Hiking Skills: Back To the Basics

Hiking Skills

Yes, there are some skills required when it comes to trekking around in the backwoods. Well marked hiking trails are one thing, while hiking through thick brush, over loose shale and crossing waterways is something else entirely.

Hiking through an urban environment to escape the chaos, also has its own set of challenges, as well, that you would not encounter on a well defined and well used hiking trail.

Some people, when they hear the term bugging-out, naturally assume they will be hiking out of their predicament, because roads will be shut down and/or gridlocked. This may very well be the case, and if you are not ready to be on your feet in the same clothes for hours or even days at a time with weight in your pack, you will not fare well at all.


You cannot do any serious hiking in your street or work clothes. You wouldn’t go to work in your hiking outfit, so don’t try to hike in your work clothes and shoes. Heavy denim may be great for keeping your legs from getting torn up by brambles, but otherwise denim, because it is cotton is not a good choice.

We all know the dangers of cotton in rainy, cool, or cold weather so we won’t delve too deeply into that in this article. If you have ever been in the snow or freezing rain with jeans on then you know what we mean. You may have found that the material actually ices up once wet and this is deadly.

If you don’t know what to choose visit your local military surplus store, and pick up some jungle fatigues for summer hikes, and while there grab a pair or two of cold weather pants and shirts/blouses made of wool.

Wool socks are the best choice, as well, for hiking, because without your feet you are immobilized. Pick up a “boonies” hat, because they are ideal for repelling water during a rain and they do provide shade to the head, neck, and face.

Make sure the hiking shoes or boots you have can take the rigors of the trail. Wearing them around the house for a few days to break them in is not a true test. You need to get out in the woods and walk some rough terrain before you may be forced to travel over rough terrain. Your shoes need practice and breaking in just as you do, so do not buy a new pair and then stick them next to your pack without first introducing them to the great outdoors.

You don’t necessarily have to fill your pack with clothes, but have an outfit with your pack ready to go. Carry extra socks and undergarments, but otherwise do not weigh down your pack with a daily change of clothes. This is not practical, so wear some of the weight, and forgo too many extra sets in your pack.


USGS topographic maps or quads are for backcountry navigation. You would not use one to find the nearest Starbucks, but they will show prominent landmarks, waterways, hills, and they have elevation lines and with a little practice you can find your way to a specific grid square or location using 4, 6, or 8 digit grid coordinates.

Every hiker should have the most up to date map in his or her pack protected against moisture, and of course a quality Lensatic compass is a must have. There is absolutely no reason not to have a map of the area you live in and a map of any area you expect to be in. Once you learn how to navigate using a topographical map and compass it would be impossible to get lost.


Some people before they set out imagine all manner of calamities that may befall them out in the woods and their first aid kits often times reflect that fear. You need a quality medical kit but space is limited. First, go with known medical needs. Daily maintenance medications are required, of course, so they must be in the kit.

Next, go with the basic first-aid supplies. You will need bandages of various sizes, sterile gauge, pressure bandages, possibly a tourniquet and then over the counter pain killers, and medication for stomach upset. Have some allergy medications in your kit, and remember you may encounter plants that may cause an allergic reaction, so always carry Benadryl or something similar even if you have no known allergies. 

Carry moleskin for blisters, antibiotic ointment, duct tape and/or surgical tape and alcohol wipes. Iodine is an option as well for treating abrasions and cuts. Add sunscreen, and lip balm.

If you know how to use a suture kit then pack one, otherwise it probably will not be of any use unless someone in your group, or someone you encounter has the skills to suture wounds. This is a decision you have to make, keeping in mind weight and space when packing.

Carry water purification tablets or drops, a metal canteen, or metal nesting cup for boiling water, and/or a quality water filtration device.


Never leave home without fire making materials even if you think you may only be gone for a few hours. Carry more than just matches, because they can and will let you down.


If you choose wisely you can pack 72-hours worth of food without adding much weight to your pack. Beans and weenies are great for backyard adventures, but even a few cans in a pack add weight, so go with dehydrated foods or Meals Ready to eat, (MRE’s). Why 72-hours, because if you do not pack as if you may get lost then you will suffer mightily when you do get lost , because it is not a matter of if, but when you get lost or stranded.


Use your maps and other sources to locate water before you set out, and have the means as mentioned before to purify a surface water source. Carry enough water for the time you expect to be gone and have the resources to obtain more if you become lost or stranded or if for whatever reason you extend your hike.


It can be a small tent, poncho, tarp or all mentioned, again keeping in mind weight and space and climate. Regardless of weather if you plan an overnight stay you will need shelter of some sort and in cold climates choose your shelter material wisely?

Sundry Items

  • Fifty feet of quality nylon cordage
  • Fixed bladed knife and a multi-tool
  • Sanitary wipes for washing up to conserve on water
  • Other personal hygiene items
  • Sunglasses, bandana, gloves
  • Flashlights
  • Mylar blankets
  • Signaling devices such as a whistle, mirror and/or brightly colored material
  • Personal defense items
  • Optional sleeping bag
  • Optional foam ground pad
  • Wet weather suit/poncho