Canyon Clean Up – Teen Style

My daughter recently joined the National Junior Honor Society at Doral  Academy – Red Rock. This means that I have to help her find service projects that she is old enough to do (several places like hospitals and museums have a
minimum age for volunteers).

And since I have to drive her, I often end up volunteering with her.

In searching for options, I first thought of volunteering at Red Rock Canyon. I had already volunteered with the Graffiti Removal team, and at the time I remember thinking it would be a good activity for kids and teens. Knowing that someone has to remove it would be a good deterrent to defacing Red Rock.

That didn’t work out with our schedule,  but luckily there was a Canyon Cleanup scheduled for an upcoming Teacher Workday. I contacted the coordinator, Liz Carmer, to see if we could join. I discovered that the Canyon Cleanups are very popular and space is limited, so you have to register early.

Fortunately, there were still a few spots left. I signed up for three spots – my daughter, her friend and me.

When we arrived at the Visitor Center the day of the cleanup we were given bright yellow vests, bottles of water and best of all, the long metal trash.

My daughter and her friend loved the tongs and practiced picking up small
rocks in the parking lot.

After driving out to Calico Basin and parking along the main drive with the others, we ventured out into the desert. It wasn’t long before the girls raced off, spying a plastic bag on a bush in the distance. I followed more slowly, watching as they darted from one piece of trash to another.

It soon became competitive and I heard the cry, “No, that’s my piece of
trash!!” as they pretended to duel over the prized item.

But I could understand the excitement. Searching the landscape for a glimmer of metal, cardboard or plastic reminded me of the thrill of searching for plastic colored eggs in an Easter egg hunt.

When we returned to the meeting place, it was time to load up the truck. As we helped pile the bags of trash into the truck, we talked with some other
volunteers about how important it is to get young people involved.

One volunteer said people always complain that Las Vegans are shallow, but you just have to take the initiative and look for the other people who are interested in making a difference.

“They’re out there,” she said.

As we drove out of Calico Basin that day, I looked back in the mirror at two smiling faces. My 13-year old daughter shed her teenage persona for a moment to enthusiastically proclaim, “We have to do that again!”


Welcome new contributor to the Rock magazine – Dana S. Raborn.
Dana is a scientific editor with a background in urban planning. She and her family relocated to Las Vegas three years ago and live minutes from Red Rock Canyon. She enjoys volunteering at Red Rock as well as hiking, painting, music, sailing and kayaking.

Chewing Sand: An Eco-Spiritual Taste of the Mojave Desert

By Sharon Schaaf

Gail Collins-Ranadive was not excited when she was assigned to Las Vegas as an interim Unitarian minister. When she arrived, Gail learned that her congregation maintained a trail at the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area. So after Gail survived standing in line at the Department of Motor Vehicles to register her car and driver’s license, she decided to celebrate by heading right out to Red Rock Canyon to purchase her annual pass. For all of us who love Red Rock Canyon, we know she was off to a great start in Nevada.

“Chewing Sand” is Gail Collins-Randive’s collection of essays about the Mojave Desert and how its landscape became her “sacred text for contemplation.” You will smile as she shares experiences all we transplants from the East and Midwest have had…forgetting how to turn on the windshield wipers because it’s been so long since you used them; seeing our first double rainbow; replacing landscape grass with rock to save water; spotting burros for the first time in First Creek; watching a coyote roam your neighborhood.

Her essays honor the sights and sounds of Red Rock Canyon trails, The Springs Preserve, Valley of Fire State Park, Sloan Canyon and the work of organizations whose goal is to preserve and protect these areas. Gail has a new book coming out soon, “A Fistful of Stars: Communing With the Cosmos.” An ardent climate activist, she is also working on a book about the climate change crisis.

“Chewing Sand” is an award-winning book published by independent publisher Homebound Publications and is available in the Elements Gift and Book Store in the Red Rock Canyon Visitor Center and on Amazon.


Bobcats weight 15 to 25 pounds and mountain lions between 100 and 200; there are four types of skunks in the southwest, four types of mice and five types of squirrels; a white-nosed coati is a close relative of the raccoon; kit fox are also known as desert fox; the cute and adorable black-tailed jackrabbit and antelope jackrabbit are actually hares with ears six to seven inches long; the southern long-nosed bat is an important pollinator in the desert of the southwest.

