Before a day or week of hiking the twisted trails of the Great Smoky Mountains, check your backpack. Is everything you need securely inside? Carefully packing for any hiking trip is as important as a hiking buddy and people at home who know your plans and general whereabouts. These are only four gear items important to remember, but regardless of your hiking experience, these four cannot get left behind. Load ‘em in, zip up the (waterproof) backpack, and happy trails!
1. Proper hiking boots
You may not realize it, but improper hiking boots that don’t fit your feet or hiking style risk ruining an entire trip. For short, day hikes sans backpack, your feet will survive in lighter shoes typically made from fabric and split-grain leather. They breathe well, but provide only the most meager support of all the available hiking boot varieties. If you plan to hike with a backpack for a couple of days or fewer, invest in stiffer, mid-weight boots. These versatile boots definitely ease up a shorter hike more than the lightweight boots. But, if you plan to hike with a heavy pack for a long period of time, you need heavyweight boots with the maximum support available. No matter what, keep waterproofing and insulation in mind when considering quality hiking boots.
While rather obvious, nothing compromises your health faster on a hiking trip than lack of drinking water. No matter what kind of hike you map out, your body requires water the entire time. Staying hydrated ensures that you stay comfortable and healthy, and along with food, water helps you complete your planned route without incident. Think carefully about how much water you need to bring in your backpack as it relates to your body, the terrain, and the length of your hike. Seasoned hikers often consult a doctor or outdoor expert on the water issue.
3. First Aid Kit
No matter what naysayers preach, do not go on a hike without a first aid kit. Small ones filled with necessities easily fit in standard hiking backpacks. You need to at least have bandages, aspirin, antiseptic, an antihistamine, sun block, insect repellent, gauze, iodine tablets, and duct tape. Consult with a wilderness expert or doctor before your trip to make sure you have everything you need and are prepared to handle any number of crises. Use common sense and don’t feed the bears.
4. Rain gear/jacket
Weather in the Smoky Mountains can be unpredictable, so no matter the time of year, don’t forget a jacket. Although the beginning of a hike boasts warmth and sunshine, after dark it can get cold. If it rains, you will want protection. Depending on your hiking plans, you may only need a plastic emergency poncho, although this provides little to no warmth. Packing a jacket, even just a shell or waterproof windbreaker, is a great idea for any hiker or anyone heading out into the woods.
The boy scouts got it right: Never go into the wild unprepared. You cannot predict the future, nor can you plan for what you will come across, no matter how much knowledge or research you accomplish. Start with these essential items in your gear and expand to ensure that you have the best and safest trip possible in the Great Smoky Mountains.