With the varied terrain in and around the Rogue Valley, there are plenty of opportunities to learn the area on foot, and hiking is a great way to get out and explore. But like any outdoor activity, there are some things to be aware of before you set out.
"The first and most important thing to do is to tell someone where you're going and when you expect to be back," says Darin Banner, outings chairman for the Rogue Group of the Oregon Chapter Sierra Club in Ashland. "The second is to go there." Take the time to plan your route, says Banner, or join a group hike with experienced hikers. "You need to spend enough time before your trip to know where you're going and what you're getting into."
Sometimes preparing for a hike results in an overloaded pack to carry. The result? "Being miserable and ruining your weekend," says Darin Banner of the Rogue Group of the Oregon Chapter Sierra Club. Weight and cost becomes an issue as much as safety. But there are many items, all under $20 and weighing less than 5 pounds total, that are popular with hikers, says Bill Quitt, owner of Black Bird Shopping Center in Medford:
Telescoping walking stick $15
(available with a light in the handle)
A pair of glow sticks $3
A foil blanket $1
Emergency pocket-sized sleeping bag $5
(less than 3 ounces)
Unbreakable mirror (for signaling) $2
Whistle/compass combo $4-10
Water purification tablets $5-13
First aid kit $8-15
"They're all small things that'll fit in a shirt pocket or your pants pocket," says Quitt. And give you a little extra peace of mind while on the trail.
Next? "Be prepared for anything," says Lieutenant Pat Rowland of Jackson County Search and Rescue. No one plans to get lost or injured on the trail, but having some key supplies on hand can be your insurance policy if it happens.
1. A map and compass. A compass is a lightweight fall back should electronic devices fail (see sidebar). Of course, Rowland reminds, "If you have GPS, don't leave it in the car."
2. Weather protection. Weather conditions can change rapidly. Carry sun protection but also wear layers, including a waterproof outer layer, in case a fog rolls in or rain starts to fall. "It helps your body conserve energy," says Rowland. Even a large trash bag can be a protective layer.
3. Proper clothing. A hiking boot or shoe gives you sure footing and ankle support on uneven terrain. Extra socks keep feet dry and minimize blisters. Clothing layers can be adjusted as conditions change.
4. A flashlight. Darkness can fall quickly in the forest, and a flashlight can be used to find your trail or to signal for help. Bring extra batteries or buy a crank flashlight.
5. A first aid kit. Along with the kit, be sure you're up to date on your first aid skills, says Banner, also a certified wilderness first responder and Red Cross first aid/CPR instructor. Consider adding a reflective blanket, waterproof matches and medications for potential allergic reactions.
6. Water. Even before hunger, dehydration poses a bigger threat so carry plenty of water. "Don't drink the creek water unless you filter it," cautions Rowland. Water purification tablets or filtration bottles reduce the risk of water-born bacteria.
7. Signals or emergency contact info. "If you're lost, stay put," says Rowland. It's easy to get off trail or to get stuck on muddy roads. If possible, stay with your vehicle, says Rowland. "That's usually what we'll try to find first." On foot, a whistle, a mirror, bright colored signals tied to branches, glow sticks, flares, or a flashlight can all help searchers find your location. Your cell phone can also help in an emergency, says Rowland. Even if a voice signal doesn't go out, text messages often can. "With our technology in Jackson County, we can get a [latitude-longitude] position as soon as they call in." And of course, if you don't get home on time, the person that you gave your plans to should call 9-1-1.
8. Common sense. To avoid injuries or bites, "be conscious of where you put your hands and feet while you're out there," advises Rowland. And if you run into changing conditions, says Banner, "turn around and leave. Be prepared to go home — the mountains will be there next week."