Six Checklist Items to Tick Off Before Embarking Upon Any Trek
It’s the smallest things that make the biggest difference
Hiking, or rather trekking as we call it here in India has been gaining popularity, especially among the brave outwardly youngsters of our land wanting to make the very best of their youth. It is one of the most popular ways to unwind, relax, rejuvenate and break away from daily routine. While some people trek to get away from the hustle and bustle of city life, some do it for fun. Some do it for exercise, and some people do it purely for the sheer thrill of wilderness exploration and discovery.
There’s the added benefit of getting into nature and indulging in some good ol’ forest bathing, or “shinrin-yoku”, as the Japanese call it. Many trekking clubs in India take people into the mountains every single weekend with the aim of discovering new waterfalls, rock formations, trekking routes, scaling new peaks, and basically just basking in the luxury of the rich Indian wilderness. Every free soulfull wandering spirit is bound to get captivated by the ancient treasures of this country located deep inside our forests lost to the ravages of time.
The captivating rock formations, stunning waterfalls, jaw dropping gorges, glittering ravines, gurgling streams, laughing rivers and tranquil lakes are all a testament to the incomprehensible beauty and infinite bounty of nature that we Indians have been blessed with. And we must learn to appreciate these ancient wonders in the most safe and sustainable ways possible. Scores of trekkers have now made trekking not just another regular hobby that they indulge in over the weekends, but a huge part of their identities itself.
Some of us can’t even fathom going without a trek at least once every month.
But trekking comes with its own baggage; its own set of rules and responsibilities that you must follow if you want to have a safe, pleasant, and delightful experience every single time. While many of these are suggestive and only help in further enhancing your overall experience, some of them are non-negotiable, rules that you must abide by if you want your trek to go smoothly and comfortably without any hiccups.
This is not your traditional “to-do list” or “list of things to carry on a trek”. There are tons of articles about those already on the web. Rather, this article talks about the minute details that are most overlooked on a trek, things that people don’t even think about or just take for granted. These might sound trifling and inconsequential on the surface, but can be a huge source of emotional and mental agony during a trek. And that is something you definitely do not want. Not while you’re out there all by yourself sweating it out in the sun, battling all the forces of nature as it is.
There’s enough things to pull at your sanity in the jungle. Why would you want to create and add your own set of human-made troubles to the list?
Here are my top 6 things to cross off your checklist before embarking upon any trek:
Cut your nailzzzzz !!
This one makes it to the very top of my list as it’s the most overlooked aspect of trekking and one of the big aspects of safety that participants tend to take for granted. Never underestimate the power of a single uncut toenail in its ability to ruin your trek. I’m not catastrophizing here. Seriously! This is something that can literally make or break your trek. People have been forced to hike through the jungle in miserable pain just because they forgot to cut their nails.
They’ve broken a toenail or two during a trek and were forced to carry on with it in excruciating pain, with blood oozing out of the nail and sogging up their socks. All just for a single overgrown toenail that was jutting out and hitting the toe caps of their shoes.
Another disheartening aspect about overgrown toenails is that the realization of the issue hits very late.
Because on most treks, the group is usually ascending a hill on the first day with their descents planned either for the second half of the day, the second day, or even a third. So quite unfortunately, it’s only somewhere during the middle of a trek that someone starts to feel that pricking sensation of an uncut toenail, that worsens with time and seriously starts to bother them. What was mild and bearable until now, has become agonizingly painful and intolerable. And by that time, one can only hope and pray that the organizer or one of the participants has carried a nail cutter with them.
So whether it’s your fingernails or toenails, make sure they’re well cut and filed before getting onto a trek. Yes, even filed. Because the last thing you need is a rough finger nail scratching your clothes or your skin. Worse, you could even scratch someone else's skin by mistake while lending them a helping hand to pull them up or cross a tricky section. Now who would want that?
Besides, rough unfiled nails tend to get stuck onto clothing, and they might tug at your clothes or might even end up tearing someone else's clothes. Rough un-filed toenails will rip holes into your socks.
Regardless of the difficulty of the trek, your mental resources are strained as it is, and the last thing you want to do is deal with a bloody toenail or blood soaked socks. And if you think you’ll need at least a nail or two to tear open food packets or open things, then what are Swiss knives for?
Clear out your backpack thoroughly
Biscuit powder, food remains, wrappers, bus/train tickets, tea bags, spice packets, and other miscellaneous items will take up permanent residency on the very bottom of your backpack, the proverbial ocean bed so to speak, until you make up your mind one fine day to clear it out.
But don’t wait for that “one fine day” spring-cleaning event to clear them out. Do it before every trek.
And when I say clear out, I mean everything; the zipper pouch in the front, the side pockets, the quick access storage on the top, and the additional storage compartments inside the bag itself. You never know what might have gone and lodged itself there during all that loading and unloading of previous treks. You definitely wouldn’t want to carry a ton of unnecessary stuff with you on your next trek, all taking up additional space in your bag which you desperately need to store new stuff.
More importantly, in case you happen to be flying to your next trek, you never know what banned items might be lying hidden in one of those pouches, ready to create trouble for you at the airport. Relax, I’m talking about Swiss knives, pocket knives, and nail cutters, 3 functional tools that come in handy during treks. Swiss knives aren’t allowed on your person on most airlines, and the ground staff will make you take it out and throw it in your check-in baggage at the baggage screening counter itself. Besides, you could also get caught for a nail clipper, knife, cigarette lighter, matchbox, cosmetics, toiletries, or any kind of trekking toolkit survival item that is deemed dangerous and isn’t allowed on aeroplanes.
