Safety Tips for Hiking and Camping
Nausea. Fatigue. Chills. Dry mouth and throat. Those are just some of the signs of dehydration, and they're among the last things you want to be experiencing on a hike. Fact is, the single most important thing you can do to stay healthy on your hike is to hydrate early and often. People need to drink plenty of water every day, but hiking on a hot day is likely to require additional fluid intake.
Because water is one of the heaviest things you can carry, it's important to strike a balance between bringing enough to last you between fill-ups, and not weighing yourself down so much that you tire quickly. Two-to-three quarts is usually a good amount, although your needs may vary depending on how much you can carry, how many opportunities you'll have to fill up along the trail, and what the weather will be like.
Having kids carry their own water is a good idea -- teaching responsibility to stay hydrated is an important lesson for the budding outdoorsman. Parents may need to help out a bit, since younger children may not be able to carry all of their water on their own. One fun option for kids is the camelback-style backpack, which has an internal bladder that you can fill with water, and then drink from it directly from a straw while walking.
Drinking from lakes, ponds, and streams is a bad idea. Water sources in a nature are often teeming with bacteria and parasites - even running water, like rivers and brooks, are risky. When replenishing your water supply, make sure to use a water filtration system, available at your local outdoor store or on the Internet. Other options for purifying water include chemical tablets and boiling.
One last tip: Feeling thirsty is not the first sign of dehydration, so make sure you stay ahead of thirst. Sip often, and fill up whenever you have the chance.
Bring Enough Food
For a day hike, as long as you eat a healthy breakfast, it's sufficient to bring along a light lunch or some snacks for the hike. (However, it's never a bad idea to bring extra food, just in case.) What you'll be looking for is a pick-me-up to get you through those last few miles, or, depending on your plans, a scenic picnic.
On an overnight camping trip, the calculus changes a bit. You'll want to pack as many calories into as small a space as possible. Trail mix is a popular choice for this reason. Its combination of nuts and dried fruit is dense in nutrients and calories. Dried meats, such as jerky, salami, or summer sausage, are also a good choice for a protein-rich food that doesn't take up much room in your pack. Certain types of candy, like peanut M&Ms, can be a surprisingly good, kid-friendly choice for a short-term energy boost.
Whole fruits and vegetables aren't a great choice for backpacking food. Although rich in vitamins and minerals, they're composed mostly of water, and therefore have an unfavorable calories-to-weight ratio.
Some campers enjoy dehydrated, ready-to-cook meals at the end of a long day of hiking, but be wary: These pre-packaged foods, though tasty, aren't always healthy or nutritious, and they also require you to tote along a stove and a pan. It's your call whether the trade-off is worth it.