Have you ever had a backpacking trip that was a disaster even though you brought everything you needed? Maybe you had matches, but couldn’t get that fire going. You need more than good gear to assure a safe and enjoyable wilderness experience. You need to know how to do a few things. Here are my top 10 hiking tips, to get you started. Lets go.
Learn Fire Making
Making fire with a ferro rod, or Ferrocerium rod, is a valuable survival skill.
Here are the steps on how to do it – Materials Needed:
Knife or a striker
Kindling and fuelwood
Prepare Your Tinder: This can be anything that catches fire easily. It could be dry leaves, dry grass, paper, birch bark, or cotton balls. In a survival situation, you can use dry moss, fungi, or even lint from your pockets. You should prepare enough Tinder to create a small pile. The tinder must be absolutely dry because even slight moisture can prevent it from igniting.
Prepare Your Kindling: Kindling is slightly larger than tinder, such as small twigs or pieces of bark. These will help the fire grow once your tinder is lit.
Prepare Your Fuelwood: This is larger wood that will maintain your fire once it’s going. After the kindling has caught, you should place/add this to the fire.
Striking the Ferro Rod: Now, hold the Ferro rod close to the tinder at about a 45-degree angle. Place the striker or the back of your knife against the Ferro rod. Instead of moving the striker, try to pull the Ferro rod towards you. This way, the sparks fly into the tinder, and the striker doesn’t hit your pile of tinder.
Ignite Your Tinder: The sparks from the Ferro rod will ignite the Tinder. This may not happen immediately, so be persistent. Once you see a spark land on the tinder and glow, gently blow on it to help it catch.
Building Your Fire: Once the tinder is alight, gently add your kindling to the fire. Exercise caution to avoid suffocating the flames. Add more kindling as the fire grows. Once the fire is large and hot enough, add your fuelwood.
Remember, always follow fire safety rules when starting and extinguishing a fire. Never leave a fire unattended, and always completely put out a fire before leaving the area.
Learn to Pitch a Tent
Here are the general steps to pitch a tent. Keep in mind the specifics may vary depending on the type of tent you have:
Find a Suitable Site: The ideal place should be flat, dry, and free of sharp objects that could damage your tent or make sleeping uncomfortable. It should also be a safe distance away from any campfires. Avoid pitching your tent under a tree to avoid tree sap or potential falling branches.
Prepare the Site: Remove any debris like sticks and rocks from the area where you will set up your tent.
Lay Down the Groundsheet: A groundsheet or tarp can help to protect the bottom of your tent from any wear and tear and keep it dry. Lay this down on the cleared space.
Assemble the Tent Poles: Most tents come with long, flexible poles that are threaded through loops or clips on the tent’s fabric to provide structure. These poles are often broken down into shorter sections for transport, connected by an elastic shock cord. Assemble them so they are one long piece.
Spread Out the Tent: Spread your tent out on top of the groundsheet. Identify the front door so you can position it in your desired direction.
Insert the Poles: Depending on your tent, the poles will either go inside the tent, through fabric loops, or be attached to the outside of the tent, via clips. Make sure that each pole is securely attached at the base of the tent.
Raise the Tent: Once the poles are properly threaded and attached, you can raise the tent. This usually involves bending the poles to create the classic tent shape, and the tension of the bent poles keeps the tent upright. You’ll often need to secure the poles into the tent corners to make it stay.
Secure the Tent: Stake the tent to the ground. Push the stakes through the ground loops at a 45-degree angle towards the tent, which can help the tent to withstand wind.
Attach the Rainfly: If your tent has a separate waterproof cover (called a rainfly), you’ll want to position this over the tent and secure it down.
Final Adjustments: Check all corners and ropes, make sure everything is taut and not sagging. This is also a good time to make sure that your zippers are working properly.
Remember, practice makes perfect. So don’t be discouraged if it takes a little while the first time. After a few tries, you’ll be able to pitch your tent quickly and efficiently.
