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10 Helpful Items to Take on a Spring Hike

By , SparkPeople Blogger
Last Sunday, I reveled in the first day of spring by going for a hike at a nearby park. It was sunny and 60 degrees—perfect hiking weather! I'm always a little nervous when I hit the trail by myself because you never know what could happen. That's why it's best to come prepared.

Whether you're heading out for a few hours or a few days, there are a few essentials that I never leave home without. These items make the trail so much happier. 

1. Hiking Boots

When you're hiking on a trail, a good pair of hiking boots is essential. Not only will they keep your feet dry and warm, but they are designed for maximum support and traction. You'll encounter a lot of different surfaces on a trail: grass, mud, water, rocks, gravel, puddles, downed trees and more. And unlike a paved sidewalk or road, the uneven terrain can make your footwork a little shakey. To help protect your ankles and feet in these conditions, good hiking boots rise higher on the leg than a standard shoe does, helping reduce injury risk and make your trek more comfortable. Hiking boots can be expensive, but you'll be so glad you made the investment. My boots got me to the bottom of the Grand Canyon and back up, and still have plenty of hikes left in them.

2. Good Socks

For hiking, a good pair of socks should be breathable, yet insulating and water-repelling. I've said it before and I'll say it 100 more times, but wool socks are my go-to for all kinds of workouts because of these properties. Get a taller pair of socks than your shoes, hopefully ones with a little extra cushioning for your foot. My favorites are SmartWool hiking socks, which start out at about $14 per pair. Less costly socks with similar properties are made out of synthetic materials (instead of wool), and are still better than cotton, which can hold in moisture and result in blisters.

3. A Hat

I'm not one for exercising in hats, but I do love a good sun hat when I'm going to be hiking for a while. A wider brim will keep sun off your face, and also be good in a pinch if it starts to rain. 

4. Water Bottle and Snack

If I know my route and know that I shouldn't be gone for longer than an hour, I usually bring a reusable Sigg bottle that I fill up at home before I go. Some trails have water pumps that provide safe and clean drinking water, but you can never be too careful; sometimes these pumps don't work or aren't available. Most mainstream water bottles with water filters are made for tap water, not untreated spring water. If you do want to drink water on a trail, you'll need something different entirely: a fancy water purifier and/or water purifying tablets.

If you're going to be out for a few hours, bring a snack like a small energy bar, apple, homemade trail mix or some nuts. I'm a big fan of the CLIF Mojo bars since they're not as sweet as many other energy bars. If you're hiking for exercise or trying to manage your weight, however, consider whether you'll really need a snack. Yes, hiking is a little more intense than casual walking, but most people don’t stop to refuel in the middle of a typical workout. Take snacks only if you'll be gone for several hours, or bring a snack as a backup plan in case you end up being gone longer than you planned.

5. Navigation

I have no sense of direction, so I make it a point to look for maps of any trail I'm going to take and bring them with me, if possible. If you're headed to a new trail, bring some form of navigation (your smartphone, a navigation app, a compass and/or a paper map) and know how to use it. Many public trails are well marked, but it's easy to get turned around in the woods. Safety first!

6. Convertible (Zip Away) Pants

Even in warmer weather, long pants are a good idea for hikes to help protect your legs from twigs, brush and other things you might run into as you go. But if you're taking a well-maintained trail, shorts can work just as well. My preference is a pair of convertible pants in a lightweight and breathable material. You can wear them long, roll them up (many have buttons to hold them up in that case) or zip off the pant legs to convert them to shorts.

7. Cell Phone

This is simply a safety measure, but you should always have a backup plan. Depending on where you hike, you may or may not always have cell phone service. But when you do, it can be especially useful if you get lost, stay away longer than anticipated, get injured or run into trouble. Don't leave it in your car; bring it with you!

8. Trekking Poles

Trekking poles are not a must-have, but if you plan to do a lot of hiking, they sure are nice! I used trekking poles on my Grand Canyon hike last spring, and they were a lifesaver—more like a leg saver! Not only are these good for balance and traction—great on rocky or dusty trails with inclines and declines or for anyone whose balance is a little off—but they also relieve your legs. By shifting some of your body weight into the poles, you take a lot of pressure off of your lower body joints. If you go for long hikes, or hike multiple days in a row, these can make all the difference in your ability to stick it out and stay comfortable.

No fancy poles? You could also try a simple walking stick (or two) to get many of the same benefits. However, poles are much more ergonomic and easier to hold.

9. Backpack

Now that you have all of these items to bring, how do you carry them? The answer: your backpack! If you're just bringing a few lightweight items, take any pack that is comfortable for you. Only if you're carting a lot of weight (more than a dozen pounds) would you need a specially designed backpack for hiking. These packs better distribute the weight you're carrying over your hips to relieve your shoulders, plus they're also completely adjustable for the most comfortable fit for you.

