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How I Prepare For Hiking

There’s a lot to be said for the techniques of camping and hiking, and in this article, I’m going to make some generalizations on the type of equipment that is needed when going on a summer hike in interior Alaska. Better safe than sorry is my motto when packing for a hiking trip. I tend to overpack in preparation for every kind of weather and situation I imagine could happen.

  • Backpack: This one should seem obvious. The choice of what type of backpack to use is largely a matter of personal preference.
  • Water:
    • I put water first on the list in order to stress the importance of not forgetting your water supply. Your source of water could include what you bring with you, or a source that you can find while you’re out. You’ll have to measure your water consumption, however for me, 3 liters for every eight hours is what I’ll use over a good up and down climb in warm weather. I’ll need significantly less in cooler weather. The problem with taking lots of water is that it’s heavy, about 2.2 lbs per liter. A water filtration system can be useful, but you have to count on coming across a source of water along your route.
    • Under no circumstance should you drink untreated surface water in Alaska, as it may contain giardia, the organism that causes beaver fever.
  • Food: For a day hike, not much more than cliff bars and sandwiches for a single day. For longer periods or overnighters, I have an alcohol stove and pot which can be used to brew coffee or to cook freeze-dried meals. There is room for creativity in food preparation, however be aware that food smells will attract bears.
  • Clothing:
    • Prepare for everything. On a typical summer’s day near Fairbanks, the weather can turn from hot and sunny to cold and rainy, and back again all over the course of a single day. Shorts and a t-shirt will be necessary for hot weather, and a rain-coat and pants will be needed for the rain. Don’t forget to bring a warm long sleeve shirt, as the weather can turn cold in a hurry or if you have an accidental overnight stay on top of a mountain.
    • Cotton is the worst possible material you can bring because when it get wet, it stays wet; instead use synthetics or wool. I’ve tried both, and both work very well as a base layer.
  • Mosquitoes:
    • The mosquitoes will try to kill you, and DEET works as advertised to repel them. There is also the option of using lemon eucalyptus repellent, which has been shown to be almost as effective as DEET. I have used both and both work well.
    • From my observations of mosquitoes in this area, it seems they tend to stay at lower elevations. Because of this, the upper bounds of the mosquito-phere seems to be at roughly 1000ft-1500ft altitude, so you can plan on a comfortable hike if your route takes you up high. In addition, high wind seems to discourage them from biting. Since they come out more strongly in the evenings, it may be useful to plan your trip to where you’re out of their range by twilight.
  • Bear protection:
    • This subject is a whole article in itself, and I know people have pretty strong feelings about carrying a large pistol to guard against bears. I’ve carried both a 44 magnum pistol and bear spray, and after a trial period and some research, I decided that bear spray is the more effective protection against charging bears. It’s important to note that whatever you carry, it has to be in quick reach. That means not in your back-pack or in your coat pocket, or inside your coat, but at your waist and in unrestricted reach.
  • First Aid: In regards to first aid equipment, be well equipped, but don’t bring anything you don’t know how to use.
  • Emergency preparation:
    • Almost nowhere that I’ve gone hiking is covered by cellular reception, so don’t count on being able to bail yourself out. Tell someone where you’re going, and leave a trip plan with them with instructions to check up on you at the time you’re supposed to be back. A convenient form for this can be found here http://dps.alaska.gov/PIO/docs/WildernessTripPlan.pdfIt would also be helpful to plot your route on a map and leave that with the plan.
    • I would suggest also a 406mhz personal locator beacon. They don’t require a subscription to use, however they’re not for casual use. Don’t activate a PLB unless you’re dying! Sending out a rescue crew is expensive and dangerous, so make sure you’ve exhausted all the options you have to save yourself before activating a PLB.
  • Footwear:
    • Since the comfort experienced during any hike is heavily dependent on the type of footwear you bring, it deserves a mention. My personal preference is for 6 inch waterproof leather boots. There is much debate on how much ankle support you actually need and whether you can get away with sneakers, but in my opinion, sneakers are a bad option because they don’t keep the water out.
    • As for socks, wool is imperative. In my experience, thick cotton socks have resulted in blisters whereas thin smart-wool socks prevented my feet from even becoming sore over the same terrain.
  • Navigation:
    • Some of the trails that I’ve been on are so well marked, that neither a GPS or map and compass were needed. Be aware though that even on a marked trail, a working knowledge of the route you’re taking is necessary before leaving. A trail could suddenly fork off in an unexpected direction, leaving you confused and unsure of where you are.
    • Some trails are marked by rock piles called cairns, which mark the trail over rocky terrain or over terrain with few features. If visibility is reduced due to clouds, a compass might be necessary to keep you on course. Make sure you have a good quality compass and know how to use it.
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