Learn How to Stay Warm
Staying warm when camping is important for both comfort and safety. Here are some tips:
Choose the Right Sleeping Bag: Make sure to choose a sleeping bag suitable for the lowest temperature you expect. There are three-season and four-season sleeping bags that can handle different ranges of temperatures.
Use Sleeping Pads: Sleeping pads are not just for comfort. They also provide insulation from the cold ground. Look for pads with a high R-value which means they have better insulating properties.
Wear the Right Clothing: Wear layers so you can adjust your clothing to match the weather. Your base layer should be a moisture-wicking fabric to keep you dry. Avoid cotton as it takes a long time to dry when wet.
Wear a Beanie: You lose a lot of body heat from your head, so wearing a beanie can make a big difference in how warm you feel.
Stay Dry: Getting wet will make you feel colder. If there is a chance of rain, make sure you have waterproof gear and a tent that won’t leak.
Eat High-Calorie Foods: Your body generates heat when it’s digesting food. Eating high-calorie foods will give your body more fuel to produce heat.
Stay Hydrated: Dehydration can make you feel colder. Make sure to drink plenty of fluids, but avoid alcohol and caffeine as they can dehydrate you.
Warm Up Before Bed: Doing some light exercise before getting into your sleeping bag can raise your body temperature and help you stay warm through the night.
Use a Hot Water Bottle: Fill a bottle with hot water and place it in your sleeping bag to warm it up before you get in. Make sure the lid is secure to avoid leaks.
Share a Tent: If you’re camping with others, sharing a tent can help to keep warm as you’ll benefit from each other’s body heat.
Choose Your Campsite Wisely: Camp in a location that’s protected from the wind and isn’t in a low-lying area where cold air can pool.
Insulate Your Tent: You can use a tent carpet or a foil-backed thermal blanket to provide additional insulation in your tent.
Beware of Condensation: Make sure your tent is well-ventilated. Breath and perspiration can create dampness, which can make your tent cold.
Remember, staying warm is not just about comfort, it’s also about safety. Hypothermia can be a real risk in cold weather, so it’s important to take these precautions seriously.
Learn to Cook Over a Campfire
Here’s a basic guide on how to cook over a campfire:
You will need the following:
Cooking equipment: cast-iron skillet, Dutch oven, grill grate, or camping stove, depending on what you’re planning to cook.
Utensils: spatula, tongs, oven mitt or gloves, and cutlery.
Fire-starting materials: Tinder, matches, ferro rod or a lighter, firewood or charcoal. You’ll want a combination of smaller, quick-burning pieces (kindling) and larger, slower-burning pieces (logs).
Ingredients: your actual food items.
#1 Start your fire
Start by clearing a space for your fire. Follow all local regulations and guidelines to ensure you’re creating a safe and legal fire. Arrange your wood. You can do this in several ways, but one common method is the “teepee” structure: arrange your kindling in a cone shape, then build a larger cone of logs around it. Light the newspaper and place it under the kindling. The kindling should catch fire and then ignite the larger logs.
#2 Let the fire burn down to coals
It’s generally better to cook over hot coals than open flame, as it provides more even and controllable heat. Let your fire burn down a bit before you start cooking. Depending on your fire and your cooking method, you may want to spread the coals out a bit to create a more even cooking surface.
#3 Set up your cooking surface
If you’re using a grill grate, you can set it directly over the coals. A cast-iron skillet or Dutch oven can also be placed directly on the coals, or hung above the fire if you have the necessary equipment. If you’re using a camping stove, set it up according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
#4 Cook your food
This will depend on what you’re cooking. Some foods, like hot dogs or marshmallows, can be cooked directly over the fire on a skewer. Others, like stews or pancakes, will need a flat surface like a skillet or Dutch oven. Monitor your food closely to prevent burning. Remember, you can control the heat somewhat by moving coals around or raising and lowering your cooking surface.
#5 Clean up
Allow your fire to burn down completely, then douse it with water to ensure it’s out. Clean your cooking equipment and pack it away. Leave no trace. Make sure to clean up any food scraps or trash and pack it out with you.
Remember, the key to good campfire cooking is preparation and patience. Make sure you have all your ingredients and tools ready before you start, and don’t rush the cooking process. Enjoy the experience and the delicious results!
