We’re talking about walking in the woods. We’re not talking about hero treks along the crest of the Continental Divide. When it’s time to do that, you’ll be writing your own book. But right now, we want to look over some gear that’ll make your walk in the woods a pleasure—and that you won’t outgrow.
Let’s consider this a moment. When I talk about gear you won’t outgrow. It is not always about size. I’m talking about quality. The old axiom that you buy cheap gear three or four times is never so true as it is with outdoor gear.
Get a cheap pack if you wish. just be prepared for it to never work well, to never be comfortable, and to require replacement after only limited use. This isn’t an argument for buying the top-of-the-line gear, with bells and whistles.
The time may come when the bells and whistles are useful to you; for now, it’s doubtful that you need a loop for your ice ax, backpacking saw and straps for carrying crampons. What you’re shopping for should fit well, look good (woodchucks to the contrary, pretty DOES count for something) and hold up in use.
What you’re talking for specifically are a few items that will make your life easier in the outback, and something in which to carry them. That “something” is commonly called a day bag, a day pack, or a small backpack. And-surprise! -we’re not going to talk about the pack first.
Why? Because until you have a pretty good idea of what’s going into the pack, the size, and shape of the pack itself are absolutely meaningless.
You could probably make up a list of what you need for a day’s walk in the woods in spring, summer or fall without my help if you thought about it for a minute, but I’ll help you.
This is the one indispensable item in any wilderness traveler’s kit, for reasons that are both obvious and far too extensive to go into here.
As you can’t depend on finding drinkable water anywhere close to human habitation and only rarely out in the boondocks; you either go prepared to treat water to make it drinkable, or you carry water with you.
For a short scoot in the woods, the simple approach is to carry water with you. So you’ll need something in which to carry it. Rummage through your outfitter’s shelves until you find a wide-mouthed plastic bottle that will hold about a liter.
I prefer water bottles made of Lexan because Lexan doesn’t pick up flavors as readily as some other plastics. Why a wide-mouthed bottle rather than a narrow-mouthed canteen?
Simple. It’s easier to fill, and it’s easier to mix stuff like lemonade in a wide-mouthed bottle. Get one for every family member who’s walking with you.
If you’d rather get water as you go, plan on carrying some form of treatment. Iodine tablets or crystals are the lightest and least expensive option. If you want to be fancy and carry a water filter, be prepared to spend anywhere from $30 to $200.
Boiling water is also an effective treatment but that takes considerable time and you’re probably not going to carry a stove on a day hike. Either way, carry something to treat water. If not, you’re gambling, and the stakes are high.
If you aren’t troubled with metabolic problems like diabetes or hypoglycemia, going a day without food will not hurt you a bit. However, this isn’t the time to either go on a diet or start the practice of fasting.
It also isn’t the time to go on a Sugar Junky binge, either.
The mild exercise you get from walking will trigger a low-level release of stored glycogens from your liver after you’ve gone through the sugars in your bloodstream. So you don’t need 5 pounds of chocolate bars.
Here’s what I take. Cheese and crackers, raisins or dried apricots, an energy bar and something sweet that won’t melt. There IS chocolate that won’t melt. It’s called M&M’s. Mix these gaudy little dudes with some dry roast peanuts in a Ziploc bag, and you’ll be “good to go,” as my old point guard was fond of saying.
Do yourself a favor. Repackage your snacks in Ziploc bags. Put a hunk of cheese in one and toss crackers, a few handfuls of dried fruit, and chocolate all in their own bags.
This way you can reveal what you don’t eat, you don’t end up carrying more than you’ll eat, and the food stays fresh and sealed so you won’t come home with a pack full of cracker crumbs.
Your favorite outdoor outfitter will have an assortment of freeze-dried and dehydrated food packets you might consider preparing. Sometimes the meals are extravagant, but for the most part, they are very easy to prepare. Again, it is important to consult a helpful salesperson to get a little experienced advice.
The benefit in taking along freeze-dried and dehydrated fare is the weight of these products as opposed to that of groceries. With the water extracted from the food, weight load is reduced to more than 50 percent of the original weight.
This is most important when cross-country trekking; however, you might wish to make it easy on your back with the lightweight stuff.
State-of-the-art dressings wound closure tapes, and non-prescription medications allow the construction of a very useful first aid kit for general outdoor use.
Very often treatments can be improvised with items on hand, but prior planning and the inclusion of the following items in your kit will provide you with the best that modern medical science can offer.
Most outfitting stores carry pre-packaged first aid kits. Outdoor Research, REI, and Adventure Medical offer good ones. You can also make your own. Here’s what I take:
Of course, the kit is only part of it; you must know how to use the contents of the kit. Brush up on your first aid skills with a general first aid course at your local Red Cross or YMCA.
If you’re interested in learning about more advanced medical techniques, there are a number of terrific courses that deal specifically with first aid in the backcountry.
For more information, contact SOLO, the Wilderness Medicine Institute, the Wilderness Medical Associates, or the National Association for Search and Rescue.