10. A Friend

Why? The buddy system, of course! There's safety in numbers, but hiking with a friend can also be more fun. In a pinch, if I don't have a friend to bring, I bring my four-legged buddy with me. Ginger loves to hike, and she makes me feel a little safer than if I were out on my own. The exercises and outdoor time is good for both of us!

For more tips to start hiking, from finding a hiking trail to staying safe, check out this article: Hike Yourself Fit.

How many of these items do you bring when you hike? What other items would you add to the list?

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Very informative! Report
Great article! Report
Don't forget a mini first aid kit as well! Report
Great article and good tips. Thank you. Report
This is great Steve's climbing Kilimanjaro in Oct, mini check list for what he'll need! 😀 Report
Great article. Is Nicole back?? Report
Great article! I love all the help items to take on a spring hike! Report
I have hiking poles, they're great. In our warmer climate we can get by with hiking boots a lot cheaper than that, I use Keens. I also bring a pair of extra socks in case of creek crossings, kleenex and bandaids. Report
Wishing I was young again. I use to go on lots of hikes, back in the days before picture phones or cell phones that didn't weigh in at 2 lbs.Don't forget to click pix of the animals along the way or the beautiful and funny moments. Report
Were I live I am lucky enough to have the Emerald Necklace park system which has more well maintained trails then I will every be able to hike in my life time. So, I usually just bring my water bottle. If I do more than 2 hours I will also bring something I can slip in my pocket like granola bar or the breakfast on the go packs. Oh and a buddy. Report
Were I live I am lucky enough to have the Emerald Necklace park system which has more well maintained trails then I will every be able to hike in my life time. So, I usually just bring my water bottle. If I do more than 2 hours I will also bring something I can slip in my pocket like granola bar or the breakfast on the go packs. Oh and a buddy. Report
Nice article. There is a team called 'Lets Go Hiking' here on spark that is great too! Report
When we hike, we take all the items listed. I also like Frogg Toggs. That's a bandana you wet and then tie around your neck. It doesn't get you wet, but it helps keep you cool. Report
I am very fortunate to have a house near the Great Smoky Mountains. It is a fantastic place to hike. I am currently working on earning my 100 mile pin. Report
Bandana is my go to must have. Good for many things: blow your nose, wet in a stream to keep cool, cover your nose and mouth so you dont inhale mosquitos, a small tablecloth, to put on a wound, a trail marker, and on & on...
I have a great pair of Timberland hiking boots. Only $69. Remember, functional, not fashionable. I think Tims have gotten the reputation now of being a fashion statement more so than gear, but I've sworn by them for decades now.

And I agree with CHRIS3874. Firearms are optimal for protection, though I think going out with the soul intention of remaining on trails that a large caliber revolver is probably a better bet than a rifle as they can be difficult to maneuver with for the untrained. But be sure to have proper firearm safety training and know the laws in your area before carrying any firearm.

And yes, a first aid kit. Report
Many good recommendations have been offered but I am surprised no one suggested something to defend yourself ( especially for women). My wife was able to successfully ward off a cougar with mace. I'd hate to think what could have happened if she didn't have it. Good for two legged animals too. Report
Great thoughts...but don't confuse these with THE TEN ESSENTIALS you need to go hiking in the backcountry. Report
I bring all of the above and also sunglasses, sunblock and bug spray. Oh, and a pocket-sized pack of kleenex, a ziplock baggie and hand sanitizer in case I have to pee in the woods. Report
Great idea about the treking poles. Report
Great article. I have hiked a few times with my husband, the wildland firefighter. The only time that I wasn't looking at his back-end was when I was sliding down the side of the mountain on my behind. This list would be great for me... I especially like the idea of the trekking poles since I obviously do not have any sense of balance. Report
Good article for someone who hasn't done much hiking. I am going to start as soon as the leaves start turning. I live about 30 miles from Baxter State Park here in Maine and they have many nice maintained hiking trails. Report
I love this! My mom and I go hiking and I always bring her a mojo bar (they're great). Our last hike was an unexpected 7 miles!! I'm glad I packed my backpack, the water bottles & the snacks-- otherwise we'd never had made it. Next time-- we need to remember hats & sunblock-- a bit too much sun on our faces :) Report
A headlamp or flashlight. Most of my hiking is with a group & for 2-4 hrs. Usually only take water. A walking stick can come in handy--the collapsible type makes it easier to csrry when you're not using it. Smart Wool socks are amazing. I wear them for running, biking, hiking. Report
I second the sun screen...I've alreay been slightly burned this spring WITH 50 proof sunscreen. :) Report
Add a flashlight, lip balm, sunscreen and binoculors. Report
Fantastic ideas. I've used a backpack for travel since about 1997 when I broke my foot. Wouldn't dream of vacation without it. I add a pashmina or shawl. It's good for shade, shelter or warmth. Report
I hike a in the mountains every Saturday and bringing supplies is a must!
Tweezers will be a great addition to my hiking staples. Report
Depending on where you're hiking, you may need something like tweezers in case you get some sort of a thorn or thistle in your skin. While hiking in Sedona a few years ago, someone in our group had a thorn go right through his shoe. Fortunately, an experienced Sedona resident with us had tweezers. We wouldn't have been able to finish the hike without this forethought. Report
thanks for the article and everyone else for the added tips Report
Fun article and wonderful advice from you and everyone else. Amazing what one can learn by reading.
Thanks! Report
Thanks for the blog and everyone who commented with other items to take. One, I didn't see (might have missed in reading) was a first aid kit for your 4-legged friend and water for them. If you don't want to drink the water from a creek, etc. maybe your dog shouldn't either.