Learn About Edible Plants, Berries and Trees
Here`s what to look out for while out on the trail without much food:
Primrose (Primula vulgaris): These are small plants with pale yellow flowers. The flowers can be eaten raw in salads, or cooked in soups and stews. They have a mild flavour and are high in nutrients. The leaves can also be eaten, although they’re slightly more bitter. You can also eat the roots.
Thistle (Cirsium vulgare): Thistles are easily recognized by their purple flowers and prickly leaves. The youthful stems can be consumed either in their raw form or cooked, offering a flavour reminiscent of celery. Their flower heads can also be cooked and eaten like artichokes. However, their mature leaves and roots can be tough and bitter, making them unpleasant to consume.
Fireweed (Chamaenerion angustifolium): Fireweed is a tall plant with beautiful, pinkish-purple flowers. The young leaves, shoots, and flower buds can be eaten raw or cooked.
Young Fireweed: As mentioned above, the young leaves, shoots, and flower buds are tender and can be eaten raw or cooked. They have a slightly sweet taste. Also, tuck into the root.
Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale): Dandelions are common weeds with bright yellow flowers. The entire plant is edible, roots, stems, leaves, and flowers. The leaves can be a bit bitter but can be used in salads or cooked. The roots have the potential to be utilized as a coffee alternative.
Stinging Nettle (Urtica dioica): While this plant can cause skin irritation if touched, it is very nutritious. The young leaves can be cooked to remove the stinging chemicals used in dishes like soups and stews. Always wear gloves while handling this plant.
Daisy (Bellis perennis): Daisies are small flowering plants with white petals and yellow centres. Their young leaves, petals, and buds can be eaten raw. The base of the flower and the stem is often discarded due to its tougher texture.
Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna): This tree produces small red berries called haws. These berries can be eaten raw or used to make jams and jellies. The pip inside the haws should not be eaten as you could damage your teeth. Watch out for thorns.
Rowan Berries (Sorbus aucuparia): These berries are bright orange-red and can be eaten, do not eat raw boil first to destroy the toxins. They are usually cooked and sweetened before eating. High in vitamin C.
Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolata): This plant has heart-shaped leaves that smell of garlic when crushed. The leaves, flowers, seeds, and roots can all be eaten, although they have a strong, garlicky taste.
Red Clover (Trifolium pratense): This plant has round, pinkish-purple flowers. The flowers, leaves, and young shoots can be eaten raw or cooked, although they have a mild flavour. The seeds and roots are generally not consumed.
Knapweed (Centaurea nigra) and Greater Knapweed (Centaurea scabiosa): These plants have distinctive, thistle-like purple flowers. While not commonly consumed, the young leaves and flower petals can be eaten. The rest of the plant is typically not eaten due to its toughness.
Burdock (Arctium lappa): This plant has large leaves and round, burr-like flower heads. The roots, leaves and stems can be eaten, often cooked to remove bitterness.
Elderberry (Sambucus nigra): Elderberry trees produce small, dark purple berries that are usually cooked and sweetened before eating. These elderberries can be eaten raw straight from the tree. Leaves stems, and roots should be avoided as they contain toxins. Avoid green and red elderberries.
Blackberry (Rubus fruticosus): These are a common sight in the wild, producing delicious, dark purple berries that can be eaten raw or used in cooking. The rest of the plant, including leaves and roots, should not be eaten. Watch out for the brambles.
Pineapple Weed (Matricaria discoidea): This plant looks like a daisy without petals and has a sweet, pineapple-like scent. The flowers can be eaten raw or used to make tea. The rest of the plant can also be consumed.
Rosehip (Rosa canina): Rosehips are the red-orange fruits of the rose plant. They can be eaten raw, but are usually cooked and sweetened, as they are tart and full of seeds. The seeds have small hairs which can be irritating if swallowed, so they should be removed before eating.
Crab Apples (Malus): These are small, bitter and sour, not good for eating. Chop, boil and enjoy. They can be used to make jams and ciders. Like other apples, their seeds should not be eaten as they contain cyanide-producing compounds.