This is just a sample of the information found in “50 Common Mammals of the Southwest,” George Olin’s guidebook in identifying animals that live near us. “50 Common Mammals of the Southwest” is one of eight books sold in Elements that are published by Western National Parks Association (WNPA) of Tucson, Arizona. Cacti, butterflies, dragonflies, birds, plants and wildflowers are the topics of the other WNPA guidebooks found in Elements Gift and Book Store.

Also, Amazon has more books from Western National Parks Association covering topics about Southwest parks, hikes, history, geology, explorers and conservationists, plants and animals.

Meet Tortoise Habitat Coordinator Chelsea Conlin

I grew up on the East Coast, but it turns out that I’m a desert rat at heart.

Until I moved to Vegas at the end of 2011, I’d always lived in fairly temperate places: Upstate New York, Rhode Island, northern Japan, Colorado, and Kentucky. There is something to be said for the rolling green hills back East, but I immediately fell in love with the sharper desert landscape.

Without all that greenery covering everything, you can really appreciate the geology of the Southwest. The harshness of the Mojave Desert has also made me appreciate the incredible toughness and adaptability of the plants and animals here. The beauty of the desert is undeniable.

One of the first things I did after getting settled in Vegas was to take my dogs hiking at Red Rock Canyon. I had done some hiking previously, but Red Rock was where my love of hiking blossomed. I quickly learned that plants here are very pointy and probably shouldn’t be touched, and that getting on the trail by sunrise affords the most astonishingly beautiful views of the mountains around Red Rock.

It wasn’t until several years later that I began volunteering with Friends of Red Rock Canyon (FORRC), and it snowballed from there. I’ve always had a passion for giving back, but no organization that I’ve worked with makes it as easy and fun as does FORRC. I’m on several of the dedicated volunteer teams, including Light Trail Maintenance, the Native Plant Team, Natural Resources, and of course, the Tortoise Team.

I fell in love with Red Rock Canyon’s rescued Mojave Desert Tortoises as soon as I met them. I never would have guessed that tortoises could have such individual personalities, but I soon learned how wrong I was.  Meet each one of them.

I love and respect all animals, and it’s been an amazing opportunity to work so closely with a threatened species.

Educating visitors about the Mojave Desert Tortoise has been a very important part of my time as a volunteer. I want to help protect them for their own sakes – and for future generations of people to appreciate as well.

To that end, I’ll be attending a two-day course with the Desert Tortoise Council in November. I hope to learn even more about tortoises so that I can make our little (or in Hugo’s case, not so little) friends’ lives as enriching as possible. I also aim to give our extremely dedicated volunteers, as well as visitors to the tortoise habitat, a rewarding and fun experience.

I often think about how much richer my life has become thanks to the Mojave Desert, FORRC, and the tortoises. I couldn’t ask for more!

Donate to the Tortoise habitat HERE

Walking on Water – From Cape Cod to Fossil Ridge

The marsh spreads miles from Cape Cod Bay revealing an ever-changing world from my back yard’s giant bay window. Twice every day by nature’s definition the tide ebbs and flows. During full moon, the water’s edge creeps closer – more so when the northeast wind reaches double-digit authority.

From winter’s icy waves to summer’s high, undulating grasses, the marsh reveals a rhythm that is at once predictable and mysterious, its angles ever changed by the competition between sun and clouds, by the moon’s cycles, by shifting breezes.

From the front of my home, I watch the same eternal tide command Boat Meadow beach. White caps may capture a moored sailboat’s bow, carrying it feet into the air. Five hours later, the sandy flats now stretch a quarter mile to the horizon, imposing a transient serenity and inviting me to walk toward the edge of the world.

Six months ago, I departed the bay and marsh and moved to Las Vegas. Friends and family wondered aloud how I could abandon the sea; the early morning beach walks sharing soft sand with piping plovers and terns, spying the spray of right whales in the distance and feeling the curious stare of grey seals bobbing in the surf.

