Hiking in the backcountry offers an incredibly rewarding experience and opportunities for photos you likely can’t take at home. However, an expedition can quickly turn into a not-so-pleasant day if you run into a thunderstorm or find yourself going off the trail. Be sure to make adequate preparation before heading off on a hike, whether you’re lugging photography gear along or not.
Check Weather Forecasts & Radar
Unless you’re intentionally planning to play the part of a professional storm chaser, you probably don’t want to get caught in a deluge or blizzard several miles out on a hike, especially when carrying expensive camera equipment. Pay attention to weather forecasts, and realize that in mountain areas weather can change very rapidly. While sometimes you can’t fully avoid the possibility of a rainstorm, if heavy rain or snow is predicted all day long, you likely should plan to postpone your hike.
Closer to the time when you’re planning your hike, you can check a radar map to see if any storms show up near the area you plan to go. Also, be aware when the sun sets, so you don’t get caught in the dark if you’re not prepared to spend the night.
Check Trail Conditions
In the Adirondack region, spring tends to be a time when snow melt creates flooding and trails get exceptionally muddy, and so a lot of trails and parking areas remain closed. Other times of year, trails may be closed due to storm damage or repair for eroded areas. The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation provides information on current trail conditions. If you live in a different area, search online for information about your region.
In addition, try to be aware of the terrain of a trail. If there are stream crossings, you may want to wear waterproof boots and be sure to have hiking poles handy to get across easily. If a trail is exceptionally rocky, you’ll want better foot support than for a smooth, sandy trail.
Pack the Right Gear
I’ve learned over the years to invest in decent quality clothing and other gear for comfort, health, and safety reasons while hiking. Decent foot support, as mentioned under trail conditions, is a must. Realize that regular sneakers or running shoes probably won’t cut it for a trail that involves walking over rocks and through mud. Invest in a good pair of hiking shoes or boots (I’m a fan of Columbia shoes). Also, avoid wearing cotton, which will absorb and get soaked with sweat, and instead wear a material like polyester, which “wicks” moisture out.
If you’re lugging photography equipment along, use a camera bag or backpack large enough to hold your camera, lenses, and other accessories. Leave room to carry food, water, multitools, matches, flashlights, a first aid kit, and other gear that you might need when out in the woods far from civilization. I find a hydration pack helpful to carry enough water for longer hikes.
Know Where You’re Going
Research the area you’re planning to hike before heading out on a trail. Carry a topographical map that has all the trails in the area and major landmarks marked. You can find maps online or order a National Geographic map for your region.
A GPS will prove helpful if you have one as well, but be sure to bring extra batteries, and don’t rely strictly on the GPS! Bring a compass and know how to use it along with the map. Know where you’re starting on the trail, where you plan to end, and what direction you’d need to go to get to a road or other mark of civilization if you did happen to get lost.
Don’t Hike Alone!
To be honest, I will confess to have broken this rule occasionally, but it’s never a good idea to hike by yourself when heading out into remote areas. No matter how experienced in the outdoors you may be, you never know when you might injure yourself while out of cell phone range. You should hike with at least one other person, but ideally when venturing further into backwoods regions, you should be with a group of at least four people.
If you’re planning on venturing off to a backcountry area with your photography gear sometime soon, hopefully you’ll find this information helpful. Enjoy your time in the woods, but be smart!