What better way to get down-to-earth and revel in the great outdoors than hiking or backpacking? So what's the difference? Well, backpacking is hiking while carrying a backpack. The term hiking is usually reserved for shorter walks, while backpacking is for longer periods of time, usually overnight or for several days. Those who hike for extended periods of time find it necessary to carry a backpack filled with food and supplies for camping overnight. It's a great way to explore the trails and get physically fit. There's a lot of physical activity involved and it's tiring, especially in the mountains where the air is thin. If you're a beginner, start off slow with a lightweight backpack.
Sometimes, the only way to get to beautiful places is by hiking over rough terrain. Hiring an experienced tour guide who is familiar with the wilderness can be beneficial. You'll not only have a safer trip, but the guide can point out several landmarks and areas of interest you may have missed otherwise. Tour guides are available on a seasonal basis. If you're hiking or backpacking in the off-season, you're on your own. This is only recommended for experienced hikers as there are several risks and dangers.
Dehydration can come on suddenly, especially in warm weather. Under normal conditions, 2 liters of water can be sufficient. It's necessary to carry more water for low humidity and warm-weather conditions that cause quick sweating and evaporation on the skin. Regardless, always carry extra water and purifying tablets for emergencies.
To avoid getting lost, stay on marked trails. Some areas do not have trails and you should mark your paths clearly. Always take along a map and compass for navigation. Likewise, it's smart to have extra food and water available so you can sustain yourself for an extended period of time. A whistle is a cheap way of communicating but a radio service may be more reliable. Cell phones offer limited coverage with many areas that are out of range.
Sometimes warm climates can become quite cold at night particularly in higher altitudes. Low body temperature combined with wet clothing poses a risk for a life-threatening condition. Don't leave on a hiking trip before learning the symptoms and treatment of hypothermia.
Hiking and backpacking always involves unfamiliar trails and terrain. Any misstep can cause you to slip or fall, resulting in an ankle sprain, or worse, a break. It's recommended to wear comfortable hiking boots to minimize the risks. Always "look before you leap" and anticipate the consequences.
Careful planning is crucial to avoiding bad weather. Listen to weather reports before taking off. Of course, forecasts are predictions are not precise, but it's reckless to ignore them. Some places seem to attract storms that come on suddenly or almost daily. I've been backpacking in the mountains of Colorado three times and there was a thunderstorm every afternoon on all three trips. If it's lightening, stay away from tall objects (such as trees) and look for low areas to wait it out. If necessary, squat or lay down so you're not a target.
You can deal with this the same way you would while camping. Be alert and use preventative measures for insects and bugs. Always watch your step. If you encounter a snake, it's best to let in continue on it's path. Don't approach it or threaten it in any way. It will strike out to protect itself and that's what you need to avoid.
- Limit you hiking to the daytime hours if possible. Many dangers lurk where you can't see.
- Cover yourself well and wear comfortable hiking boots.
- Learn first aid and carry a first aid kit.
- Watch your step.
- Always hike in groups.
- Carry a flashlight, even if you don't think you'll need it.
- Dress in layers.
- Carry a compass and map of the area.
- Wear a hat and sunglasses. Use sunscreen.
- Wear a watch to keep track of time.