Leaving the ocean for the Strip?

The Red Rocks, I explained.

There’s mystery and adventure there – a majesty as humbling as the sea. Like the marsh, their angles are commanded by the same sun and moon, by the hour of the day, by the direction of the wind.

Stand on Fossil Ridge and stare toward a different horizon. At times, you can imagine the topography as waves – especially as clouds form at the edge of a ridge, casting shadows that bob and weave.

Suddenly, there is a lone wild burro in the distance creating the same excitement that a dolphin can as it rises from the bay.

But, it’s the fossils themselves that connect the two seemingly disparate worlds, that impose on both brain and heart the knowledge of your own mortality and the immutability of nature.

How can it be that descendants of scallops and sea sponges I discover along a lonely Cape Cod beach are encased and memorialized among the stepping stones of my quiet quest climbing these mighty rocks?

How can this peak’s path be guided by remnants of the ocean’s floor, each fossil part of archaeological tapestry that mocks the transience of our daily headlines?

Your imagination can’t quite scale the 300 million years when these fossils were alive at the bottom of another ocean filled with a glittering array of fish – even giant squid. You kneel to touch the scallop’s contours. It instantly conjures the recent memory of a just-opened scallop’s shell that washed onto what Thoreau dubbed The Great Beach, discovered just before hungry gulls would arrive for dinner.


At this moment, I am walking on water, this ocean basin 2,800 miles from Cape Cod and hundreds of millions of years from its Paleozoic origins – before the deposit of limey sediments, before the earth’s crust started to rise from tectonic shifts, before marine shale and sandstone were deposited, before swamps became petrified, before shifting sand dunes lithified, cemented with calcium and iron.

At the tip of Cape Cod, at one of its thinnest points, there’s a trail that begins amid a beach forest, then loops toward the ocean at Race Point. Along the way, you pass dunes reaching 100 feet or more toward the sky. You can hear crashing waves in the distance. Yet, standing beside the mountains of sand, you imagine yourself lost in a desert, your view of the world eclipsed in every direction by the hot sand reflecting a noon sun.

What will become of these dunes? They likely will be swallowed by the rising ocean – too soon.

Atop Fossil Ridge, I think about how only months ago my moments were circumscribed by waters shimmering green and blue. Now, the moments bow to resplendent Calico cliffs – each world equal in its uniqueness, each inviting another day’s discovery, a new journey at nature’s command.




This Land is Your Land

“The United States is a grand melting pot, and we are all better off by sharing our cultures and experiences.” 


After swearing in 73 new U.S. citizens at Red Rock Canyon Conservation Area on Saturday, March 10, U.S. District Judge Andrew Gordon shared his thoughts about democracy and all of our responsibilities to the nation and each other.  


The oath of citizenship you took required you to renounce your allegiance to any foreign state or sovereignty. That means you have renounced your allegiance to the government of a foreign country. You did not renounce your love or devotion to your native land or its people. You should never renounce that, and no one should tell you to do so. Cherish what you love about your former homeland. 

When your native country plays in the World Cup or its athletes participate in the Olympics, cheer for them. Some of my ancestors come from Scotland, England and the Ukraine, and I root for them during the World Cup, except when they’re playing against the U.S. You should cheer for the Americans as well, but do not give up your love of your native country. 

Cherish your heritage and culture. Share it with our children and grandchildren. Teach them about your native land, its language and its culture. The United States is a grand melting pot, and we are all better off by sharing our cultures and experiences. 

As a United States citizen, you have the right and the duty to vote, to participate in the political process, to serve on a jury. Too many of our citizens take those rights for granted because they don’t realize that in many countries the citizens don’t have those rights. Remind people about that. Work to make the United States the country that you hoped for when you came here, and the country you want it to continue to be. 

Because I’m a judge, let me focus on jury service. People often try to get out of jury duty. They don’t realize that jury service is a vital part of our democracy. People have their voices heard by voting and participating in the political process. But they also have their voices heard by participating on juries and making decisions about other citizens. 

