I may not be a Raymond Lambert, the first guy to reach eight thousand five hundred meters up Mount Everest, but I’ve done enough hiking, climbing and backpacking that I don’t feel too out of line telling newbies to proceed with caution.
What really informs a backpacker is not success, but failure. The more you mess up, the more busted toes, bruised legs and lost gear you suffer, the better and more durable a backpacker you’ll become. That said, you can learn just as much from the other guy’s mistakes. If you want a head start, you can begin by learning from some of mine as well as other famous foul-ups. Here are a few things you’re going to need to double check before deciding you’re ready to strap up and move out.
Everybody Knows Where You Are
Everybody, and I mean everybody, should know where you are. Somebody should have a map of the trail you’re taking, your friends, family and co-workers need to know how many day’s worth of supplies you have, how long you plan to be gone, when you’re leaving, where you’re leaving from, where you’re headed to, what kind of food you’re taking with you and what you’ll be wearing. This sounds like a lot of information, but it’s all very, very important. This is why it’s a good idea to have a friend drive you to the departure spot instead of driving yourself: this way, they’ll know exactly when you took off and from where.
The recent true story movie “127 Hours” shows exactly what can happen when a hiker takes off without letting people know where he or she is going. Despite proper planning, some outdoors experience and even bumping into a couple of fellow hikers on the way out, Aron Ralston nevertheless wound up in a scenario that cost him a limb. Where most films dramatize their events and are hardly a “true story” by the time they hit the screen, all the facts presented in the film are true: Aron Ralston hit the trails without telling his friends where he was going to be, so nobody knew he was lost until it was too late.
You Have an Itinerary, Maps and a Solid Plan
Oh you have a cell phone with Google Maps? Well that should be a great help in getting you just deep enough into the woods that you’ll be lost. You can’t expect to get good reception out in the wild. In fact, you can barely expect good reception just outside the city limits. Get some maps, real maps, printed on paper and up to date.
You also need to do your research and check out what kind of weather is expected in the next few days, you need to know what sort of risks are out there, whether you’re going to have to deal with poison ivy, bears or landslides. Do plenty of research on the place you’re going to be backpacking and mark out on your map, and a friend’s copy, where you’re going to go, when you expect to be there and where you’d best avoid.
You’ve Done an Exploratory Hike
A short hike around the area is a good way to get an idea of the sort of terrain you’re going to be dealing with and whether or not you can handle it physically. Pack a lunch and bring a friend and check the area out before heading out solo.
You Have More Than Enough Food and Water
They warn you about bears, but raccoons are where the real danger is at. These guys may look cute, but their one and only goal in life is to get at your food and eat it all. You’d better bring more than enough, or else a pointy stick to go raccoon hunting, because if you’re hiking in an area with these little bandits, you’ll need to be constantly vigilant in order to keep them at bay.
It’s not just raccoons, of course, but all wildlife. It’s hard to meet a backpacker who hasn’t lost a day’s rations to deer, raccoons, bears, wild dogs, mountain lions, coyotes, squirrels, rats or a slip on the rocks while crossing a creek. Bring plenty and don’t store it all in one place.
Keeping the above in mind will help you to better handle any backpacking journey once you’ve determined yourself to be ready, but the most important thing is simply having the will to go all the way. At halfway down the trail, it makes more sense to keep going than to turn around. Get a little experience under your belt, stay in shape and you’ll always be ready to tackle the next trail.
About the Author: Martin Rosenthal is a self-professed travel junkie, an epitome of the adage “live life to the fullest”. His typical weekday involves hitting the road with a bike and a backpack. He makes the most of his weekends trying his luck in a casino hotel or playing in golf courses with his friends.