5 Things I Wish I’d Known Before Hiking in the Shawnee National Forest

There are many things I wish I had known before hiking in the Shawnee National Forest.

These are things I now know and practice regularly. But if I had known about them before, I probably would have had a better Shawnee National Forest hiking experience.

So, having the opportunity to tell you how to better experience hiking in the Shawnee National Forest sort of makes up for my lack of knowledge way back when I started hiking.

The following 5 things will really make your hiking experience even better whether you’re just starting out or have been hiking for a little while.

Top Tips for Hiking in the Shawnee National Forest

These top tips for hiking in the Shawnee National Forest are what I’ve come to experience during my visits for a little over a decade.

Hiking in the Shawnee National Forest

1 – Know how to make yourself a better hiker

Stretching is a big part of being a healthier hiker. After you warm up a little, a mile or two down the trail, stop for a couple of nice stretches. You’ll feel better while you hike. Be sure to do some recovery stretching after you’re done hiking.

Exercise is important for a hiker. Sure, hiking is exercise. But if you add even more fitness activities to your life, hiking will get even more easier. I recommend activities like yoga, rowing, running, swimming, and cycling. Doing some weight training may also be beneficial.

Eating better is always a good idea. The better you eat, the better healthy you’ll be. Dieting and weight loss are essential to maintain a healthier lifestyle. When you’re at the right weight for your age and measurements, hiking becomes a lot easier to do.

Stopping bad habits is always recommended. Heavy drinking or smoking of any kind can hinder your ability to get better at hiking. The use of drugs will also typically hinder your hiking efforts. By stopping these bad habits, you’ll essentially prolong your life.


2 – Know what you’re getting yourself into on every hike

Prepare for rain no matter when you hike. Pack a raincoat and something to waterproof your gear, like a rain cover for your backpack. Rain sort of randomly occurs in Southern Illinois at times. The last thing you want is to be soaking wet hiking back to your car.

Have an exit plan in case something goes wrong. Anything can happen while you’re out hiking. Something weather-related or whatever. It’s a good idea to have a plan of action in the works just in case something does happen.

Research the trail before going on a hike. Try to understand its difficulty. Know what the length will be, the directions to the trailhead, what trail numbers you need to take, and any elevation changes. Knowing what the trail will be like will help you better enjoy your hike.

Tell someone where you’re going to go hiking. Print out a map and circle the area you will be hiking in. Tell them what time you plan to be home. If you never make it home, they can contact the proper emergency response authorities to come and look for you. This is in case you become injured or lost. This is especially important if you hike alone.

Have a purpose for hiking. It makes hiking easier and more enjoyable. We like to hike to look for natural shelters, rock formations, and waterfalls when it’s wet outside. This gives us a purpose and goal to hike for. It takes your mind away from the mentally and physically demanding elements that accompany hiking.


3 – Know how to gear up to have the best experience possible

Having the right gear is important. But having the right backpack to put that gear in is even more important. Don’t use a backpack that you would take to school. You need a hiking back that’s adjustable and gives you hip, shoulder, and sternum adjustments and support. Get a good day pack for day hiking.

Make your own first aid kit. But only put supplies in it that you know how to use and would likely use. Put things like anti-diarrhea and pain relief pills. Put blister patches and moleskin. Add stop-bleed and a tourniquet to the kit. Don’t put too much in the kit. Take enough for you just in case you need it.

Consider a PLB. A PLB is a Personal Locator Beacon. The Shawnee National Forest isn’t significantly huge, but you can still get lost. There are tons of hills and steep ridgelines that would wear you out in a few hours if you attempted to just go in one direction. A PLB can be activated when you need help. It’s a good investment to consider.

Bring extra food and water. Bring enough so that you can RATION it for a few days if you need to. This is just in case you get lost and need it. Bring stuff that doesn’t need to be at a certain temperature, like freeze-dried food and trail bars. Make sure the food is packed with carbs and healthy fats to help you stay energized. Bring plenty of water, but also pack some hydration tablets. Bring a water filter with you after you’ve tested it to see how to use it and if it works first.

Take different forms of trail navigation with you. A map and compass are a good option as long as you know how to use them. A dedicated GPS device is also good as long as you know how to use it. An app for your cell phone can be good enough as long as it can be seen without phone data. You’ll lose signal in most of the Shawnee National Forest. Bring a cord and a charging brick in case you need it.

Bring a good flashlight or headlamp with some extra batteries. And on that note, bring a simple survival kit that will give you shelter, warmth, and the ability to cut firewood if needed. A good kit like this would include an oversized rain poncho for shelter, a shock blanket for warmth, waterproof matches for extra warmth, and a folding saw to cut small firewood.