A famous English judge said: “Where the jury sits, there burns the lamp of liberty.” Thomas Jefferson once said: “The jury is the greatest anchor ever devised by human kind for holding a government to the principles of the Constitution.” I agree with those comments. I urge you to participate in our democracy by serving on a jury. 

As a citizen, you also have the right to criticize the government. You have the right to say that Congress should allocate more resources to protecting and making available great natural resources like this one (at Red Rock Canyon Conservation Area). You have the right to disagree with the President’s policies. You have the right to say that judges are too lenient or too severe in their sentences. But, you also have an obligation to do something about it. Don’t just criticize; get involved in the process and change what you don’t like.  

As we gather here in this beautiful conservation area, I am reminded of the great American folk singer Woody Guthrie who sang: “This land is your land. This land is my land. From California to the New York Island.” As a citizen, this land truly now is your land.  

The Department of Interior and the Bureau of Land Management hold this property in trust for all of us. And they do a fantastic job managing it. You can help by getting involved with programs like the Interior Department’s ‘America’s Great Outdoors Initiative’ to have a say in how to protect beautiful spaces like this. If you like places like this, don’t sit on the sidelines. Get involved! 

I will leave you with this final thought. Abraham Lincoln gave his Gettysburg Address at what is now the Gettysburg National Military Park, which is protected by the National Park Service. Visit there if you can. It is very moving. 

In his Gettysburg Address, President Lincoln honored the brave soldiers who died on that great battlefield in the Civil War. But he also issued a challenge to the nation to move forward from the war and reunite. Listen carefully to what he said because these words till apply today.  

“It is… for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us… that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom – and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” 

That “great task” still remains before us. We live in a time of great division in our country – culturally, politically, racially. So, I issue the same challenge to you now. Because “government of the people by the people, for the people “now refers to each of you. So this is now your great task: to preserve this country and make it better, to give this nation a new birth of freedom, so that it does not perish from the earth. 

Throughout our history, the United States has become better by admitting immigrants and refugees who have enriched our country. It is important that you continue that tradition, and I am confident that you will. 

The Ten Essentials

Compliments of REI

Packing the “Ten Essentials” whenever you step into the backcountry, even on day hikes, is a good habit. True, on a routine trip you may use only a few of them or none at all. It’s when something goes awry that you’ll truly appreciate the value of carrying these items that could be essential to your survival.

The original Ten Essentials list was assembled in the 1930s by The Mountaineers, a Seattle-based organization for climbers and outdoor adventurers, to help people be prepared for emergency situations in the outdoors. Back then, the list included a map, compass, sunglasses and sunscreen, extra clothing, headlamp/flashlight, first-aid supplies, fire starter, matches, knife and extra food.

Over the years, the list has evolved to a “systems” approach rather than including individual items.

Here’s what it looks like today, compliments of REI, a Friends’ partner:


Updated Ten Essential Systems

  1. Navigation: map, compass, altimeter, GPS device, personal locator beacon (PLB) or satellite messenger
  2. Headlamp: plus extra batteries
  3. Sun protection: sunglasses, sun-protective clothes and sunscreen
  4. First aid: including foot care and insect repellent (as needed)
  5. Knife: plus a gear repair kit
  6. Fire: matches, lighter, tinder and/or stove
  7. Shelter: carried at all times (can be a light emergency bivy)
  8. Extra food: Beyond the minimum expectation
  9. Extra water: Beyond the minimum expectation
  10. Extra clothes: Beyond the minimum expectation

The exact items from each system that you take can be tailored to the trip you’re taking. For example, on a short day hike that’s easy to navigate you might choose to take a map, compass and PLB, but leave your GPS and altimeter behind. On a longer, more complex outing, you might decide you want all those tools to help you find your way. When deciding what to bring, consider factors like weather, difficulty, duration, and distance from help.

Continue reading below for more information about each of the Ten Essential systems. And for help figuring out what else to bring with you, check out our hiking checklists.

