Part of what makes hiking fun is making sure you’re prepared for anything that might come up. Here are some practical tips compiled from interviews with Grant Barnard, president of the Beartooth Recreational Trail Association; Cameron Sapp, Eastern Montana field representative for the Montana Wilderness Association; and Jeff Gildehaus, recreation planner for the Beartooth Ranger District.
Clothing: A rule of thumb is to wear layers, especially during colder weather. Some layers should be waterproof or windproof, depending on the forecast. Even in spring or summer, the weather can change quickly in higher elevations or out on the prairie. Shirts made of moisture-wicking material are a good choice in hot weather. Cotton is less breathable and tends to hold in the water. Also consider something lightweight to protect legs in wind or a rainstorm. Finally, always carry a rain jacket. It can be a layer of warm, even if it doesn’t rain. Bring along sunscreen for the parts of your body that will be exposed to the sun.
Footwear: On the easiest of hikes, a sturdy pair of sandals can work. Most often, consider investing in a pair of hiking boots. In the summer, a lightweight pair of boots should be just fine, or, for more ankle support, consider a pair of high-top boots. If your trek takes you on a rough trail that has a lot of rocks or on snow, you want make sure your boots have a lot of traction.
Hiking poles: If your journey takes you across creeks or snow, take a long a set of hiking poles to give you an extra bit of stability. An old pair of ski poles can serve well for that purpose.
Food: Make sure to take adequate food, especially in the colder months. It can be a lifesaver if you get lost or stuck. Nuts and berries, jerky, peanut butter and protein bars are just a few example of items that are nonperishable, easy to carry and pack the calories that you’ll need to keep going.
Water: Bring a good amount of water so you can stay hydrated on the trail. Climbing higher elevations can make you especially thirsty because of the breathing you have to do. If you can’t carry enough water for the day, take along equipment to treat the water you find. Even though mountain streams are clear, cold and inviting, you don’t want to drink from them untreated and risk being infected by giardia or other intestinal parasites.
Bears: The grizzly bear population is increasing on the Beartooth Front. There is as a good a chance of encountering a bear on a simple day hike as there is on a trek into the wilderness, Barnard and Gildehaus say. Their advice? Always take along bear spray and know how to use it. Don’t hike alone. Sometimes, just making noise, like singing or talking, is enough to alert bears to your presence and scare them off. If you encounter a bear, don’t run away from it; you can’t outrun it.
Maps and GPS: It’s a good idea to take along a map of the local area when you’re going on a day hike, and a compass. Of course, you need to know how to use both before you set foot on the trail. A GPS unit also may help you out on the trail.
Tell somebody: It’s always a good idea to let someone know where you’re going, when you’re leaving and when you expect to return. In the event of an emergency, that information gives search-and-rescue workers a clue about where to look to find you.