Pine Needles (Pinus): Pine needles can be used to make mint tea which is rich in Vitamin A and Vitamin C
Pine Nuts (Pinus): These are the edible seeds of pine trees. One can consume them either in their raw state or after cooking.
Poppy Seeds (Papaver somniferum): These tiny, blue-black seeds can be eaten raw and can be used in baking and cooking. The rest of the plant, especially the unripe seed pods, can contain opium and is not typically consumed.
Walnuts (Juglans regia): Walnuts are large nuts that can be eaten raw or cooked. The green husk surrounding the nut should not be eaten, and the shell needs to be cracked open to get to the nut.
Acorns (Quercus): Acorns are the nuts of oak trees. They need to be leached of their tannins before they can be eaten, a process that involves soaking them in water for several days.
Remember, it’s crucial to accurately identify plants before consuming them, and some people may have allergies or other adverse reactions to wild plants. It’s always a good idea to learn from experienced foragers and consult reliable guides.
Learn how to walk Properly When Hiking
Hiking is a popular and rewarding activity, but it’s important to walk properly to prevent injuries and exhaustion.
Here’s a guide on how to walk properly when hiking:
Wear the Right Gear: Start by making sure you have appropriate hiking shoes that are well-fitted and broken in to avoid blisters. Your clothing should be comfortable and suitable for the weather.
Posture: Maintain good posture while hiking. Your back should be straight, your shoulders back but relaxed, and your head up. This posture will help you breathe better and prevent back pain.
Foot Placement: Walk heel to toe. Your heel should make contact with the ground first, then roll forward onto your toes. This will give you more stability on uneven ground and reduce the impact on your joints.
Stride: Keep your strides short and steady, especially when going uphill or on uneven terrain. Short strides conserve energy and provide better balance.
Pacing: Start slowly to warm up your muscles and increase your pace gradually. A constant, sustainable pace is better than going fast and needing frequent breaks.
Use Trekking Poles: They help maintain balance, reduce stress on your knees especially when descending, and assist in uphill climbs. Make sure they are at the correct height: when your hand is on the grip with the tip on the ground, your elbow should be at a 90-degree angle.
Take Breaks: Hiking is not a race. When you start feeling tired, take a break. This is important for preventing exhaustion and injuries.
Hydration and Nutrition: Drink plenty of water, especially on hot days to avoid dehydration. Bring snacks to replenish energy.
Listen to Your Body: If you feel pain, stop and rest. Ignoring pain can lead to serious injuries.
Hiking Downhill: It can be just as challenging as going uphill. Keep your knees slightly bent to absorb shocks, lean back a bit to counter the downhill pull, and avoid locking your knees.
Remember, the goal of hiking is to enjoy the outdoors and the journey, not just the destination. So walk properly, stay safe, and have fun!
Learn About Wild Animals
Hiking is an exciting adventure that allows you to experience nature first-hand. While out in the wilderness, you’ll likely come across a variety of wildlife.
Here’s what you need to know about encountering wild animals when hiking:
Understand local wildlife: Before you head out, research the type of wildlife you might encounter in the area. For example, if you’re hiking in North America, you might encounter animals like bears, deer, moose, snakes, or mountain lions.
Observe from a distance: Always observe wild animals from a safe distance. Do not attempt to feed, touch, or approach them. Feeding wildlife can disrupt their natural behaviours and diet, and it’s also illegal in many places.
Avoid surprising animals: Make noise as you move, especially when hiking in areas with limited visibility. Animals are less likely to be startled if they can hear you coming.
Understand animal behaviour: Learn about the behaviours of the animals you may encounter. For example, if you encounter a bear, avoid direct eye contact as they may perceive it as a threat. If you encounter a snake, back away slowly and give it space.
Campsite safety: Keep your campsite clean and store food and garbage properly to avoid attracting wildlife. In bear country, use bear-resistant food storage containers.
Carry bear spray: When hiking in areas known for bears, it’s advisable to carry bear spray and know how to use it.