1. Navigation

A compass sits on a topographic map

Contemporary navigation tools include five essentials for traveling in the backcountry: a map, compass, altimeter watch, GPS device and personal locator beacon (PLB). Here’s more detail:

  • Map: A topographic map should accompany you on any trip that involves anything more than a short, impossible-to-miss footpath or frequently visited nature trail. Learn how to read a topo map.
  • Compass: A compass, combined with map-reading knowledge, is a vital tool if you become disoriented in the backcountry. Many smartphones, GPS devices and watches include electronic compasses, but it’s wise to also carry a standard baseplate compass because it weighs next to nothing and does not rely on batteries, making it an indispensable backup. Learn how to use a compass.

Note: A compass equipped with a sighting mirror can also be used to flash sunlight to a helicopter or rescuer during an emergency.

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  • GPS device: A GPS device allows you to accurately find your location on a digital map. Those designed specifically for outdoor travel are often built rugged and weatherproof. Another popular option is to use a smartphone with a GPS app, but consider that most phones are more fragile so you’ll likely need to protect it with a case. Whichever you choose, keep in mind that these gadgets run on batteries, so you’ll need to monitor your battery power and possibly carry extra batteries. Learn more about choosing and using a GPS.

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  • Altimeter watch: This is a worthwhile navigational extra to consider bringing along. It uses a barometric sensor to measure air pressure and/or GPS data to provide a close estimate of your elevation. This info helps you track your progress and determine your location on a map.

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  • Personal locator beacon (PLB) or satellite messenger: These gadgets can be used to alert emergency personnel if you need help in the backcountry. When activated in an emergency, they will determine your position using GPS and send a message via government or commercial satellites. A PLB or satellite messenger can be a nice backup to have in case something goes awry, and they will work in remote locations where a cell phone cannot be counted on to have a signal. Learn more about PLBs and satellite messengers.

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2. Headlamp

Two headlamps sitting on top of a backpacking pack

Being able to find your way through the wilderness at night is essential, so you always need to have a light source with you. A headlamp is the preferred choice of most backcountry travelers because it keeps your hands free for all types of tasks, whether that’s cooking dinner or holding trekking poles. Always carry extra batteries. Learn more about headlamps.

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3. Sun Protection

A backpacker wearing a sun hat, sunglasses, and sun-protection clothing

Always pack with you and wear sunglasses, sun-protection clothing and sunscreen. Not doing so can result in sunburn and/or snow blindness in the short term and potentially premature skin aging, skin cancer and cataracts in the long term.

  • Sunglasses: Quality sunglasses are indispensable in the outdoors to protect your eyes from potentially damaging radiation. If you’re planning prolonged travel on snow or ice, you’ll need extra-dark glacier glasses. All sunglasses sold at REI block 100 percent of ultraviolet light (UVA and UVB)—a key function of quality lenses. UVB rays, the rays that can burn your skin, have been linked to the development of cataracts. Groups should carry at least one pair of spare sunglasses in case someone loses theirs or forgets to bring them. Learn more about sunglasses.

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  • Sunscreen: Spending long hours outdoors can expose you to ultraviolet rays, the cause of sunburn, premature skin aging and skin cancer. Wearing sunscreen is recommended to help limit your exposure to UV. When selecting a sunscreen, health experts advise choosing:
    • A formula that offers a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 15, though SPF 30 is recommended for extended outdoor activity.
    • A formula that blocks both UVA and UVB rays.

Apply the sunscreen generously and thoroughly to all exposed skin. UV rays can reflect off of snow and water so don’t forget to get spots like the underside of your chin and nose. Depending on many factors (time of day, sweat and more), you should reapply as often as every two hours. And don’t overlook SPF-rated lip balm. Learn more about buying and applying sunscreen.

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  • Sun-protection clothing: Clothing can be an effective way of blocking UV rays from reaching your skin without having to slather on sunscreen (you’ll still need sunscreen for any exposed skin, like your face, neck and hands). Many lightweight, synthetic pieces of clothing come with an ultraviolet protection factor (UPF) rating to indicate how effective the pieces are against UVA and UVB light. A hat, preferably one with a full brim, is a key accessory for sun protection. Learn more about sun-protection clothing.

