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mrkstvns

Ten "Essentials" for the urban hike...

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What do you really need to bring with you when you're hiking in a populated area?

I'm working with a small group of scouts on the Hiking merit badge. For each of the hikes that the scouts do, they're supposed to prepare a hike plan that includes, among other details, a list of things to carry on the hike.  All of the hikes will be day hikes.  The group plans to start off fairly easy with a couple of urban hikes, then on to more "rugged" hikes in area forests, rocky hills, etc.

We're in Texas, and a very popular urban hike is to go around Lake Lady Bird in downtown Austin. It is a VERY easy trail that's 10.15 miles, making it ideal as the first of the 10-mile hikes. The only real hazard is too many Austinites out walking and biking along the trail..

As our group discussed the hike plan for the day, a couple of scouts trotted out the equipment lists that they downloaded from various hiking and BSA sources.  These were good for a few laughs as many were chock full of completely unnecessary and utterly useless items that would do nothing but weigh down the scout.

We discussed how backpackers discard things that are unnecessary, how LNT tells us to plan and prepare, and how "being prepared" means that we assess our situation and bring only what might be useful because everything else is simply excess weight that makes us overly exhausted by the end of the trip.

We discussed how, 1) we are in the city, 2) our route is a well maintained, wide, flat path, 3) there are multiple public restrooms along the way and multiple water sources --- the longest distance between 2 water fountains is 2.0 miles.  Therefore, any "hiking essentials list" that was compiled for backcountry hikes in the frozen tundra will be about as useful to us as a pack of soggy matches.
Here's what we came up with as our "urban hike essentials" list:

Bring:

  • Very small, light, comfortable day pack
  • Map 
  • Cell phone
  • Sunblock
  • Light First Aid kit (be prepared for blisters, scrapes, beyond that is luxury)
  • 1 Lire of water (leave extra bottles and hydration packs at home....we have water sources all along the route)
  • 8 ounces of trail mix or other snacks 
  • Cash (it's an urban route, we might rest near stores, food trucks, etc.)
  • Sunglasses 
  • Hat

Leave at home...

  • Flashlight or Headlamp (except for night hikes)
  • Compass (We're in the city...the year is 2019...)
  • Knife (useful in the woods, not so much downtown)
  • Matches/lighter  (Might be helpful if somebody asks us for a light.)
  • Extra clothes for layering (we're in Texas. We're hiking in the day. We take layers off, not put them on.) 
  • Poncho (unless the weather forecast is for greater than 30% chance of rain)
  • Tarp or space blanket (What are we going to use that for? To camp under the bridge like a hobo?)
  • Walking stick or pole (Flat. Paved with pea gravel. Groomed by city. What's the purpose?)
  • Signaling mirror (We're in the city...the year is 2019....we have cell phones...)

Bottom Line...

Be realistic. Consider your location, the weather conditions, etc. Pack for your hike, not somebody else's.

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When I read the list at first, I was "totally makes sense".  I would still pack a pocket knife and three feet of 4mm cord.  Just in case......

The "just in case" got me thinking.....Be Prepared........and the 10 Essentials..... and why are they essentials?

Is it just THIS hike you are training them for, or are you preparing them for ANY hike they may take? 

Would make for an excellent discussion for PLC: Why are the 10 essentials called Essential? Are there any scenarios where you may need something on the list even in an urban hike? (like first aid to bicyclist who crashed). Could we use both modern tools (GPS) and old ones (Compass) to practice our skills? Do modern tools ever fail or worse run out of batteries?

 

Just thoughts from an old guy......;

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The thing about pen-knives and other tools, if you are planning to visit a court house, police barracks, or town hall, you might be slowed down at metal detectors. You really do want to see if you can schedule a visit with some public officials. That adds a lot of value to town hikes. But, that also means keeping a small notebook and pencil (or pen, since I guess Texans don't usually have to worry about ink freezing), as the scout might want to record some observations. Sure, phones can do that, until the battery drains.

Oh, and bring extra patches. You might want to give them to someone as a gift for a pleasant conversation or courtesy to the scouts.

And a spare neckerchief. All the cool kids are wearing them! The really cool kids have one to give away on a moments' notice.

Don't be dismissive about matches or lighters, sometimes strangers might need help lighting their cigar!

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I would add that for a training hike, you want them to be hauling gear like they would be for the later, more difficult hikes. A light pack sounds good, but if you aren't used to the weight you're going to be carrying later, it might be a surprise. Also the 5 mile hike should be as if you've got the full set of gear. Nothing helps shed pounds like realizing you don't need everything you thought you needed. 

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I think the list is pretty good. We have a couple of local lake areas that are very popular for biking, running and walking.

