It’s April, the flowers are blooming and spring is in the air. This also means that the temperature is going to climb, and as we all know, it can get hot here. As summertime rolls around the number of hikers begin to dwindle, however, the need for rescue almost doubles. Hikers, new and veteran, often make mistakes while on the trail. To keep the Sheriff’s Department from spending too much money on search and rescue this summer, how about we let them use their helicopters to find bad guys and not hikers? In order to help keep you safe on the trail and enjoy your time outdoors, I have come up with a list of basic items you should have each time you’re on the trail and rules you should follow while hiking this summer.

Number One: BRING WATER! Nothing is more off-putting than a stranger stopping me and asking if they can drink from my camel back or bottle because they didn’t bring enough water for their 3 mile hike in 90ºF weather. After all, why would they need water? We’re in the desert! Ok, I’ll admit I can be a bit snobby when it comes to issues like this, but l I can’t stand to see liabilities walking down the same trail I do. Regardless if it’s 60ºF or 90ºF, I bring no less than 3 liters of water. “But it’s so heavy” is a complaint I hear frequently. Here is the beauty of water: it’s a perishable weight, meaning, the more you drink, the less your pack weighs. The upside is that you’re hydrated. The most obvious signs that you’re properly hydrated are that you’re not on the side of the trail with a severe headache, heaving and shivering. An easier way to determine your level of hydration is by observing the color of your urine. In case you didn’t know, the clearer the pee, the more hydrated you are. I am sure you can figure out what a dark color means.

Number Two: Bring the right gear. I would recommend the following:

Knife: This can be a life saver is most situations, especially survival situations. I would recommend a fixed blade with a full tang and an approximate blade length of 4-5 inches. I would also recommend a multi-tool, these can come in handy really quick.

Whistle: When you’re out there and something should happen (Murphy’s Law sound familiar?), calling for help by shouting may not get the attention you want and you can end up straining your voice. The sound of a whistle can be heard for miles and has such a loud pitch that, even with wind blowing, people can hear you.

Signal Mirror: Pilots of planes looking for you can’t hear a whistle but a glint from a mirror can be seen up to 15 miles away. These signal mirrors can be purchased from any store that carries sporting goods. Ladies, you may already have something in your purse that will work perfectly, it’s called a compact.

Basic Survival Kit: These can be a bit pricey but, in the end, are priceless should you have to use them. Most of them are pretty good but I would recommend you do your homework before you buy one. You don’t want to be caught in a situation without something you need.

Bandana: Bandanas have many uses. Choose one that is red or brightly colored so people can see it should you need help. If you run out of water, a bandana can be used to soak up precious water found in damp areas and wet sand. A bandana can also be used to put around your neck to keep cool when it’s soaked in water.

Sunscreen: Regardless of your ethnicity, this can come in handy on hot days. Keep your skin safe and stay comfortable. The last thing you need to deal with in a survival situation is red, stinging skin.

First Aid Kit: Sh*t happens on the trail. I have seen and heard about it many times. Find a First Aid Kit that is right for you. If you don't know much about basic First Aid, you should take a class offered at REI or one of the locale colleges. Basic first aid and how to treat yourself will come in handy someday so make sure you know the basics. Its not a bad idea to become Wilderness First Responder certified (WFR) or even Wilderness EMT certified (WEMT).

Fire Steel: This is a magnesium fire starter. You can use it by scraping it with your knife or the scraper usually sold with it. It’s waterproof and can last a lifetime. It’s lightweight and easy to carry. A fire is important should you get lost. Fire provides a morale boost, warmth, and heat for cooking and boiling water. Because I feel it needs to be said, please use common sense when starting a fire. We live in a dry, wildfire prone climate. Only use fire in a survival situation or where permitted by local park rangers.

Compass: There are many types out there, but they all serve one basic function, they tell you what direction you’re heading in and the direction to safety. Knowing your area will help you get back to safety should you become lost. If you go off trail, look at your compass often to keep your bearings straight!

