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Cold and wet

Preparing for a JOC Hike
by Jason Pearlman

 

Cold and wet. Hot and sweaty. Hungry and thirsty. Cut, scraped and bruised. Lost and confused.

 

This is not how we want to remember our outdoor experiences. While a walk in the woods may sound like a harmless endeavor, outdoors activities such as hiking can leave a person vulnerable to a number of problems when attempted without the right preparation and equipment. While skiers naturally need skis and cyclists obviously need bicycles, the equipment needed for hiking is not always so obvious to a beginner or even to some more advanced hikers.

 

Hiking is the staple activity for most outdoors people. While hiking is a rather simple activity compared to say, rock climbing or whitewater kayaking, hiking still requires a basic ensemble of gear and the knowledge of how to use it in order to have the best possible outdoors experience. The list below outlines the basic clothing and gear required to ensure that weather and terrain make any JOC hike enjoyable and not an ordeal. The first section will cover what to wear, the second section will cover what to bring, and the third section will cover what to eat and drink.

 

Please note that all gear can be purchased from on-line retailers, but I prefer to purchase my gear from EMS. Their prices, while not the lowest, are fairly reasonable. The products, however, are top-notch and fully reliable. Their sales staff is fully knowledgeable, committed to the outdoors, and are more than glad to help you select the right gear. Additionally, EMS offers many sales throughout the year, so its not uncommon to get 20% off those $100 hiking boots or fleece windbreaker if you pay attention to their advertisements.

 

What to wear:

In our day-to-day lives, we might not pay much attention to the material and functionality of our clothing. Cotton and silk are benign factors in the office cubicle and leather or suede shoes make no difference as long as they match the prevailing trends at the parties. Out in the woods, on the trail, in the wide open, however, the material and design of what we wear makes a noticeable difference. In this section, I will discuss from bottom to top, the best choices for a hiking wardrobe.

 

On your feet:

This is usually the first and most important choice you will make in buying gear for hiking. Proper footwear is always recommended for hiking, but never discussed in detail. Proper footwear means hiking boots. Hiking boots are the SUVs of the footwear world: suitable enough for pavement but designed for the unpredictable nature of the unpaved world. Hiking boots are tough and burly, and made to protect the feet while allowing them to navigate over and through rocks, roots, dirt, mud, river crossings, rain, snow, cliff sides, etc

 

Selecting a boot can be an intimidating task given the wide selection of styles, technical features, and prices to be found in an outdoors store such as EMS or Paragon. To make it very easy, the first thing you want to do is disregard any boot that is not waterproof. Boots are made waterproof by using a material called Gore-Tex, and usually begin at around $80-$100. Less expensive boots are described as water-resistant. In other words, while they are not waterproof and they will allow moisture from mud, stream crossings, rain, and snow to seep into your boots and make your feet most uncomfortable. The money saved on cheaper, non-waterproof boots is negated by the money wasted in the first place. Always make sure that the boots are waterproofed with Gore-Tex. Trust me, warm dry feet on a wet, snowy, muddy hike is a feeling akin to paradise!!!

 

That is the easy part. Afterwards, with the assistance of a trained sales associate, you only need to decide on fit and comfort. Try them on and walk around the shop. Decide if you want boots that are high cut (padding over the ankle for maximum protection, best for aggressive or long-term hikes), mid cut (padding that only goes up to the ankle) or low cut (no padding at the ankle, cut like a regular shoe for maximum flexibility, best for easy hikes.). Go for a boot with an aggressive sole and a lacing system that is easy to work with. While youre at it, also invest in a few pairs of wool hiking socks. Not only will they keep you comfortable in all weather conditions, they will also greatly reduce the risk of blisters.

 

On your legs:

Here is my simple rule of thumb: Say yes to pants and no to shorts and skirts. Your legs have little to be concerned about when out for a simple stroll in the city, but out on the trail they can take a beating. Wearing shorts exposes the bare skin of your legs to low-lying foliage that can scrape up your legs like a cats scratching post. Even worse, your legs are exposed to, and thus more vulnerable to ticks, mosquitoes, and other insects. Skirts present many problems as well. They can get caught on rocks and foliage, rip, trip up a hiker, can serious limit movement (a danger on technical trail sections), and become wet, muddy, and heavy when the weather and terrain turn ugly.

