What to Wear
Appropriate footwear is a must if you want to avoid blisters and preserve your toenails! I made that mistake with my first hike in late September 2016. Despite wearing seemingly decent walking shoes, they were rubbish for steep descents and I ended up ‘killing’ two toenails. Just my luck, yay!
Over a matter of days/weeks, they turned increasingly purple, then a lifeless grey, and had to be taped down to my toes to prevent them from falling off too soon, ugh. Miraculously, they grew back in a record 3-4 months, not the 6-9 months that’s usually cited (they still don’t look fully normal, however). In any event, avoidance is preferable!
So, if hitting a dirt trail with lots of pretty steep ups and downs, do ensure that you are wearing comfy trail running or hiking footwear with an ample toe box and good grip, both to your feet and to the ground below. I love my lightweight Salomon SpeedCross Pro trail runners, even though I never actually run in them and only hike, lol.
For relatively flat walks, comfy running shoes are adequate like my chunky Hoka One One footwear, which have super thick, spongy soles for extra absorption and springiness. I’m also digging my newer Salomon Sense Pro runners, which are just as comfy despite the much thinner and harder soles. Very airy and lightweight, surprisingly great for power walking on paved surfaces, and suitable for light to medium trails as well.
Padded socks provide extra cushioning and snugness, which is always a plus, although they may make some shoes feel too snug, so test it out first. If you don’t like weird tan lines like me and prefer those super short ankle socks (“no-show” socks), that’s fine. Just make sure they don’t slip down when you walk, otherwise you might end up with blisters (that also happened to me, heh). Nike makes great seamless no-show socks with generous padding and an extra tab at the back to ensure no rubbing. They’re even designed specifically for each foot!
Obviously, you should always dress for the weather and how you know your body will be once you get warmed up. I am not one of those hikers/walkers who likes to cover up every inch of skin with long pants, a long-sleeved top and a veiled sun hat, etc. I have seen people do that in some of the hotter months and would seriously die hiking (or even just walking) in all of that gear!
Unfortunately, I can and do sweat a lot. As in buckets. Not very ladylike, I know, haha. I also don’t mind getting a bit of a tan and can withstand coolish temperatures once I get going, so for me, my normal go-to items when it’s hot, warm or temperate are just running shorts, a sports/yoga bra top and a T-shirt to cover up as required (thin jacket optional, and more for the air-conditioning!). When it’s much cooler, leggings, a long-sleeved top and a jacket are usually sufficient.
The main thing is to not under- or overdress for either the weather *or* your body.
Sun protection gear
If it’s sunny out, a cap is advisable. No need for a full-on sun hat and veil, unless that’s your preference. Also shades, if that’s your thing. I know you’re supposed to protect your eyes from the sun, but I usually prefer wearing my cap low instead of shades.
What to Bring
Water is critical, especially in the warmer months and if you sweat as much as me! I usually bring around 1.5 litres of water in warm weather (around half that in cool weather) and will normally finish it all off if the hike/walk is long or the weather particularly hot and humid. Some trails may pass by a village store where you can stop and buy water, but some trails may not, so I always go prepared.
I’m still undecided about CamelBaks, so instead I have a fairly large reusable water bottle to which I was able to attach a handy shoulder strap (actually a belt, lol). Sometimes I might supplement that with a bottle of Bonaqua, which is my top pick of all the bottled water brands for the sole reason that empty Bonaqua bottles can be compacted by twisting them up, thus making it easier to carry your trash with you until you find a rubbish bin.
When it’s hot, I also pack a small wet towel in a ziplock bag for wiping down and cooling off my face and upper body. Very refreshing and highly recommended!
Personally, I think bringing along a hiking pole is a good idea, not just for helping you navigate steep slopes, but for parting the undergrowth, making sure there aren’t any snakes in the grass, for clearing webs (not had to do that yet!), and for general self-defence against any scary wildlife (stray dogs, crazy humans, etc., lol). I always carry one, regardless of whether I’m doing a hike in the hills or a fairly flat trail walk. If you’re hiking/walking alone, it’s even more imperative, in my opinion.
