing your hike mid-af­ter­noon, you could end up out­side after the sun goes down. Choose an il­lu­mi­na­tion de­vice that is small and light­weight, and you can keep it in your pack all the time.

9. Fire source

Al­ways carry the means to start a fire, in case of an emer­gency. A pack of matches or a lighter are feath­er­weight, so it’s lit­tle ex­tra weight in your pack. Just leave them there so you are al­ways pre­pared. Make sure your matches are re­li­able by keep­ing them com­pletely dry in a wa­ter­proof bag, even if you buy wa­ter­proof matches.

10. Time-keeper

Bring a de­vice to keep time so that you can es­ti­mate your speed, dis­tance re­main­ing and re­turn time. The av­er­age per­son hikes about 3 miles per hour, plus an ad­di­tional hour per 1,000 feet of el­e­va­tion gain, ac­cord­ing to Nai­smith’s rule, a rule of thumb in­vented by a 19th cen­tury moun­taineer.

How­ever, you should time your­self on each hike to know what your in­di­vid­ual pace is. Nai­smith’s rule does not in­clude breaks. Based on a rough rate of time and dis­tance, you can use your watch to cal­cu­late any­thing from where you are to when you should reach your des­ti­na­tion.

No mat­ter where you go, have re­spect for the wild beauty you are en­coun­ter­ing, and re­mem­ber just that — it is wild. A fun day can eas­ily be­come dan­ger­ous, so you should be pre­pared, not scared.

“When I first started hik­ing, it looked like to­tal overkill, but as you get more ex­pe­ri­enced you fig­ure out what you’re us­ing, and what you’re not, and find lighter stuff,” Golden said. “I just have one mesh bag that I know has all this stuff that I just throw in my pack.”

Hiker Andy Grouch walks the Pal­isade Rim Trail with his dogs Kalty, front, and Apollo.

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