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4. First Aid

A first-aid kit lies open on top of a backpacking pack

It’s vital to carry and know how to use the items in a first-aid kit. Pre-assembled first-aid kits take the guesswork out of building your own, though many people personalize these kits to suit individual needs. Any kit should include treatments for blisters, adhesive bandages of various sizes, several gauze pads, adhesive tape, disinfecting ointment, over-the-counter pain medication, pen and paper. Nitrile gloves should also be included.

The length of your trip and the number of people involved will impact the contents of your kit. It’s also a good idea to carry some sort of compact guide to dealing with medical emergencies. Learn more about first-aid kits.

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Find a wilderness medicine class

5. Knife

An array of pocket and camping knives sit on a wooden surface

Knives are handy for gear repair, food preparation, first aid, making kindling or other emergency needs, making them an essential for every outing. Every adult in your group should carry a knife.

A basic knife may have only a single foldout blade; more elaborate knives and multitools include things like one or two flathead screwdrivers, a can opener and/or a pair of foldout scissors. The more complex your needs (if, for example, you are leading an inexperienced group), the more options you may want in your knife or tool. Get help choosing a knife.

In addition to a knife, a small gear repair kit can get you out of a bind in the backcountry (and the more remote you are, the more important your kit becomes). Common items include duct tape, cordage, fabric repair tape, zip ties, safety pins and repair parts for a water filter, tent poles, stove, sleeping pad, crampons, snowshoes and skis. Check out our Backpacking Repair Kit Checklist for more ideas.

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6. Fire

A detail shot of a campfire

In case of an emergency, you need to have reliable supplies with you for starting and maintaining a fire. For many people, this is a disposable butane lighter, but matches are also suitable so long as they are waterproof or stored in a waterproof container. Convenience-store matchbooks are often too flimsy and poorly constructed to be trusted for wilderness use.

Firestarter, as the name implies, is an element that helps you jump-start a fire and is indispensable in wet conditions. The ideal firestarter ignites quickly and sustains heat for more than a few seconds. Options include dry tinder tucked away in a plastic bag, candles, priming paste, heat “nuggets” (chipped-wood clusters soaked in resin) and even lint trappings from a household clothes dryer.

For outings where firewood is not available, such as trips above tree line and/or on snow, a stove is recommended as an emergency heat and water source.

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7. Emergency Shelter

A woman pulls an emergency blanket out of her daypack

Always carry some type of emergency shelter to protect you from wind and rain in case you get stranded or injured on the trail. Options include an ultralight tarp, a bivy sack, an emergency space blanket (which packs small and weighs just ounces) or even a large plastic trash bag. It’s important to understand that your tent is only your emergency shelter if you have it with you at all times (a tent left behind at your camp is not sufficient).

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8. Extra Food

A bowl of granola and an assortment of dried fruits

Always pack at least an extra day’s worth of food in case something causes your trip to go long (such as an injury or bad weather). It’s a good idea to pack items that don’t require cooking and that have a long shelf life. Things like extra energy bars, nuts, dried fruits or jerky are good.

If you’re going on a long multiday trek or a winter adventure, consider bringing along more than a one-day supply.

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9. Extra Water

A water filter sits on a rock

It’s crucial to carry enough water for your outing and have some method of treating water while you’re out there, whether that’s with a filter/purifier, chemical treatment or a stove for melting snow. When determining how much water to carry exactly, consider that most people need about a half liter per hour during moderate activity in moderate temperatures. You may need to carry more than that depending on factors like the outside temperature, altitude, level of exertion or an emergency.

As a starting point, always carry at least one water bottle or a collapsible water reservoir. When beginning a hike, fill up your bottle or reservoir from a potable water source. Learn more about hydration.

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10. Extra Clothes

A backpacker pulling extra clothes out of her pack

Conditions can abruptly turn wet, windy or chilly in the backcountry or an injury can result in an unplanned night out, so it’s necessary to carry extra clothes beyond those required for your trip.

When deciding what to bring, think about what you would need to survive a long, inactive period out in the elements. Common options include a layer of underwear (tops and bottoms), an insulating hat or balaclava, extra socks, extra gloves and a synthetic jacket or vest. For winter outings, bring insulation for your upper body and legs. For help getting started, see our articles, What to Wear Hiking and Layering Basics.

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