Out On The Trail

Things happen when out on the trail.

Here are some things to consider for that first hike with a backpack:

1. Trekking Poles & Water Sources

2. A Compass & A Map

3. Unexpected Weather & Small Injuries

4. More on Safety: Don't leave the Trail & Black Bears


Trekking Poles


Most new backpackers start out without trekking poles

Most experienced backpackers have learned the value of trekking poles


One of the reasons why new backpackers might not use trekking poles could be because:

  • They don't yet realize the potential utility of trekking poles at a campsite

  • The initial hikes are easy, therefore the need for them is less

Of course, these are just guesses.

Some of the things trekking poles are great for:

  • Allows you to use your arms on inclines. Over time, this helps your legs and your overall fatigue

  • Gives you extra tools to maintain balance when going downhill

  • Can be used as poles for erecting some backpacking tents

  • Can be used to dig a hole for body waste

  • Can be used as poles to erect a lightweight tarp

Trekking poles are valuable to the backpacking experience. We strongly recommend you bring them with you on backpacking trips

Water Sources


When you have a chance (you are at a water source) refill your water.

Reasons why you might bypass a water source without refilling:

  • You are camping next to a stream and you know for certain the stream will be running.

  • You are within two miles of said campsite

  • You know for certain the next water source is better

Knowing for certain means you've walked the trail before and you've been there recently enough to know of any draught conditions.

A Compass, A Map​, and A Whistle

Sounds kind of old school, right?

We strongly recommend you carry all three!

Yes. With just a smartphone you can have all that you need when it comes to navigating a mountain trail. And you can do that in airplane mode. (article by Jerry coming soon which discusses this).

While smartphone batteries last longer, and many hikers carry external charging batteries, there is always the chance of losing your smartphone. Of course that could never happen to you, right? Sarcasm inserted on purpose. Yes, it can happen to you.

Determining a cardinal direction (North, South, East, West) isn't crucial to survival until it becomes crucial to survival. Think you can just use the sun? Not if it's cloudy, and not if you are in thick forest.

Having a map, even if you don't fully understand how to read it, at least gives you a fighting chance if you are lost off of the trail.

Good maps are not for emergencies. They provide things like:

  • Location of water sources

  • Campsite locations

  • Trail crossings

  • Road crossings

Whistles? Yes, whistles!

  • Great for helping to scare away bears

  • But even better for letting hikers know that you are in distress or lost

Weather on The Trail


Suddenly you are in a thunderstorm. Lightning or thunder? Probably best to take cover if out in an open area.

Just your average rain shower? If you have donned the proper gear (backpack rain cover, rain coat, etc), then no worries. Keep on hiking. But there are a few things to consider. Watch your footing, especially if going uphill or downhill. If going downhill, go slower than you otherwise would have.

Boo-boo's & Blisters


First Aid Kits. These should be small. You don't need to carry a paramedic kit.

Scrapes, insect stings, and blisters. These can all be covered with very small first aid kits.

Getting Lost

Unless you have graduated from a terrain navigation course (orienteering), DO NOT ever hike off of a trail.

Yes, we mentioned this in our planning section. It's worth mentioning again. This is not a website about orienteering in the bush. If that is what you are seeking (bushwhacking) there are plenty of websites about that.

If you have to leave the trail (potty break), consider tying rope to a tree nearby and do not go further than the length of that rope.

Every hiking season hikers get lost. It just happens.

If you find yourself away from the trail and are lost, it is time to use the STOP recommendations from the US Forest Service.

  • As soon as you realize you are lost, quit moving around. Stay calm and don't panic.

  • Think. Retrace your steps in your mind. Do you recall any landmarks? Did you take any pictures on your smartphone recently? Do not move until you've had time to think about your situation in a clear manner.

  • Observe. If you are on a trail, do not leave that trail. If you have a compass, bring it out to help retrace your steps. As a last resort, follow a stream or drainage downhill. This will likely lead to a trail or road, but can be dangerous.

  • Plan. Based upon the previous steps, come up with a plan. If you can't come up with a confident plan, then stay put and wait for assistance.

Black Bear Encounters


Learn about black bears before going on a trip. There are many misconceptions about them.

If encountering a black bear or bears

  • DO NOT run unless you want to be chased and possibly killed or maimed

  • Stop moving in their direction. Staying calm and still will likely end the encounter within minutes.

  • If the bear moves its head side to side or pounds its paws into the ground

Raise your arms high to make yourself big

Yell and make noise.

This is only a brief review. We recommend you go here to learn more: