Five Essential Gear Items For Day Hiking

Every year, only a handful of hikers manage to tackle all 13 mainland trails at the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. That amounts to over 100 miles of walking along the Lakeshore trail system perfectly suited for the day-hiker.

Whether you’re a casual trekker or a dedicated “trail-bagger” on a mission to complete all of Sleeping Bear’s hiking paths in a single season, carrying a small daypack filled with these essential items will ensure a safe and enjoyable day of trail hiking adventure.

In 2014, only 12 people managed to hike all 13 of the trails as part of the Trail Trekker Challenge at the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. If you’re interested in finding out more about how to add your name to this special group, you can pick up a Trail Trekkers brochure/logbook at the Philip A. Hart Visitor Center or online by clicking here.

Thirteen trails and 100 miles in a single season may sound like a lot. But a quick glance at the map reveals there isn’t a single Lakeshore trail that a healthy hiker couldn’t tackle in a day. Most of the Lakeshore trails average around three miles.

Day hiking is good exercise and a great way to discover a world of natural beauty that you simply can’t experience from the road. It can be rewarding, too, as some of the hilly and sandy Lakeshore trails (namely Alligator Hill and Sleeping Bear Point Trail) can be quite strenuous.

Regardless of your goals, anytime you leave the trailhead for a day hike it’s important to bring along more than just a mobile phone. Here’s a good checklist to get your started:

Bug Spray — Water provides the backdrop for many of the most memorable scenic experiences along the trails in Sleeping Bear. But where there is standing water—be it a lake, beaver pond or cedar swamp—there are always bugs. Mosquitoes, deer flies, ticks and other biting bugs are an annoying reality in Northern Michigan that can ruin an otherwise beautiful day on the trail.

Sun Block — One of the cool things about the footpaths at the Sleeping Bear Dunes is the variety of coastal ecosystems you pass through on a typical hike. Trails may start in the shady woods, then traverse through open farm fields, sandy dunes and open beach environments where the sun is pounding overhead. Avoid sunburn by never leaving the trailhead without good sun-blocking agents.

First-Aid Supplies — You should always carry some basic first-aid items along when hiking. Some of these include: Band-Aids and anti-bacterial ointment for treating small cuts; moleskin for softening hotspots on your feet (the precursor to a blister); tweezers for removing splinters; eye drops in areas where blowing sand might be a factor; any personal medications you might need if something serious should happen on the trail that keeps you out longer than expected.

Flashlight — No one ever heads into the woods planning to get turnaround or lost. The Lakeshore trails are so clearly marked that losing your way is pretty unlikely. More common are cases where hikers simply misjudge how long a hike is going to take and end up coming back to the car in the dark. Pack a flashlight, just in case.

Water — When heading out on a hike, how much water you drink before you start is almost as important as how much you bring along on the trail. “Pre-hydrate” and you’ll end up having to carry less water in your pack. For most half-day hikes, carrying at least three quarts (around six pounds) should have you more than covered.