SEVIER COUNTY, Tenn. — Whether you are preparing for an end-of-summer day hike or already making plans for a long fall trek, here are some tips, tricks and hacks to consider before you hit the trails.

Christine Hoyer, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park backcountry manager, said going on a hiking trip of any length requires preparation and thought.

“What I’m about to offer might seem like a lot for a day hike, but you never know when you might end up staying out there longer than you think,” Hoyer said. “That’s one of the great things about hiking. You’re self-reliant. You carry with you what you have to work with.”

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Any outdoor organization, not just the Smokies, recommends 10 essential items, or systems, that should always be in your pack when you go hiking.

  • Navigation- any kind of map or GPS (preferably not just your phone, since you might not always have service and your battery can run down)
  • Sun protection- sunscreen, hat, sunglasses
  • Insulation- layers, rain jacket, gloves and hat for cold weather
  • Illumination- flashlight, headlamp, lantern
  • First aid- check it before every trip to make sure all of your materials are still good
  • Firestarter- IMPORTANT: This is for emergency use only!
  • Repair kit- duct tape, Swiss army knife, paracord, plastic bags 
  • Nutrition- you need energy on your trek
  • Hydration- Hoyer recommends carrying enough to drink a liter per hour or a way to filter water
  • Shelter- For overnight camping, obviously you need a tent and sleeping bag. For day hikes, you still want to have a tarp or trash bag at the very least, just in case

Hoyer knows this is a lot for day hikers, but she offered some of her favorite hacks that will help you stay prepared without weighing you down.

  • Line your backpack with a trash bag to make it waterproof in case you take an unintended swim on your hike.
  • If you have a full water bottle and a headlamp, you’ve got a lantern. Just shine the light through the water bottle.
  • Repackage your snacks in plastic bags. Not only will it save space in your pack, but they can also be reused for waterproofing your belongings as you finish the food. 
  • A generic tarp is a great emergency shelter or ground cover in case of pop-up storms or your day hike unintentionally becomes an overnight camping experience.
Smokies hiking hacks materials
What you need for these hiking hacks
Elizabeth Sims
  • Parachute cord can be used to replace a broken shoelace, to string up a shelter in an emergency, to fashion a sling if you get hurt and to hang up food for overnight camping.
  • Dryer lint rolled in chapstick or vaseline is a great emergency firestarter. (Emphasis on EMERGENCY!) Plus, it is lightweight. Just make sure you have a working lighter or you'll just be carrying around a plastic bag full of sticky lint.
  • Duct tape is your best friend! Use it to repair a shoe that blows out, secure a loose pack strap, cover blisters or replace moleskin for hot spots. BUT you don’t have to carry a whole roll. Hoyer wraps it around her water bottles and walking stick to save space and weight. 

Ultimately, Hoyer said her hiking preparation is about function over fashion.

“A lot of what’s out there is cool looking, but if you’ve got what works and you can be safe and protected, then you’ve got everything that you need,” Hoyer said.  

Aside from physically putting items in a backpack, she also wants people to do some mental preparation and planning.

Know the rules and regulations. Check the weather several times. Know your route. Be prepared to change your plan along the way if a storm or closure pops up. 

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“One of the most important things that folks can carry with them when they go out in the park is common sense and the willingness to really think about something before they do it and to reconsider as the day unfolds,” Hoyer said.

She asks that people be considerate of the millions of visitors that visit the Smokies every year and to take care of the natural resources.

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In short, leave no trace so everyone can continue to enjoy the park for years to come.

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“It’s not really something you can pack in your backpack. It’s something you have to pack in your mind, but it can really make a difference in your enjoyment of the trip and what you leave behind,” Hoyer said.

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