Stay on marked trails: Sticking to trails will lessen your chance of an unwanted encounter with wildlife.
Pets: Keep pets on a leash and under control. Dogs can provoke defensive behaviour in wildlife.
Know what to do in an encounter: Your response should depend on the type of animal you encounter. For example, if you meet a bear, speak in a firm, calm voice, stand your ground but do not run away.
Teach children about wildlife safety: If hiking with kids, make sure they understand not to approach or feed animals.
Stay calm: If you do encounter a wild animal, remember to stay calm. Most animals want to avoid confrontation and will leave if given the chance.
Remember, wild animals are just that, wild. They have their behaviours and ways of life that should be respected. Your goal should be to enjoy observing wildlife while minimizing any impact on their natural behaviours. Happy hiking!
Learn to watch the sky
when you’re hiking or camping, it’s important to have a basic understanding of how to predict the weather. This can help you to prepare for potential changes and stay safe.
Here are some basics:
Understanding Weather Forecasts: Before setting off on your trip, check the weather forecast for your destination and the surrounding area. There are several reliable sources for this online, such as the National Weather Service (in the U.S.), Weather.com, or various apps like accuweather or Weather Underground. Don’t just look at the forecast for the day of your trip, check a few days before and after as well. Weather can change quickly and unexpectedly, so it’s important to have a general idea of what’s coming.
Cloud formations can give clues about weather changes.
Here’s a basic rundown:
Cumulus Clouds: These are large, fluffy clouds that are usually an indicator of fair weather when they’re white. However, if they start to stack up and get darker, they could develop into cumulus congestus or cumulonimbus clouds, which can mean thunderstorms.
Stratus Clouds: These are flat, grey clouds that often cover the entire sky (they look a bit like a fog that’s not reaching the ground). They usually mean overcast weather, but can also bring light rain or drizzle.
Cirrus Clouds: These are thin, wispy clouds high in the sky. They often mean fair to pleasant weather. However, a sudden increase in cirrus clouds can be a sign of an approaching weather front, possibly bringing rain within a day or so.
Wind Changes: Sudden changes in wind direction or speed can also be a sign of an approaching weather front. In general, weather moves from west to east in the mid-latitudes (where many popular hiking and camping areas are located).
Air Pressure: If you have a barometer, it can be useful for predicting weather changes. A sudden drop in air pressure often signifies approaching bad weather. On the other hand, a rise in pressure usually means clearer skies are on the way.
Watch Wildlife: Animals often have a sixth sense when it comes to predicting weather. Birds flying low and insects becoming silent can sometimes predict a change in weather. Animals tend to behave differently when changes in pressure occur.
Observe the Horizon: In the morning and evening, look to the west and watch the horizon. Red skies in the morning often indicate that a storm system may be moving in from the west. Conversely, a red sky at sunset usually means that the storm system is moving away to the east and good weather is likely.
Remember, these are general guidelines and aren’t 100% accurate. Always prepare for the possibility of unexpected weather changes when you’re hiking or camping.
The more you pay attention to the environment around you, the better you’ll get at predicting weather changes. If severe weather hits, make sure you know how to take shelter appropriately.
Learn basic first aid
First aid knowledge is crucial while hiking and camping as you can encounter situations where medical help is not immediately available.
Here are some basic first-aid tips and procedures that could be lifesaving when you’re hiking or camping:
Planning and Preparation: Always carry a well-stocked first-aid kit, know the local emergency numbers, and be aware of the nearest hospitals and clinics. A first aid manual or wilderness first aid guide can also be valuable.
Cuts and Scrapes: For minor cuts and scrapes, clean the wound with clean water and mild soap. Administer antibiotic ointment to the affected area and then place a sterile bandage over it. Watch for signs of infection such as redness, swelling, or pus.
Blisters: To prevent blisters, wear well-fitting shoes and moisture-wicking socks. If a blister forms, try not to pop it. If it does break, clean it with soap and water, apply an antibiotic ointment, and cover it with a bandage.
