1. Tell Someone Where You’re Going
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park just happens to be the country’s most visited national park. But that doesn’t mean that you’re going to constantly cross paths with other hikers. So it’s important to let your family and friends know you’ll be out on the trails and when you plan to return home.
Whenever I hike through the Smoky Mountains I refer to and share this directory. It contains the names of the trails along with detailed specifics such as trail location, key features, length of trail in miles, elevation and difficulty level. And considering this enormous outdoor playground spans a half million acres with more than 800 miles of trails, it’s a valuable resource for every hiker, no matter your skill level.
2. Dress for Comfort
When I first started hiking I wore socks that were quite thin. I figured the lighter material would make my feet feel better at the end of the day. That was actually a big mistake. Those thin socks left my feet sore and blistered. I did a little research and discovered that thick, heavy socks actually worked much better. The big, bulky variety is my sock of choice. They do an excellent job of preventing blisters and keeping my feet dry.
As for the upper part of my body, I start out by dressing in layers. A nice thin shirt next to my skin works well to keep me warm in cooler weather. If my hike starts in the morning, I’ll wear a windbreaker or some type of fabric that lets air get in. My motto is wear clothes that can breathe so you don’t feel weighted down as you’re hiking. As the afternoon sun gets hotter, I just peel away layers to cool down.
3. Pack Smart, Pack Light
As a general rule, I like to keep my backpack under 25 pounds. At this weight, I don’t usually get very fatigued. Plus, the lighter load helps with wear and tear on my legs and shoulders. That said, I still pack everything I’ll need to make the most of my hike.
- Bottled Water—Staying hydrated on the trail is the best thing you can do for your body. So be sure to pack at least two bottles. I don’t recommend drinking from the streams or lakes along the trail as the water can be contaminated.
- Must Haves—The littlest things can have the biggest impact. So remember the essentials like sunscreen, bug repellant, a flashlight, map and compass.
- Snacks—You won’t need a gourmet meal to sustain yourself so only bring along nonperishable items. I like nuts and berries. A handful of these goodies powers me up and keeps me going.
- First Aid—Since I don’t plan on wrestling (or even coming close to) any of the beautiful black bears wandering throughout the Smokies, I suggest carrying only the basics. A few bandages and some antiseptic can go a long way.
- Rain Gear/Change of Clothes—I never leave home without either of them. Staying dry prevents a wide range of problems including frostbite and hypothermia.
4. Use the Buddy System
Two is better than one. Especially when you’re exploring vast wildernesses you might not be familiar with. Modern technology like cell phones is great, but not always reliable where signal strength can be comprised. My go to communication device is a whistle. Old fashioned but trustworthy, the sound of a whistle will carry a great distance, helping your buddy pinpoint your location should you become separated.
5. Hands Off
It’s best to admire everything inside Mother Nature’s great big house from a distance. If you want reach out and touch something, think again. The Smoky Mountains has plants like poison ivy, poison sumac and nettle. At the very least, these plants can cause you to itch like crazy. Worst case scenario? You could have an allergic reaction requiring medical attention. The area is also home to venomous snakes. So just keep your hands to yourself and enjoy the hike. Besides, the “hiking code” states that you should never remove anything.