 

Pants are always the best choice. They protect the legs from everything a trail can throw at them. Some people are fine wearing denim jeans, but many prefer pants specially made for hiking. These pants come in various fabrics; lighter ones for warm weather hiking and heavier ones for cooler days. These fabrics are designed to be strong, allow maximum flexibility, and feature generous amounts of well-placed pockets to keep vital gear accessible and within reach. Pants like these allow the legs to breathe while wicking away moisture from sweat and from external elements.

 

The best bet is the EMS Adventure zip-off pants (around $50). These pants feature zippers just above the knees allowing the pant legs to be removed, converting the pants to shorts quickly and easily for river crossings, sunning oneself during a lunch break, and for laying back after a long day of hiking or climbing. I own a pair of these and I never leave home for a hike or climbing trip without them. Theyre also perfect for the beach or long airplane ride.

 

Finally, dont forget a pair of bergalene underwear. They allow maximum flexibility, wick away sweat, and reduce chaffing.

 

On your upper body:

Choosing a shirt for a day at work is simple: check out the weather report and decide between tee shirt, long sleeves, or sweater. Pack a jacket is it looks like it might get cool, but dont worry about it, youll most likely be inside someplace with climate control anyway. Out on the trail, however, there is not heating and no air conditioning. The weather reports cant be relied on, and conditions can change from warm to cool and dry to wet in no time.

 

Purchasing shirts from an outdoors retailer seems to require a PHD in science. At the store, you are faced with a variety of materials with names like Bergalene, Holofiber, Gore-Tex, Techwick, CoolMax, etc., and that is before you need to start choosing between short-sleeve, long sleeve, and turtlenecks. There are different prices and different styles, so where do you start?

 

To make it easy, remember this: you cannot skip it and just pull a cotton shirt from the bottom of your closet. Cotton is the absolute worse material you can wear on a hike. Unlike to above-mentioned materials, which wick away sweat and keep you dry, cotton absorbs sweat and keeps you cold and wet. While I understand that not everybody has the money to stock a closet full of hiking clothing, you still want to be able to bring to a hike the right combination of tops to keep you comfortable for the day while keeping you cool when the temperatures are up and warm when the mercury slips south. For around $60, you can purchase a Techwick short sleeve tee shirt and a Techwick long sleeve with zipper that goes up to the top of your neck to go over the tee shirt for hikes that start on a cool morning that becomes a mild afternoon. Layering is the key word with hiking clothing, and the combination of these two are fine for early fall, late spring, and summer hiking. They are lightweight, yet well insulated so you can wear both, or pull of the top layer and fold it compactly to fit in your backpack.

 

On your head:

Kippot and Shietels may be a common sight on JOC outings, but you wont find them on the racks at the outdoors store. Still, the Torah may be one of the earliest outdoors gear guides by advising us to keep our heads covered. Hike descriptions always advise to bring a hat, but why?

 

Of all the parts of your body, your head is the most exposed part. The sun beats down on it harder than anyplace else, and heat escapes from it faster that anyplace else. On a hot day, sweat from your head leads to dehydration quickly and on a cool day, 50% of your body heat escapes from your head. In addition, youre uncovered head is an invite for ticks on those leafy hikes during summer hiking.

 

Just like you now know to keep the cotton tee shirts at home, how about that cotton baseball hat (Mets, of course, not the Yankees)? Same thing: leave them home. Just like that cotton tee shirt, they will become cold, wet, and heavy with sweat and mess with your bodys ability to regulate its temperature. A proper outdoors store like EMS carries an array of hats made with all of those cool outdoors fabrics like Techwick, Gore-Tex, and CoolMax to keep you cool and dry on a hot day, and warm and dry on a cool day.

 

And finally, dont forget those sunglasses.

 

What to bring:

On the surface, hiking gear doesnt have the cool factor of, say, cycling gear. People drool over sleek carbon fiber racing bikes, not backpacks and compasses. Still, the right gear out on the trail introduces a host of benefits to the hiker that makes a day in the woods enjoyable. And for the record, amongst hikers, we find hiking gear to be rather cool indeed, thank you! Below is a list of the basic gear you will need when out for a hike.

