Today I am thinking about the coming spring and the following summer. A proposed 50-mile hike with my scout troop tickles the front of my mind. Thoughts of conifer trees and green grassy meadows winding down from an elevation of about 9000 feet to the desert floor red with sandstone break a smile across my face. Wildlife in the area we are planning to hike is abundant and active. I have done 50 miles by myself many times, and I have taken scout troops on 50-milers before; so I am well aware of the work ahead of me, and the grandeur.
I try to stay in hiking shape year-round by visiting my local gym, but the walks aren't quite the same. It is difficult to train for rocky trails and sandy washes indoors. I've managed to keep my cardio up but nowhere near the level of the 12 and 13-year-old soccer playing boys that will be undoubtedly far ahead on the trail. The pre-hikes for me are my chance to raise my physical level, for the boys is an opportunity to learn good trail habits in a safe environment. Over the course of the next four months, we will do two 10-mile hikes, a 12, and a 15. All of these hikes will be at elevations of around 7000 to 9000 feet. Most will be a good balance of mountainous terrain with steep inclines and rolling meadows. Our 50 miler later in the year will be primarily a descent.
Next I start thinking of equipment, items I already have and have collected over the years. Quality equipment is important, knowing how to use this equipment even more so. A short gear list is a happy gear list as unused items are just extra weight. Tested items are important, as the last thing you want is an equipment failure to cause a trip interruption. The young men making this hike may not have everything I have, but the essentials are not terribly expensive. We use this as a learning experience for their future outings with family and friends. They will become the experts.
Boots and socks top the list. I cannot tell you how many times simple advice on boots and socks is ignored with grave consequences. Boots should match the hiking environment, for us, high-quality lightweight, breathable, and waterproof. Steel toes and hiking are never a good match. Socks should also match the environment, time of year, and the hiker’s foot. I prefer cushioned heel, the thicker the better, because I have a narrow heel. I also prefer liners, lightweight silk or poly. At least one change of socks should be carried. The boys and I will talk in depth about foot care, and I will ask them to do research on their own.
Speaking of boots and socks, laces are important as well. In this past year, I found one of my favorite indulgence items, elastic locking laces. I like them so much, I made a couple of design tweaks to make them slightly better in my opinion and reintroduce them under my own name brand. Haggard Grip-Tight elastic locking laces are now available on Amazon.com and my website. That is another story altogether but if you have never tried them I highly recommend it.
Trekking poles are the next item I believe most people overlook. Their use, particularly on a downhill adventure such as this one, is essential. As we descend and step down repeatedly using the poles to cushion our way, especially for us older folk, it can be the difference between a pleasant day of hiking and the fear of the next day. Trekking poles also add stability when maneuvering obstacles, most are collapsible for easy storage when not in use. Plus if you need to fight off a bear, badger, or hungry scout from your lunch they may give you the slightest advantage.
Clothing is also significant and based on the season your selection can very. For this type of summer hike I prefer convertible nylon hiking pants, compression shorts, a good moisture wicking T-shirt, and a breathable nylon SPF rated button up shirt. Here is where you can spend some money if you are not careful. Some of the best pants I have found, believe it or not, are official scout pants ordered from the BSA website. They are inexpensive when compared to name brands, very durable, and are offered with inseam lengths up to 36 inches which I require. Compression shorts and T-shirts can be found with price tags requiring a small loan. However, they can also be found at your local supermart, and they will do quite fine. The button up SPF shirt or phishing type shirt can be a problem. I have found that if you search Amazon and then select the ugliest color you can find, usually a neon puke green, that particular shirt will be on sale at 75% off. An added bonus if you are the parent of a scout, your Scoutmaster will be able to see your son. I typically carry a spare set of compression shorts, but given the quick drying time of my other articles I do not carry spares. Allowing for your area of the world and time of year, a fleece jacket or lightweight undergarment may also be necessary.
Another favorite item I have is my poncho. Full-size nothing fancy, basic military design, nylon rip-stop. Not only can it be used as a raincoat and in my opinion far better than rain gear. It is also an excellent source of shade if needed. If there happen to be trees, as where I am headed, I can spread out my poncho like a picnic blanket for my afternoon nap. My trusty poncho keeps me out of the dirt, leaves, and ants.
The last item I am fairly picky about concerns water treatment. I have used many different water filters over the years, and they all seem to have their pros and cons. On a long hike like this with many young men dependent on me for their well-being, I carry a very expensive water pump. I also carry my hydration pack and a small titanium cup I can use to cook in. For scout who may or may not decide to hike the rest of their lives, a small inexpensive straw style filter of high quality is recommended. Yes, this is another item I found that I liked and made some small tweaks to and then branded with my name. The Haggard personal straw style water filter is made so that it can attach to most hydration packs and 1 & 2L style bottles. At under $20 they are an inexpensive solution to a critical issue.
Although there are many other items that you may carry with you, there are a few that you must have. Without getting specific as to my preferences, they are as follows: paracord, a small cook pot (700 to 900 mL), Ferro-Stick, pocket knife or small multi-tool, and compass. Frankly, if you have the previously mentioned items, the correct food, boots, clothing, poncho, and a water treatment instrument, the rest is gravy.
Spending time in the outdoors is far beyond recreation to me. It is a spiritual experience and a time for me to rejuvenate. A small amount of planning and some worthwhile equipment alongside a good selection of treats makes for a few days of adventure and a lifetime of memories.