Trekking poles are great for folks who have issues with balance. I tend to only need them when I cross creeks with uneven and slippery wet rocks. I go for telescopic trekking poles so that I can collapse them and put them away when not in use. If you always need a trekking pole, you might even consider a walking stick. You might even find a good one out there while you’re hiking in the Shawnee National Forest.

Bring bug spray and sunblock. You can usually find smaller containers of these two items. You might need to reapply them throughout your hike. As you sweat, the spray will likely be removed from your skin. Both of these items can protect you from very bad diseases. Permethrin is good for spraying on your footwear, clothing, and gear in regard to preventing tick bites.

Have you ever had to poop in the woods? I do almost every time I hike. I’ll admit it. So, I carry toilet paper with me because leaves are rough and can cause painful rashes as a result. Bring a roll of toilet paper with you, and remember to leave no trace.

There is such a thing as overpacking, and there is also such a thing as underpacking. Don’t pack more than you need (aside from food and water). Don’t pack too little, either. If you sacrifice safety for weight reduction, for example, you’re putting yourself at a greater risk of having a bad experience while hiking.


4 – Know how to hike in the Shawnee National Forest the smart way

Take healthy food with you when you go hiking. Don’t take stuff that might make you sick, and need to use the toilet constantly.

Leave no trace the best that you can. Try to leave a place better than you found it. Consider taking a trash bag with you and picking up any litter you might find.

Have trail manners and respect your fellow hiker. Don’t use loud music. Keep your dog on a leash. Don’t hog the trail. Always yield to horseback riders and talk to them while you’re at it.

Layer up and bring extra layers. Laying up when it’s cold is important. You can shed layers if you start to get hot. Consider bringing extra layers just in case you need them in a pinch.

Hike with a friend if you can. Solo hiking is a great experience. But it is more dangerous. If you can find a hiking buddy or group, try to do that first and then go solo as you gain more experience.

Wear the right footwear when hiking. Crocs and flip-flops are not the right footwear. Get hiking-specific shoes or boots. Waterproof is best during the winter months. Get hiking-specific socks to go with your hiking-specific footwear.

Be aware of wildlife when hiking in the Shawnee National Forest. We have snakes (some are venomous), bobcats, coyotes, deer, turkeys, and other critters. Always give wildlife plenty of room to escape if you are to encounter them. Cougars, bears, and wolves are not officially in the Shawnee National Forest, but Bigfoot could be there.

Hydration is key. This is one of the biggest mistakes made in hiking – not hydrating correctly. You can prevent so many bad experiences hiking by simply staying hydrated. I recommend taking two big swigs of water every 30 minutes, whether it’s hot or cold outside.


5 – Know how to start hiking with the right frame of mind

Document your hike. Take pictures. Take video. Keep a trail journal. Keep the details to yourself or share it with others. It’s always good to take memories with you.

Start early for the sunrise and end late for the sunset. But don’t get lost trying to do these things. Getting to see the sunrise and the sunset while hiking in the Shawnee National Forest is simply amazing.

Don’t get in a race when hiking in the Shawnee National Forest. I make this mistake often. It wears you out and makes it harder. It can also hurt a little more the next day. Slow down, stop, and smell the flowers from time to time.

Start easy and gradually grow your hiking skills. Choose an easy trail at a state park such as Giant City or Ferne Clyffe at first. As you keep hiking and get better at hiking, then you can graduate to harder trails. Going all out at first could lead to a bad experience.

Uphill is way better than downhill as a hiker. You have more grip as you hike uphill. It’s more stable. But going downhill can be sketchy. Your balance is off. You could take a tumble if you’re not careful. You definitely want to go slow, whether you’re going up or down.


Final Thoughts about Hiking in the Shawnee National Forest

In the end, hiking in the Shawnee National Forest can be very beneficial for you.

t can give you a better life. It sure has for me. But it’s important to practice good techniques while hiking in the Shawnee National Forest. Follow the advice above, and you’ll have the best experience possible. I wish I had known about all this 10 years ago when I first started hiking around the Shawnee National Forest.

If you’ve enjoyed this article, please share it with others. Please comment with more tips people should consider.

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Thanks again for checking out another one of my articles and until next time, I’ll see you on the trail!

Shawn Gossman

Shawn Gossman

Founder, Hiking with Shawn

Howdy folks! My name is Shawn Gossman and I founded Hiking with Shawn. I’m an avid hiker, cyclist and outdoorsman here in the Shawnee National Forest. I was born and raised in Southern Illinois and never want to leave. Click here to learn more about Shawn Gossman

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