The following items are for emergency purposes, so hopefully you won’t need to use any of them! But just in case, I would suggest a loud whistle, a knife, a small flashlight, a disposable raincoat (or mini umbrella), a few plasters, and a roll of elastic bandage for both sprains and pressure dressing should you have the misfortune to be bitten by a snake.
Mobile phone, power bank
It goes without saying that you should always bring your phone with you (how on earth did people hike before the advent of mobile phones, lol?). Make sure it’s fully charged and bring along a power bank as backup. If you GPS track your hikes/walks and take too many photos like me, you’ll need maximum battery power, believe me!
Speaking of which, using an app to GPS track your route and capture your stats is a great way to chart your progress and find your exact location. It’s also handy for future reference and a great motivator! I use MapMyHike (free version), which works really well. My only gripe is that it doesn’t autosave if your phone suddenly dies, etc. I also use the free app Pacer for general step counting. The latest version has a GPS tracker, but it can be a little glitchy, so I stopped using it. As a pedometer it’s great, though!
Trail map, compass
Not so critical if you are sticking to an official trail and know exactly where you’re going, but if not, you might want to bring along a hardcopy trail map and small compass just in case your phone dies, etc. Better safe than sorry!
To carry all of the above, I recommend a small backpack or crossbody bag. I am not a big backpack fan, so need to upgrade my current shoulder bag for a good crossbody bag, as they carry a lot better, in my opinion. If you can get away with just a waist pack, then awesome, but I personally find them too small.
What to Do
Some extra tips for before and during your outdoor adventure:
Know your trail
Before you set out, make sure you know where you’re going, how to get there (and back), and importantly, what to expect in terms of the trail distance, elevation, surface, overall difficulty and expected duration, etc. Better to be prepared than not.
Check the weather, air pollution
And dress/prepare accordingly! If it’s going to rain, I would avoid a hike in the hills, as dirt trails can become muddy and slippery, plus there’s the added risk of flash floods and landslides, etc. Being on the exposed hills in a thunderstorm or typhoon probably isn’t a good idea either! As for air pollution, if it’s really bad out, it’s not going to be great for your health, plus poor visibility could cause you to get lost if you’re unfamiliar with a trail (see my ‘origin story’ on the homepage, lol).
Sunscreen, insect repellent
Apply sunscreen before setting out, especially if you know it’s going to be sunny. For a long hike/walk with little shade, you might need to bring it along with you. Same goes for insect repellent, especially if you’re prone to mozzie bites and are doing a jungly trail in mosquito season, etc. Anti-mozzie bands or clothing patches are also helpful. Fortunately, mosquitoes don’t seem to like me (I must sweat too much for their liking, haha), so I rarely get bitten.
Notify someone of your plans
It’s always good practice to notify at least one or two responsible family members or friends of your hike/walk, especially if you’re going solo. Let them know the trail, which way you’re heading, what time you expect to be done, and what they should do if you go MIA. Send occasional updates as you go (e.g., landmarks, villages, distance posts, etc.), and don’t forget to let them know when you’re back to civilization! If your phone reception drops, it should resume automatically once back in range, but if not, try turning your phone off and on again. That sometimes works.
Be vigilant at all times
Listening to music can be great, but for new trails or sketchy sections in particular, it’s best to be able to hear everything around you, which is now my preference regardless. Don’t let scary nature sounds frighten you into plugging your earbuds back in! Most of the time the culprits are simply birds or rats in the undergrowth, the wind (conifers, bamboos and tall grasses make the scariest noises, I’ve decided), or the occasional terrifying call of a barking deer, lol. Keep your eyes peeled for snakes and other hazards, and stop to look behind and survey your environment every now and then.
It sucks when you’re walking along a beautiful trail and find litter strewn about. The more popular trails and those that pass through or by villages are the worst (villagers have a tendency to dispose of furniture, appliances and huge polystyrene boxes in the undergrowth, it would seem). To avoid contributing to the problem, be sure to carry all of your rubbish with you until you come across an assigned bin. Thank you! 🙂
For further information, see also:
- The Accidental Hiker: Useful Links
- AFCD: Safety Hints for Hiking in Country Parks (very comprehensive!)
- SCMP: The joy and dangers of hiking Hong Kong’s trails
- Should You Hike Alone? / How to Hike Alone