Guide for autumn hiking

By Michael Hassett


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As the summer heat transitions into cooler autumn temperatures, many people decide to explore the Pennsylvanian wilderness for their recreational needs.  The outdoors offer people the ability to experience the simple pleasures of life and to witness the spectacular sights that are hidden from urban America.  From family day hikes to weeklong hunting excursions, each day offers the chance to see the beauty of nature and the experience of a wholesome atmosphere.

Though the outdoors can offer individuals a plethora of enjoyment and lifelong memories, the wilderness is also a potentially dangerous atmosphere when taken lightly.  Each year, careless outdoorsmen get lost or find themselves in situations that require the services of search-and-rescue teams, and occasionally these services arrive too late, resulting in death. This is not meant to turn people away from the wild, rather to instill a certain sense of respect for the outdoors.  For optimal enjoyment and success, each individual should have the proper gear, and each trip should be thoroughly planned and mapped out before the first step is taken on the trail.

Photos ©Michael Hassett


The majority of failed hikes occur due to the lack of common sense.  Knowledge and common sense are essential to a successful trip.  When planning a trip, a hiker should know what elements he will be facing.  The weather, temperature, and terrain should all be factored in when planning a hike.  Furthermore, a hiker should know the total distance of the planned route and the estimated time of the hike.  Before leaving to go on a hike, a smart hiker should relay this information to a family member or close friend.  If unable to make it home, the loved one will be able to contact the appropriate authorities at first sign of a failed hiking trip. This information is vital for search-and-rescue personnel to locate a lost or hurt hiker in a timely fashion.  Moreover, this knowledge will allow a hiker to choose one’s gear more appropriately.



Of all the gear needed, the most important is the gear protecting the feet.  A hiker’s feet are the only source of transportation.  I strongly advise against wearing sneakers and flip-flops.  These provide very little protection against ticks, snakes, and other creepy crawlies found in the woods.  Furthermore, these choices

provide little ankle support, which is necessary when encountering obstacles on the trail, such as rocks and roots.  A good pair of sturdy boots should be light-weight, waterproof, and extend above the ankles.  When worn, the boot should give the ankle minimal movement.



A good pair of socks should insulate the foot and decrease the chance of blisters.  A blister on the foot is a sure way to dampen anyone’s spirits on the trail.  The smart hiker will also have a spare pair in his or her backpack in case of an emergency.  Also, when choosing what socks to wear or any article of clothing, stay away from cotton!  When wet, cotton expedites the hypothermic process.  I suggest wool; when wet, wool retains insulating value.  Furthermore, a good sock is essential in keeping the foot dry, which is another reason to not wear cotton.  Cotton retains moisture whereas wool wicks sweat away.  This helps prevent athlete’s foot and other related infections.


How you dress depends on the weather.  Autumn has very unstable weather patterns and vast temperature swings.  Within one day, a region can experience cold, frost-like weather in the morning, warm, sunny skies in the afternoon, and thunderstorms riddled with lightning and hail in the evening.  To combat this, a hiker needs to be prepared for all possible weather when dressing for a day on the trail. 

The most practical way to do this is to dress in layers.  This is done by wearing a combination of clothing to control body temperature, so one doesn’t get too hot or cold.  This is a well-known tactic used by avid outdoorsman and requires common sense.  This method of dress can only be successful if it is in congruence with the climate and individual hiker.  For example, I would not choose a parka if I were to hike in early October.  Also, each individual hiker is different.  Some people naturally get colder more quickly and vice-versa.  This requires each individual to know how his or her body functions.

There are three separate categories for layers: inner, middle, and outer.  Each is important and acts individually and together.  The inner layer consists of light material that can wick moisture away from the body.  This means that the material will take the moisture, such as sweat, and pull it from the body.  This is essential in keeping the body dry.  The inner layer should fit snugly to the body to maximize wicking ability. The inner layer is not intended to insulate the body.  

UnderArmor is a good example of this. 

The middle layer is next.  This layer should fit looseley around the body, yet snugly enough to maintain contact with first layer.  The middle layer is intended to function on two levels:  First, it should be able to wick the sweat from the first layer to the outer layer; second, it needs to have insulating value.   The middle layer should also be on the lighter end.  Wool and fleece are my two favorite materials for this layer.   When hiking from early to middle fall, the inner and middle layers should suffice; however, when faced with colder temperatures or rain, the outdoorsman will have to dress with the third layer.   

The outer-layer is any layer of clothing that protects against the elements.  The outer-layer is defined as being able to protect from wind and rain.  This can be a simple rain jacket to a winter parka.  During most of the fall season, a hiker will be able to get by with just a simple windbreaker; however, towards the end of autumn, an individual will have to beef up his outer shell. On these occasions, I would suggest a Gortex jacket.  Though a little pricey, this material is sturdy and comfortable.  Again, an appropriate outer-shell is contingent upon the hiker and the climate; use common sense.      

Don’t forget about your extremities!  If you are facing colder weather, gloves and a hat should be packed.  Hands will not function properly in the cold, jeopardizing comfort, and more importantly, health.  Also, up to 40 percent of a person’s heat can be lost through their head. Plan on overdressing; it is better to have more than less.  Having a big enough backpack is a good way to make sure you have enough space.


When traveling off the beaten path, a smart hiker will always carry a backpack filled with basic essential gear, along with food and water.   Though one may never need it, this gear can save a person’s life and help them navigate back to civilization.  Furthermore, you can stash clothing in your backpack when overheated.  Use common sense when packing this bag; no one knows you better than yourself.  Here are a few standards:


-Lighter or matches

One may need to build a fire for warmth or lighting.

-Topographical map and compass

These are necessary if one is unfamiliar with the area or hiking on a secluded path.  Some hikers carry these at all times, even on well traveled trails, just in case!

-Flashlight and pocket knife

These are both very practical and handy to have in the woods. 


Hiking is a good workout, and with any workout, hydration is of the utmost importance.  Each individual should minimally carry two quarts with them.  I drink a lot of water and like to carry at least a gallon, sometimes more depending on the distance.  It is absolutely miserable to be halfway through a hike and run out of water.


 Gauge on how long you will be on the trail.  Only you can determine how much food you will need.  For a day trip, I like to carry at least two sandwiches and some fruit.  Granola bars and trail mixes are also good snacks to have.  Snacks like these will boost energy, help generate body heat, and boost spirits.  Being hungry on the trail is not a pleasurable experience.


This is also common sense.  Always carry necessary prescriptions.  When in the woods, delays are common, and you may not be out when you think.  This also includes glasses/contacts.  If you can’t hike without them, make sure you have a spare pair in case the first get lost or damaged.


It is common for outdoorsmen to use foliage when nature calls.  When this happens, it is better to have toilet paper or wipes than leaves.  Be smart and cleanup after yourself.  Though it is a fact of life, be respectful and dig a hole and cover up your waste. 

Remember, when out in the woods, act appropriately and be respectful.  Many of Pennsylvania’s trails pass through private property. More and more of these trails are being posted due to trash and disrespectful people. 

When out in the woods, carry an extra garbage bag to not only clean your garbage, but to cleanup after others who are not good sportsmen. What you carry in, carry out; good stewardship should be ingrained into every outdoorsman.

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