 

Backpack:

Hiking, as a sport, is also referred to as Backpacking. The backpack is the signature piece of equipment for the hiker, one of the first and most important purchases aside from hiking boots. Outdoors stores stock a dizzying array of backpacks with an equally dizzying array of features: size, style, features, straps, pockets, zippers, expansions, padding, and even hydration systems. Where does one start? There are three factors to guide your decision: size, comfort, and features.

 

The main decision you need to make is size: do you want a small backpack for day hikes (one-day hikes) or a larger one for overnight hiking. A good day hiking pack should hold about 1,600 to about 2,300 cubic inches of cargo (i.e. stuff). Better to invest in a bag that is slightly bigger than what you think you might need. I recommend buying your pack at a store such as EMS that allows you to return unused packs. The reason for this is simple: Select and purchase your bag, take it home but keep the receipt and do not remove any tags, and stuff some gear into it to see if it all fits. If it does, great! If not, bring it back to next day and get a new one.

 

With your pack either stuffed with gear or empty, it should feel very comfortable on your back. Buy a bag with padded straps and back. Make sure that the straps are adjustable and that the pack sits high on the back rather than just hang down where it will weigh down on your shoulders and lower back. One feature you should be sure to get are the buckles attached to the front of the straps that add upper and lower chest support to the bag to take the weight off of your back. You want the bag to be comfortable because you could be wearing it for the better part of a day or two and a slightly uncomfortable bag can become an annoyingly painful bag very quickly.

 

Unlike the Jansport backpack you carried to school for the sole function of hauling books, backpacks for hiking have many functional features that add to the enhancing the ease and convenience of its users. The most noticeable and popular feature today is the built in hydration systems, commonly known as Camelbacks. Originated by a company called Camelback, the hydration system is usually an anti-bacterial rubber bladder that fits into a pocket on the backside of the pack against the hikers back. A rubber tube extends from the top of the pocket around to the front of the bags straps, against the hikers shoulders. The mouthpiece of the tube clips to the shoulder strap, and is easily accessed by the hiker who drinks through a mouthpiece nozzle that opens only when bitten down on, thus avoiding spillage. Overall, the design is relatively lightweight and super easy to use. The hiker never needs to stop hiking to grab a bottle and can drink even on the trickiest sections of a trail. Not all bags have a hydration system, but the system is one of the best features ever devised since waterproofing, and once a hiker uses it, they never go back to regular backpacks.

 

Other features include the open-access side pockets for extra water bottles, strategically sized and placed pockets for organizing gear, extra straps for attaching gear such as extra clothing or sleeping bags, and internal and external clips for attaching gear as well.

 

Hydration Systems:

While I just mentioned the Camelback hydration systems in the backpack section, the Camelback is not the only way to carry liquids. Some people, through choice, a lack of funds, or accessibility have a Camelback hydration system. A common sight with new hikers is the Poland Spring bottle, usually a smaller size and most often empty before or during the early stages of a hike. Staying hydrated on a hike is of maximum importance, so having a proper hydration system is of equal importance. The best choice for carrying liquids on a hike is the ever-trustworthy Nalgene-brand bottles. These bombproof bottles, which have a cult-like following in the outdoors world, cost around $12 and hold about 32 ounces of liquid and have a variety of convenient drinking spouts. Nalgene bottles easily fit into the side pockets of most backpacks and its best to bring two bottles on a hike.

 

Flashlight:

Out in the woods, the sun can go down very quickly for a lost hiker, even on the longest summer day. A flashlight is a necessity for hiking in any season in any conditions. I love hiking in the worst of winter weather, and Ive used my lights all of the time in those conditions, but I wouldnt hike without it even in the summer.

 

There are many different flashlights out there, but this is not the place to skimp on price or quality. I always recommend the head-mounted flashlights by companies like Petzl. Their lights cost around $30, have bright LED bulbs, and run for a long time off of 3AAA batteries. Having a flashlight mounted to your head makes hiking and camping in the dark much safer as you have nothing to drop and your hands are free.

 

Otherwise, the popular and common Maglites work very well. Its always a good idea to have extra batteries with you as well. Some people remove their batteries, putting them in only when they are needed and also to avoid having the flashlight accidentally switched on when being jostled around inside a backpack and draining the batteries. An outdoor store like EMS is the best place to purchase a flashlight of outdoors use.