Sunglasses: Protect your eyes from the sun, even on cloudy days. Prolonged exposure can cause blindness if you’re in the desert. Squinting can cause your face to become sore and you will eventually get a headache

Hat: Protect your head and your brain from sun exposure. Even with hair, your scalp can become sunburned. A hat also provides your face and head with shade when there is none. Protecting your brain is also important. Over-exposure can cause your brain to overheat and cause you to make irrational decisions. Also know that in cooler conditions most of your body’s heat escapes from your head. A hat will help keep you warm during those critical hours when the sun sets.

Day Pack: Choose one that fits you well and carries the gear you need. Remember, even if it’s comfortable now, it may not be 3 hours into a hike. If you’re going to be carrying heavier gear, choose a pack with a frame to help take the weight off your shoulders. A day pack should have enough room for all the water you take. I would make sure that it could hold a 3 liter water bladder.

Hiking Shoes: Choose a good pair of shoes that are MADE for hiking. Also, before you take them out for the first time, you should break them in for a couple weeks before a long hike. Failure to do this will cause blisters and discomfort, you don’t want to find out you purchased the wrong pair of shoes on mile 2 of a 10 mile hike!

Clothing: Wear loose fitting clothing with light colors. Black is a bad idea. Yes we all look cool in black, but we look even more cool on a gurney suffering from heat stroke. I always wear layers, that way when I get hot, I can take them off and put them back on when it gets cold. When you sweat, your body is trying to cool itself off. When you stop hiking and the temperature drops, you can can become hypothermic. Bringing layers helps prevent this. I usually wear a t-shirt and a button up shirt with light hiking pants that I can convert to shorts. Be sure you prepare for the climate you plan to hike in. Higher elevations can bring cooler weather which may differ from where you began at the trail head. Also remember to bring an extra pair of socks to keep your feet dry and prevent blisters. It’s important to take care of your feet, they are the shoe lace express to safety.

Number 3: Know the area and geography of where your going. Print out a map from google earth and study the area. Knowing your route and the topography can be really helpful when trying to keep from getting lost. Stay on the trail! Going off the trail can get you lost as well as put endangered plant and animal species at risk. Going off the trail can also cause you to get injured. Know the mileage and trails that can branch off from the trail should you do an out-and-back. If you have to, make an obvious mark on the trail should a fork in the road arise. The scenery always looks different when walking back the way you came, so it can’t hurt to turn around every once and a while to help keep from becoming disoriented. Check the weather the day before and the morning that you go. The last thing you want is to be surprised by the rain or worse.

Number 4: Travel with a partner. Yes, sometimes it’s nice to hike by our selves, however, longer hikes are better when you have someone with you. Two heads are always better then one. Two people can bounce ideas off one another on directions and decisions that have to be made along the way. Your hiking partner should be as knowledgeable as you are, if not more. You should not choose a hiking partner that will make bad decisions that put you or themselves at risk. The last thing you or your hiking partner need is to be liabilities to each other and end up having to carry them out or visa versa. Also, you should both agree on a plan and stick with it! Tell people where you are going and what time you expect to be back. Should you get in trouble, someone back home will know to call for Search and Rescue.

Number 5: It may not be a bad idea to get an early start. Starting the trail at around 6AM will ensure a cool morning and lots of wildlife. Wildlife is most active in the morning and evening times. Should you start around 10AM, you can be sure you will suffer the effects of the heat and you will most likely not see any wildlife. You will only leave the trail hot, sweaty and exhausted, most likely with a dehydration headache to follow.

Number 6: Finally, don’t do anything out of your skill range. Use common sense. Don’t take unnecessary risks and don’t injure yourself. Be mature and smart. More importantly, have fun and be safe! San Diego has some of the most beautiful landscapes I have ever seen. I was in the Marines for 8 years and traveled the Pacific.

If you have any questions about hiking, or survival, please feel free to email me. I am survival instructor, backpacking guide, and skilled woodsman.

-Hiking San Diego

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