Chances are that it rains where you live. Chances are that it will rain on you sometime when you’re moseying through the north forty.
Most rational beings won’t set out for a walk in the woods. Especially, when the fall gales hit the upper Great Lakes.. Or the rains hit the Georgia coastal plains. But if you wait for that perfect day when there is no threat of rain at all, you won’t do much walking. You’re not made of sugar; you won’t melt.
But you’ll think you’re made of sugar if your raingear doesn’t work well. Now, “work well” is one of those wonderful weasel phrases beloved of outdoor writers who either choose not to go into detail or don’t spend enough time outside to know what’s happening. Because—what works well today for me may not work well for you today, even if you’re walking beside me.
“Why? A lot of reasons. I may be expending a bit less energy and perspiring less. Moreover, I may be more comfortable on a hot, humid day, and because I’m fussing less. Actually, like some people, I’m less prone to being bothered by a little condensation.
I may be walking with a thin polypropylene undershirt under my rain jacket, and you may have a heavy cotton/poly blend T-shirt on, which traps moisture and makes you feel damp.
I may have taken the time to ventilate trapped warm air from inside the jacket by loosening my collar, and I may have chosen to wear a hat rather than pull up the hood on my jacket.
Which effectively insulated the nape of my neck and my throat-two areas that are critical in heat regulation. In simpler terms, it’s a combination of good raingear and good sense that keeps you comfortable. Good raingear alone makes the job easier, but it’s no guarantee of comfort.”
Raingear can be divided into two designs; the poncho and the commonly used rain jacket/rain pants sets the poncho is big, a pain in the neck in a breeze, relatively easy to ventilate, and if you’re looking for double-duty from your gear, downright hazardous in a canoe or on a bicycle.
Rain jackets and rain pants are rather more versatile, require more care in use to maintain adequate ventilation, are more comfortable in a wind, and can, indeed, serve as wind garments.
For most woods-walking, you can scrounge through your dresser and your closet. The summer foray rarely requires more than a light sweater held in reserve, and a pair of loose, comfortable shorts or pants.
Please note that “loose and comfortable” does not include jeans or cut-off jeans, which are usually cut wrong for walking and soak up water like a sponge.
If you like things that are techy—and that just plain work-pick up a lightweight polypropylene underwear top and a lightweight fleece jacket or pullover. The combination of undershirt and fleece is cozy in even quite cool weather, yet breathable enough to be a pleasant addition in the morning or at twilight on even a warm day.
“Hint: The polypro undershirt should have long sleeves; it’s a bit of sun protection with essentially zero warmth when worn by itself. How did I find that out? On a two-week canoe trip (with a lot of ground exploration) in the Florida Everglades. Winter underwear in the subtropics!”
For warm and cold walking there is one rule to live by Cotton kills. Even on a warm day, it is not difficult to catch a chill once you sit down for a while and feel a light breeze blow through your drenched cotton shirt.
Cotton absorbs moisture and takes a long time to dry. It also sticks to your skin and prevents a layer of air from forming between your clothes and your body. It is this layer of air that keeps you warm; without it, you get chilled. You can suffer from hypothermia when it’s as warm as 50 degrees Fahrenheit.
So, use your common sense and leave the cotton at home.
You’ll want one, even if you might not need one right away. Besides, a compass is even more fun than a good diamond whetstone as a time-waster.
And who knows? You never can tell when you’ll need a sharp knife or the esoteric map-and-compass skills you honed during lunch.
Get a compass with a transparent base plate, the kind you can lay on a map and use for real navigation. Forget the little round jobs with wiggly induction-damped) needles, as they’re less accurate and a pain to use. Ten bucks or so will get you a very reliable instrument that’s capable of greater accuracy than you can use.
This is another one of those wonderful catchall phrases that can cover everything from an 8 x 10 view camera to a few sheets of toilet paper. For a day’s walk in the woods, take what you will need and what will enrich the jaunt.
When you’re carrying your whole house on your back, you have to be more ruthless with your whims, or you’ll wind up toting 40 pounds of lightweight, high-tech stuff you don’t need.
What do I think is necessary for a random scoot in my nearby Huron National Forest? Sunglasses, lip balm with 15 SPF, sunscreen, insect repellent (which I very rarely use), a pocket knife, binoculars (mine are big old fat ones.
I’d love a pair of the vest-pocket lightweights), a bird guide and wildflower guide, and a small notebook and pen. To me, a walk in the woods is a time for both external and internal exploration. You may be happier with a Frisbee and a harmonica. But-don’t forget the bug dope, sunscreen, sunglasses and lip balm!
In a pack, of course. But not the pack you’ll be using for overnighting and longer trips. For day trips you want a small pack that will comfortably hold everything you’ll need, with a little extra capacity for winter jaunts.
Our family has grown up and flown the coop, taking most of their gear with them, so Molly and I range the local countryside by ourselves.
Looking at the bluest sky, I forget all my stresses. Going through the green I try to breathe, more than I do in my reality. So, that's why I love camping.