 

Compass:

Compasses may look confusing, but they are actually rather simple to use. Most compasses cost under $10, take a few minutes to learn, and could be a potential lifesaver for the lost hiker. Anybody going out into the woods should have one of these.

 

Knife:

As in Swiss Army or Leatherman-style knife. Not an altogether necessity, but a good thing to have for those just-in-case situations. Outdoors stores stock many knives, and after gaining some experience in hiking and camping, you will know which one is right for you.

 

Cell Phone:

A given in todays world since our cell phones follow us everywhere we go. In the woods however, your phone, if it will get reception, can save you if things unfortunately go wrong. Bring your phone in a sealable plastic bag to keep it dry and functional. As with flashlights, remove the battery or turn it off until you need to use it.

 

What to Eat and Drink:

For all of the gear I just discussed, no piece of equipment is as important as you, the hiker. All of that gear can only go so far or do so much on a tired, exhausted, hungry, thirsty hiker. Being outdoors is a wonderful experience, and its best experienced in health and happiness. Eating the right foods and consuming the right liquids is key to maintaining the energy levels to enjoy your outdoors experience.

 

Food:

Bring Lunch. That phrase is always included in every hike description, but what does it really mean? I personally dont eat lunch on a hike. Instead, I eat all day throughout a hike. The idea is to eat foods that are high in carbohydrates and protein to maintain energy levels during the hike. Relying solely an a big, heavy lunch halfway into a hike is akin to dropping anchor in the middle of a sailing regatta as the big winds start to blow.

This is my diet on a hike day:

 

- Breakfast: Before you think about lunch, think about breakfast, because just like on school days and workdays, breakfast is the most important meal. This is a great chance to get your body energized for the effort that lies ahead. I make for myself a simple omlette with cheese. This is a great source of protein that sits well in my body during the day. On the flipside, the bagel with cream cheese and the coffee you grab when showing up to the hike meeting point will only serve to weigh your body down.

 

- One peanut butter sandwich on whole wheat bread cut up into quarters and individually wrapped. I eat one just before the start of a hike, and then periodically consume the others as the day progresses. These are a great source of powerful protein.

 

- One or two Clif Bars. There are other brands of energy bars out there, but hands down, these are the best.

 

- A lunchtime sandwich that is nothing more that some slabs of meat, usually pastrami or roast beef. Toss on some mustard if you like, but the idea is a quick, easy, and powerful lunch to eat that wont weigh you down later.

 

- Some fruits and snacks. Bananas and fig bars are best here.

 

- Post hike food. After the hike, your body will be craving food. Pack an extra Clif bar or banana to replenish your body. Then go home to a nice pasta dinner. After strenuous exercise, your body does a better job of converting carbohydrates. Finally, reward yourself with an ice-cold beer!

 

 

When bringing food on your hike, wrap them in paper towel and tin foil, then pack it all into a resalable plastic bag. What you bring in is what you should bring out, and the bag neatly stores any refuse. You should be able to eat everything with your hands; forks and knives are unnecessary and could serve to add weight to your pack.

 

What to Drink:

Water, water everywhere and not a drop to drink was the desperate cries of thirsty shipwrecked mariners cast adrift in lifeboats on the open salt seas under a blazing sun. Similar cries are usually heard from hikers at the end of their 16oz. Bottles of Poland Springs in the early stages of a hike as their fellow hikers still have two liters to go and are not about to waste it on an ill-prepared hiker. Water is free, so there is no reason to bring a lot of it. Dehydration is a very real threat to even the most modern outdoors person. People can become dehydrated even when they are not thirsty, no matter how hot or cold the day. I bring two liters in my Camelbak, plus another 32ounce in a Nalgene bottle. I run all of my water through a Brita filter, and fill my Camelbak and Nalgene the night before a hike, then toss it all in the fridge. More times than none, all of that water is consumed by the end of the hike.

 

In addition to water, I also tote along a bottle of Powerade for lunch. Powerade has less sugar and more sodium that Gatorade, making it perfect for recharging nutrients and electrolytes lost to sweat without suffering the effects of muscle-burning lactic acid which comes from to much sugar. For that reason, I advise against bringing sugared drinks like Snapple or Soft Drinks. They might be yummy at lunch, but they will be heavy and sluggish when you get back up to hike after lunch.

 

 



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