New Jersey is home to some of the country’s most diverse terrain. From mountains and hills to heavy forest trails, our state has it all. However, many trails are as tough to hike as they are gorgeous to see; which could prove a danger to more casual trekkers. With this in mind, hiking safety and proper prep is crucial before any trip (even easier, routine trails).
That’s why we’re sharing a list of safety tips to keep in mind before you go hiking. Though some advice may seem like common sense, it’s always important to go through a mental checklist before heading out. That way, you’ll be ready in case something comes up. (Better safe than sorry, after all.) We hope these safety tips help you make the best of your hiking trips through New Jersey.
Protect Your Feet
For those who want to hike often as part of their routine, pay attention to what shoes you’re wearing. In particular, you’ll want to invest in a pair that protect your feet in tough terrain. On most hiking trails, regular running shoes won’t do the job.
To best protect your ankles and feet, what you need are some lightweight trail runners; they can be pricey, but they are worth it if you’ll be hitting the trails once a month or more. Stores like Eastern Mountain Sports, Campmor, and Recreational Equipment, Inc. are great places to find what fits you best. Department stores also often carry hiking shoes and boots; however, they may not have experts who can help you find the right shoes for your needs.
Going hiking isn’t like a day at the beach, so bringing an icebox with water (and White Claw) won’t work. Your best bet is purchasing a double-wall bottle to bring along with you. They’re usually inexpensive (even most large ones are under $30) and keep your drinks nice and cold. They start at around 16 ounces and go up in size from there.
I wouldn’t suggest going much lower than 40 ounces, which isn’t too heavy, even on longer hikes. (I usually bring my 64-ounce bottle with me, and it’s not an issue.) Believe me, you’ll get thirsty, and a bottle of water will be your best friend.
Don’t Be Afraid to Snack
Bring along a few protein or snack bars with you. (KIND and Nature Valley are my two favorite hiking snack bars.) Even packing a banana or peanut butter sandwich doesn’t hurt. During longer hikes especially, you’ll become fatigued, and being able to have a quick snack will help you push forward.
Also, I notice people like to set up picnics at quaint points on trails; and you’re guaranteed to get a whiff of their food. So if you weren’t hungry when you started your hike, you might be starving after watching people devour full subs.
Know Your Strength
Simply put: if a trail looks too difficult for you, don’t do it. Pushing yourself can be both really rewarding and exhilarating. However, if you’re new to hiking or haven’t done it in years, don’t be afraid to work your way up. There’s nothing wrong with starting slow and letting your body adjust to the amount of effort it takes to hike.
In fact, prior exercise is always a great idea in the days leading up to a hiking trip. You’ll need strong legs, and a combination of bodyweight squats, lunges, calf raises and deadlifts will do the trick. These stretches and workouts focus on the muscles you’ll be putting to use on the trail; so a consistent regimen will have you blazing up and down even NJ’s toughest trails in no time.
Not only is hiking by yourself boring, it can also be dangerous. It’s likely you’ll pass a lot of fellow hikers during your adventures, but you still shouldn’t hike alone. A partner will have your back, and vice versa.
They’ll also help motivate you to keep moving forward on those longer hikes. (Hiking isn’t just physically exhausting, it can be a mental challenge as well; which makes bringing a second person crucial, so you can entertain each other.) If you can, bring along a spouse, sibling, or friend along for the hike. Even if it takes some convincing, you’ll be happy you brought company.
Maps are Better than Money
Chances are you’ll be trekking through hiking trails you’ve never been to before. In this case, you’ll find maps to be the most helpful ally of all. Most trails have info centers or booths that offer free maps of the trails. Take a copy for yourself, even if you think you know where you’re going. Having a map never hurts, so there’s no reason not to.
If you do happen to get lost, most GPS apps on smartphones display hiking trails and can pinpoint your location. But it’s important to remember not all trails will provide a cell signal. If you have reception, don’t be afraid to peek at your phone. However, since apps are never as accurate or reliable as the printed maps, you’ll want a copy with you. Finally, please don’t follow any strangers if you get lost. Even if they look like they know where they’re going, it’s better to trust a trail map.
I know, I keep telling you about all the things you need to bring with you; despite this, it’s still important that you pack light. The trails in New Jersey can get tough, but they don’t require extensive packing. Unless you hike with a large group that can take turns holding a heavy bag, you should pack light. So bring with you only what you think you’ll use.
What does that mean, exactly? No purses, no laptops, no books, no radios; leave that stuff at home. Each will only weigh you down, and is one more thing to worry about keeping track of.
Instead, get a small rope-string bag to carry on your back; stuff it with your water bottle, snacks, and maybe sunscreen or a sweatshirt, depending on the time of year. Bug spray, a small first aid kit, and even an extra pair of socks also go a long way. If you plan on hiking in the late afternoon, don’t forget a flashlight. Finally, if you don’t want to carry anything in your pockets (and you probably shouldn’t), put your keys, wallet, and such in the bag, too.