I walk with my puppy and this summer I would like to take her on a hike. Report
A frist aid kit! Report
Where's the whistle? If you fall or get lost, a whistle will be heard long after your voice gives out. Rescue crews will have an easier time finding you if you can send a periodic signal. Report
A small First Aid Kit might be handy, too. Report
Trekking poles are awesome -- being heavier right now, they really help my knees, and let me hike longer. Report
very good article. I would also bring my camera, and for sure, sunscreen, bug repellent, my journal. I love to camp, but still too cold here. Report
Great blog Nicole...good stuff. I'm a bit old fashioned when it comes to advising a cell phone as one of the top ten items to bring, but I understand why it's added. Nothing beats a good "Flight Plan" however - a simple set of instructions left behind explaining who, what, where, when, how many, and for how long.

As a former Arizona search & rescue gound-pounder, that was probably the most important pice of information to help insure a successful rescue rather than a recovery. Cell phone or not, don't make me come and look for you! Report
If you are looking for good quality hiking-socks, look for icebreaker. It's a New Zealand company that uses Merino wool, it's not scrachy and doesn't smell and it absorbs body odour. They also have very strick rules regarding animal wellfare and labour-rights.
I love their clothes, shirts. leggins, underwear and socks, they are comfy, feel great and will last you a long time!
(PS I'm in no way, form or shape involved or related to the company, I simply love their clothes!) Report
I like to hav ea camera and always a poncho and a first aid kit. Report
A whistle (your voice will give out long before your breath will), rain poncho, jacket, ace bandages, ankle braces, small pair of scissors, bandages and tape, pocket knife, flash light, water proof matches, magnesium fire starter (will start a fire literally under water), extra socks, and an emergency food supply. I got in over my head 20+ years ago on a group hike and I've been over-prepared ever since. Report
I took most of the stuff. l don't have hiking boots. I guess I should spring for some but I only hike once every year or two. I went with friends and one had hiking poles and a couple of times they would have been helpful. One thing not on the list--Sunscreen!!! Especially at higher altitudes. Report
Nice list, but ... a whistle and a multi-tool (incl. blade) are essential in any hiking situation! So many other things I would have put before a cellphone, since reception can't be guaranteed. How about an emergency blanket, or even duct tape! Lots of good in the comments, but most importantly I think is to check where you're going and what to expect - e.g. at some times of spring here I wouldn't get caught without bug repellant, but other times of the year it could be ok. Report
We just went hiking today in Michigan. There was still some snow on the trails but it was fun
Here on the prairies, I do much more walking than hiking, and agree that there is certainly a difference between the two activities. When we go on vacation, I love the hiking we get to do, and wish there was more opportunity near us.

Great article. I would also add matches and a snack - just in case you end up lost, or later than you thought. Report
I guess it's too UnPC these days (TOO BAD), when I was young and we went into the bush my Dad took a rifle with us. It was prudent- there are a lot of bears in western Alberta. Lead works better than spray or bells. Report
Thanks for this informative and well written piece on hiking with ten essentials. I add two things to my list which make hiking good for me: 1. a clean, dry pair of lighter moisture wicking socks for after the hike to refresh my feet, and 2. a good compass to get bearings if I am in new territory - this helps me to feel oriented to the new hiking trail. Thanks again Report
Lots of great information here! You should also think about your safety as well. A small first aid kit and a whistle are two items I would include. Report
Matches! Always have some way to light a fire with you in case you are stuck overnight. And always bring a compass.

For hiking in the winter, ('cause you don't HAVE to wait for spring weather) make sure you are wearing warm layers and are sure about the distances you are going. Report
Bring a bear bell! And always let someone know where you are going, and when you expect to return. Report
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