I often ride these areas and the one additional advice I would give for being prepare is a good understanding of CPR and a first-aid kit for severe cuts and broken bones. Sadly, I have seen several people requiring ambulance trips to the hospital on these urban paths, mostly as a result of bicycle collisions. Ironically, I have witness the need for a good first-aid knowledge on urban pedestrian areas far more often than wilderness treks. One fallen bicycle rider was fatal. As an avid bicyclist, dogs on leashes and toddlers often cross the paths suddenly without looking.The one advantage of urban areas is that there is usually someone trained in first-aid nearby. That could the boy scout.

Barry

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3 hours ago, mrkstvns said:

Knife (useful in the woods, not so much downtown)

A knife is useful anywhere you can legally possess it.

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Ditto @Eagledad on the first aid. Being prepared to help others is part of the gig. More people, more odds of needing help. I'm pretty sure the former "runaway horse" first class requirement was aimed at scouts walking through town, not in the deep woods or open prairie.

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4 hours ago, mrkstvns said:

Poncho (unless the weather forecast is for greater than 30% chance of rain)

Depends on where you live. In Chicago they say "if you dont like the weather just wait 5 minutes" a small cheap disposable poncho is always a good idea.

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"You play like you practice."

Though you are less likely to need a certain item in town, the scouts should get in the habit of packing it anyway.  Even if it isn't used, the extra weight will aid with conditioning.

I've found my tarp to very handy to sit on during lunch in the park.  Or a nap.

I've noticed a trend lately, urban or rural:  if it's raining, life stops and everyone is huddled under something.  Immobile.  Life goes on and so do hikes.   Don the poncho and keep hiking.  Exception:  lightning. 

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15 minutes ago, desertrat77 said:

 

I've noticed a trend lately, urban or rural:  if it's raining, life stops and everyone is huddled under something.  Immobile.  Life goes on and so do hikes.   Don the poncho and keep hiking.  Exception:  lightning. 

Well, with the old Troop, we never had that happen.  Rain meant get out the ponchos and play.  

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2 minutes ago, perdidochas said:

Well, with the old Troop, we never had that happen.  Rain meant get out the ponchos and play.  

Excellent!

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8 minutes ago, desertrat77 said:

Excellent!

I thought so.  We almost never cancelled a campout for weather. We camped in some pretty miserably wet conditions, though.  

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24 minutes ago, perdidochas said:

I thought so.  We almost never cancelled a campout for weather. We camped in some pretty miserably wet conditions, though.  

Those are the ones they brag about, especially afterwards....

Edited by desertrat77

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Hmm.  I would put the pocketknife, or more accurately a multitool, back in the pack; if you don't need it yourself it can be good for doing a good turn for someone else.  I would also put back a small flashlight, they're almost no weight and can be handy for finding things and other uses not just walking in the dark. The rain jacket is a close call, it rained here the other day when there was only a 15% chance of rain forecast, on the other hand, in Austin in September getting wet would be a bit annoying, but there's no chance of hypothermia or anything like that so the cost of not having one is really small.

I think hiking in an urban environment the most expected unexpected thing you'll encounter as a scout is the opportunity to help somebody else.  Think about what events those might be and pack accordingly.

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9 hours ago, mrkstvns said:

 

Leave at home...

  • Flashlight or Headlamp (except for night hikes)
  • Compass (We're in the city...the year is 2019...)
  • Knife (useful in the woods, not so much downtown)
  • Matches/lighter  (Might be helpful if somebody asks us for a light.)
  • Extra clothes for layering (we're in Texas. We're hiking in the day. We take layers off, not put them on.) 
  • Poncho (unless the weather forecast is for greater than 30% chance of rain)
  • Tarp or space blanket (What are we going to use that for? To camp under the bridge like a hobo?)
  • Walking stick or pole (Flat. Paved with pea gravel. Groomed by city. What's the purpose?)
  • Signaling mirror (We're in the city...the year is 2019....we have cell phones...)

Bottom Line...

Be realistic. Consider your location, the weather conditions, etc. Pack for your hike, not somebody else's.

1. Things seldom go wrong according to plan

2. When there is any chance of rain, a modern poncho, weighing less than .75 lb. is good insurance.  With some light cord and the scorned walking stick, it is also shade. and blocks hail.

3. A knife opens many tough packages, gets peanut butter out of the bottom of the jar, sharpens a hot dog stick, and many other tasks in the city.  Of course, if in New York City, common pocket knives make one a felon, but you're in Texas.

4. Extra clothes may - on may not - include long sleeves to prevent radiation exposure. Sun Screen stops only some wave lengths.  Extra socks can prevent blisters.before they are even "hot spots."

5.  The purposes of a walking stick include taking load off the legs, discouraging aggressive dogs, and bearing the patrol flag.

6. in 2019, radio equipment is commonly blocked by buildings, just like "natural" canyons.  Maps, of whatever form, are not.  Compasses are not.

 

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