Sprains and Strains: Use the RICE method for sprains and strains. Rest the injured area, Ice it for 20 minutes at a time, Compress it with an elastic wrap, and Elevate it above the heart level if possible.
Broken Bones: If you suspect a broken bone, try to immobilize the area using a splint and padding, and seek medical attention immediately.
Burns: If you get a burn from a campfire or hot cooking equipment, cool it with clean, cold water for at least 20 minutes, then cover it with clingfilm. Failing that, a sterile dressing and seek medical attention.
Hypothermia: If someone is shivering uncontrollably, slurring speech, or seeming clumsy, they might be experiencing hypothermia. Get them into dry clothing and a warm sleeping bag, give them warm fluids to drink, and seek medical help.
Heat Exhaustion: This can occur when you’re hiking in high temperatures and not drinking enough water. Signs can include heavy sweating, paleness, cramps, tiredness, weakness, dizziness, headache, nausea or vomiting, and fainting. The person should rest in a cool, shady area and drink plenty of water.
Dehydration: Ensure everyone in your group is drinking enough water, especially on hot days or at high altitudes. Signs of dehydration can include dark urine, dry mouth, fatigue, and dizziness.
Insect Bites and Stings: Carry a cream or spray to soothe insect bites and stings. If someone has a severe allergic reaction (like difficulty breathing or swelling of the face, lips, or throat), use an EpiPen if available and seek immediate medical help.
Snake Bites: Keep the person calm, immobilize the bitten area and keep it lower than the heart. Do not try to suck out the venom or apply a tourniquet. Seek medical help immediately.
Remember, first aid training can be lifesaving in an emergency, so it’s always a good idea to take a course or class if you can. This advice is meant to be a guide and does not replace professional medical advice or training.
Learn How to Navigate
Hiking navigation is a critical skill, and it can make the difference between a pleasant adventure in the wild or a stressful experience.
Here are some guidelines to follow when learning how to navigate while hiking:
Map Reading: Understanding how to read a map is fundamental. You need to recognize topographical features such as hills, valleys, rivers, forests, etc. Understand how to read contour lines – these indicate the steepness of the terrain. It’s also important to learn how to orient your map with your surroundings.
Compass Use: Learn how to use a compass in conjunction with your map. A compass can help you determine the direction you’re heading. The most common usage involves finding the bearing from your current position to your destination.
GPS and Smartphone Apps: Today, numerous smartphone apps provide detailed maps, GPS coordinates, and even trail difficulty ratings. However, these should be used in conjunction with traditional map and compass skills. Keep in mind that your battery could die, or you may not have service in remote areas.
Trail Markings: Many hiking trails are marked with specific symbols painted or carved onto trees or posts, or sometimes with piled stones known as cairns. Understand the meaning of these symbols before you start your hike.
Landmark Navigation: Identifying landmarks is a good way to keep your bearings, especially if you’re in a large, open area. Look for unique features in the landscape such as a tall tree, a uniquely shaped mountain, or a large boulder.
Pacing: Learn how to measure distances by counting your steps. The average person’s step is approximately a meter, so 1,000 steps would be approximately 1 kilometre.
Understanding Natural Navigation Clues: There are many natural clues that can help you navigate in the wild. For example, moss often grows on the north side of trees in the Northern Hemisphere, and the sun rises in the east and sets in the west.
Practice: Hone your skills in a safe, familiar area before heading off into the wilderness. Start by following well-marked trails and gradually work your way up to more challenging routes.
Preparation: Always inform someone about your hiking plans before you leave, including your intended route and when you expect to return. Pack all necessary supplies, including a topographic map, compass, and if available, a GPS device or smartphone with offline maps.
Stay Calm: If you do get lost, don’t panic. Stop, try to identify landmarks or trails, and use your navigation tools to determine your location.
Navigation is an essential skill for any hiker or outdoors enthusiast. By learning and practising these skills, you can ensure that your hiking trips are safe and enjoyable.
You don’t need to be an expert in wilderness survival to enjoy a safe hiking trip. It can help to know a little more than you do though. Use the backpacking skills listed above, and learn something new. Remember, be safe and enjoy yourself.