What to bring when day-hiking in the Smokies – Being Prepared!
It never ceases to amaze me that on almost every hike I go on when day hiking in the Smokies I come across individuals or families that are completely unprepared or ill equipped for the hike in front of them. People hiking in flip-flops, carrying no water, climbing to elevation in only a tank top and shorts, no first aid kits, no food for fuel and no maps.
Make no mistake, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is not Disney World. The trails are not paved except for Clingman’s Dome and Laurel Falls. The Laurel Falls trail is paved by name only as the trail is still pretty rough to navigate. Get your footwear right! Do I recommend hiking shoes or boots the answer is yes. Are athletic or running shoes ok, maybe for you but not for me. Most trails are made up of rocks and tree roots, many of them are jagged and sharp. Plus, there are the creek crossings and wet slippery trails from all the rain. A twisted ankle will be your worst enemy. I prefer dry boots as compared to wet sneakers and if you’re hiking in flip-flops….don’t do that!
Now am I saying bulk up and pack 50 pounds of equipment into your backpack and let’s hit the trails? No, but I am saying let’s be mildly prepared for events of the day. I carry a small day-pack with a pocket for a hydration bladder, I don’t like carrying water bottles. I do carry extra water bottles as my reserve water if I’m going on a long hike.
True story- a couple years ago while hiking to Ramsey Cascades we came across a couple hiking in the mid-afternoon heat. My wife and I had already made it to the falls and we were on our way out. This couple hiking in sneakers, was carry only one water bottle between them and it was almost empty. After stopping to talk with them it was apparent they were completely unprepared for this 8-mile strenuous hike. I gave them my reserve bottles of water and educated them on the difficulty of the trail still before them. I then gave them my “Shot Blocks” for energy and wished them luck. What was my reward? I ran out of water myself still with a few miles to go. Moral to the story? Bring plenty of water! As I said, I like hydration packs, they hold a lot of water and free up your hands for balance or trekking poles.
First Aid Kit
Other items in my day-pack; Small first aid kit, small multipurpose tool, energy food (gel packs, shot blocks, protein bars, etc) small flashlight, bandanna, bug spray and bear spray.
My first aid kit fits in a Ziplock bag and it consist of: Bandages, Alcohol wipes, Gauze pads, A flat pad of athletic tape, One or a couple small packs of Benadryl, Antibiotic ointment (the small, flat packs of stuff like Neosporin), One or a couple small packs of Aspirin or Ibuprofen and/or Tylenol, Latex Gloves, A couple pads of moleskin for blisters. You don’t need much more than that for most cases. Why the latex gloves? Because often you’ll be using your kit to patch up a stranger along the trail and they’re almost always in flip-flops.
Let’s talk clothing for a moment. One thing I have learned over years of hiking is “cotton is rotten”. I highly recommend wicking fabrics when day-hiking in the Smokies. When cotton gets wet it stays wet. In the Smokies rain is hit or miss almost every day in the park. Wear a fabric that dries quickly.
Next up is maps. In Boy Scouts I was taught “the best way to never get lost is to always know where you are”. Great advice. I suggest everyone carry some type of a map with you when hiking. A simple wrong turn can lead you in a completely different direction and with over 800 miles of trails in the Smokies one can get lost in very short order. Even if you just snap a photo of the map in your guidebook, you should always have some type of map with you. Most importantly, look at it frequently to figure out where you are at any given moment, don’t wait until you think you’re lost. By then it’s probably too late.
Finally let’s talk trekking poles. I love them. Trekking poles provide stability especially on the downhill side. They take a great deal of strain off your knees and hips. If you’re getting up there (I’m 56) I suggest giving them a try.
I hope you found the few tips on what to bring when day-hiking in the Smokies useful. I’d love to hear feedback or other items that you out there find useful. If you’d like to read more about the Smoky Mountains please see some of our other posts such as suggested itineraries. Check out Day 1
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Thank you for reading! See you soon!