With cinemas, shopping malls, gyms and restaurants closed during the pandemic, people are seeking other ways to stay entertained and get exercise, and for many, that has involved lacing up a pair of hiking boots.
But what if you don’t own hiking boots? Or a fancy backpack full of navigational tools and survival gear?
Don’t worry. Many easy hikes in Maine don’t require any special gear or skills. Still, the activity should be taken seriously. Before hitting the trails, it’s important to plan and prepare. And it’s safer to start with easy trails, then work your way up to more difficult trails as you gain experience. It’s also important to remember that in winter and into spring, snow and ice on trails — especially at high elevations — can require special gear such as ice cleats and snowshoes to navigate safely.
No matter how easy the hike, it’s always more comfortable, safe and enjoyable if you put some consideration into what clothes you wear and what items you carry.
Here’s how to pack and dress for an easy hike without any special gear.
What to wear
Check the weather report, then ask yourself these two questions: 1. What clothing will keep me warm and dry? 2. What clothing allows me to move freely? It can really be that simple.
But here are a few more tips. Try wearing synthetic or wool clothing (which wicks moisture away from your skin) rather than cotton (which traps moisture). When it comes to socks, the difference can be especially noticeable. Also, consider wearing long sleeves and pants, which can help protect you from sunburn, rogue tree branches, biting flies and ticks.
Also while getting dressed, you may want to consider how that clothing can protect you from ticks. Permethrin-treated clothing has proven to be effective in repelling ticks. Light-colored clothing makes it easier to spot ticks that are crawling on you. And if you tuck your pants into your socks, it may prevent ticks from crawling up your bare legs.
In addition, I usually pack a few extra clothing items, such as a baseball cap, sun glasses and rain jacket — just in case. Maine’s weather is fairly unpredictable.
As for shoes, if you don’t have hiking boots, just select footwear that’s comfortable and has good tread. For some people, this may be sneakers or work boots. Also, depending on the conditions of the trail, you may be happiest with waterproof footwear. A lot of Maine trails are soggy, especially in the spring.
Selecting a backpack
Find the comfiest backpack in your house. In many cases, this is an old school backpack. If it has a strap that can be buckled around your hips or across your chest, that will prevent it from flopping around every time you band over or shift your weight. Pockets are helpful for keeping items organized.
Carrying plenty of water is key to having a safe and comfortable hike. Water should be the heaviest item in your backpack by far. The general recommendation is about a half liter of water per hour of moderate hiking in moderate temperatures. So for an easy hike, carry a couple of full water bottles.
If you don’t own a water bottle (or one that you trust not to leak), then some alternatives include a canteen or thermos, a cleaned-out disposable soda bottle or juice bottle, or even a cleaned spaghetti sauce jar.
Packing a little food — even if it’s just a few granola bars — can really make a difference when you’re out on the trail. It’s no fun to be hungry while you’re trying to embrace nature. If you enjoy being creative with food, this is a great opportunity to pack a tasty picnic. And if you’d prefer to just pack something simple, some options include: a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, an apple or orange, a candy bar and trail mix using whatever crackers, pretzels, chips, nuts, dried fruit or chocolate you have around the house.
Sunscreen and insect repellent are key items to carry with you much of the year in Maine. A sunburn or itchy bug bites can quickly ruin your time outdoors. And it’s important to note that, while the sun is certainly strongest in the summertime in Maine, people can get sunburns any time of year, and on cloudy days.
Tick removal device
While on your hike, if you notice a tick embedded in your skin, it’s best that you remove it as quickly as possible, using the correct technique. This will likely require tweezers or a tick spoon (to grasp the tick near your skin).
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Even on easy hikes, it’s important to stay oriented. Some simple navigational tools include a trail map and your smartphone. A trail map can come in many forms: a page in a hiking guidebook, printed from the internet, downloaded to your smartphone or photographed using your smartphone. And if you have reception, your smartphone can also be used to track your general location using Google Maps and mobile trail apps such as AllTrails. Just make sure you have plenty of battery life. And remember that some areas of Maine do not have reception. Other navigational tools include a compass ( if you know how to use it) and a handheld GPS device.
Most of the time, carrying survival gear just gives you peace of mind. You don’t end up actually using it. But in the event of an emergency, you’ll be glad you have it. There are survival tools and kits specifically made for hiking and backpacking, but there are also some common household items that make for great emergency items. These include (but are not limited to):
— A flashlight or headlamp, in case you are on the trail longer than you expect and the sun goes down.
— A multi-tool or knife, which can be used in a number of survival scenarios from building a shelter to preparing a campfire.
— A lighter, matches or some other type of fire starter.
— A large trash bag, which can be used in a number of ways, including an impromptu poncho or shelter roof.
— Duct tape and/or a string, such as paracord or a shoelace. These items can be used in survival situations to help build a shelter, mend a torn backpack or secure a bandage.
— Any first aid items you have that will help you treat scrapes, blisters and turned ankles, which are common injuries in hiking easy trails. Band aids, athletic tape, alcohol wipes, gauze and an antibiotic ointment such as Neosporin are all great items to have in your makeshift first aid kit.
— Any important medications, including an EpiPen and Benadryl if you have severe allergic reactions.
A way to communicate
While a big part of hiking is escaping all the media and noise, it’s important to keep a line of communication open in the rare event that you become lost or injured and need help. One way to do this is by carrying a fully charged cell phone with you on your hike. But remember, cell phone reception isn’t available in some places in Maine. Some hikers use satellite trackers for this reason, but these are expensive devices that many people don’t have.
In addition, one simple form of communication that any hiker can do to improve their safety is this: Write down exactly where you’re hiking and when you plan to return, then give that note (or text or email) to someone who will check to make sure you safely return. That way, if something does go wrong, they know where to start looking right away.
Fun extra items
If your pack isn’t too full, you may want to bring along a camera to capture some of the beautiful scenery. You could also bring a small notebook and writing utensil to do some nature journaling.
For more ideas of what to wear or pack for a hike, check out the Appalachian Mountain Club “ 3-Season Hiker Gear List.” You may not own all this gear, but there are plenty of substitutes you may be able to find right at home that will be suitable enough for an easy day hike.
Aislinn Sarnacki can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter: @1minhikegirl, and Instagram: @actoutdoors. Her guidebooks “Family Friendly Hikes in Maine,” “Maine Hikes Off the Beaten Path” and “Dog-Friendly Hikes in Maine” are available at local bookstores and wherever books are sold.
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