Some airlines and/or countries categorically don’t allow you to carry knives on board regardless of where you’ll be storing them, and this makes it all the more imperative that you thoroughly clear out your backpack before embarking on your next trek.
Get a haircut, or if you’re someone who has long hair, don’t forget to take your hairband or ponytail band with you
It’s very important that you don’t take this point for granted. Ask any girl who's got her long hair tangled up in thick thorny branches, and you’ll get to know why it’s so important to groom yourself well before a trek. Cut and trim your hair neat enough so that at the end of the day, nothing's jutting out and getting tangled with your clothes, your backpack, or worse, the twigs and thorny branches in the forest. People who have long or medium hair should make sure to get a hair cut before going for a trek.
This is so important that on certain occasions, I’ve rushed home from the office on a Friday evening only to get into the barbers for a quick cut, with barely a few hours left for my bus to depart the city.
And for those who’d like to keep their hair long regardless of gender, please tie it up. A novel method that I’ve sometimes seen long haired people use is sandwiching their hanging hair behind either between their backpack and bag, or shoving them inside their tees itself.
But since long hair always leads to more sweating and irritation during a trek, its best to cut your hair short for treks. During the winters it might be a boon to have (nothing like an extra layer of warmth for your face and neck huh), but during hot summer treks where you’ll be sweating it out in the sun, and getting in and out of pools all day long, it’s the last thing you want to have.
Let someone know your entire itinerary before leaving
I see lots of trekkers not following this to the T. Especially those who don’t live in their hometowns and have migrated to other cities or countries for work. Some people do inform others about the trek, but fail to provide them with a detailed itinerary of it. You always have to leave behind a complete itinerary of your trek regardless of the number of people you’ll be going with. And when I say “entire itinerary”, I mean the entire thing.
You’ve got to let your emergency contact(s) know not only where you’ll be camping at for each night of your stay in the forest. You’ll also have to provide them with a detailed itinerary with geolocations of the attractions you’ll be visiting; the various break points, the water points, viewpoints, waterfalls, pools, peaks, valleys, river crossings, and the villages and tribal settlements that would fall on your path with approximate corresponding times of when you’ll be at those points.
Emergency services and rescue teams are never going to know where to look for you in case you go missing and haven’t left a detailed itinerary with other trekkers back in the city.
Exploratory treks must compulsorily have an ER team on stand-by, ready to get into the forest at a moment's notice to find the lost team and get them out.
Have a route map of the trail you’ll be following
It is so so so important that each and every single participant have a complete route map of the trail downloaded onto their phones before the trek. Trekking is so unpredictable and risky. You never know what situations you’ll face or what you might run into in the forest. The organizer or even co-organizers might not make it for an infinite number of reasons. Reasons that you just cannot imagine or visualize sitting at home. Remember, it isn’t just the forest that you’re put up against during a trek but your own mental and physical state as well. It’s for this very reason that all participants must be well versed in map reading and must get themselves acquainted with the trail in the weeks leading up to the trek.
In that way, any doubts or queries you might have regarding the route or waypoints can be answered to your satisfaction well in advance, leaving you sufficiently prepared for the trek.
Remember, no trek leaders’ body is made of gold and they’re as flesh and blood as you and I. Anything that can happen to you can happen to them regardless of how fit and experienced they are.
This is why it is crucial that each and every participant be made fully aware of the trail they’ll be following; the various pit stops or break points on the way, the closest villages and human settlements, the closest hospitals or clinics, the various water points, and the shortest route out of the forest in case of an eventuality.
Carry your own fire starter kit and food ration
People underestimate the power of the wilderness all the time. They throw their hands up in the air and say “I won’t get lost”, or “I know how to start a fire”, or any such foolhardy words along those lines that reek of smug ignorance and irresponsibility. Whether you’re going with a group of 20 or 5 into the wilderness, you have to carry your own personal fire starter kit and food ration bag. This is non-negotiable. I’ve heard stories of how people who’d gotten lost in the jungle made it out alive only because they had their own personal food and fire starter kit separate from the group.
Never rely solely on the group for survival. You’ve got to have your very own survival kit. A bunch of y’all or you yourself could get separated from the group any time. And that’s something you should always be prepared for. Needless to say, this goes for first aid kits too. Usually in a group trek, either the leader or a couple of leaders carry the first aid kit. But what if you got separated from the group and injured yourself in your anxious rush to get out of the forest?
At that point it really doesn’t matter who or how many others have food, first aid kits, or fire starter kits with them. When you’re alone, you’re doomed if you don’t have your own personal stash of these things.
I just cannot stress enough on the importance of this point. It’s criminal to see how many groups and participants openly violate this rule every single weekend out in the wild, putting their lives in mortal danger every time they do so.
Like I said in the beginning, what might look trifling and inconsequential on the surface, might be the very thing that makes the difference between life and death during a crisis. So go ahead, request your organizer for the trail to your next trek. Ask him/her for all the finer details of the trail which I’ve outlined above.
Don’t miss out on anything!
Load up your backpack with all your own essentials. If you think you’re going to be laughed at or made fun of for following these rules, then so be it. The people making fun of you won’t be the ones responsible for your survival once you get lost anyway. So does it really matter?
Disclaimer: It is only suggested that you follow these rules for you to have a safe and enjoyable trek as much as possible. I am in now way responsible for any untoward incidents that might happen to you regardless of whether you followed these rules or not.