Hiking is a fantastic way to immerse yourself in nature and relieve stress. Even so, a lot of things can go wrong if you don’t prepare yourself for the journey. While it’s always good to enjoy yourself on the trail, it’s just as important to plan ahead. Whether you’re just starting out or a well experienced backpacker, here are some essential hiking tips that everyone should know.
Types of Hikes
Day Hiking: As the name suggests, day hiking refers to trekking that occurs in one day. Length and difficulty can vary from a short, 1-mile hike to a full day 12 mile adventure. Beginners should always begin with day hiking before working their way up to backpacking or thru-hiking.
Backpacking: Sometimes referred to as trekking, backpacking refers to the act of embarking on a multi-day hiking trip. Backpackers have to carry all their gear on the trail, including their tent and meals. Backpacking trips can last anywhere from a couple of nights to an entire month.
Thru-Hiking: A subcategory of backpacking, thru-hiking refers to long treks that start at one location and end at different destinations. Thru-hiking should only be attempted by the most advanced hikers, as it typically requires a lot of preparation and training. Famous examples include the Pacific Crest Trail or the Appalachian Trail.
Plan ahead and consider important details like weather, the length of the route, and when you expect to return to the trailhead. If you’re hiking in a state or national park, consider talking to a ranger before embarking on the trail. They might be able to provide helpful information that pertains to your experience level, weather conditions, and wildlife sightings. In general, always pay attention to the expected weather conditions to find out what kind of gear you’ll need or if you need to reschedule the hike altogether.
Pack Plenty of Food and Water
Food and water will be essential for nutritional sustenance on the trail. Plus, water is the ultimate survival necessity, regardless of whether you’re on a backpacking trip or going for a short, simple day hike. Good hiking food includes anything that’s non-perishable with a long shelf life. Common hiking snacks include trail mix, jerky, energy bars, and dried fruit.
Carry the Essentials
You can never be too prepared, even for a seemingly easy day hike. While we hope it never happens to you, accidents can happen. You might get lost, someone might get injured, or an unexpected storm might roll through your hiking area. Thus, a Pacific Northwest conservation non-profit group called the Mountaineers created a top 10 essentials list. This list is designed to prepare you for at least one night in the wilderness. The top 10 essentials include the following:
- First aid kit
- Sun protection
- Navigation (water resistant, tearproof map, GPS, compass)
- Headlamp or flashlight
- Fire starter
- Extra layers
- Emergency shelter
- Extra source water source
- An extra day’s worth of nutrition
Wear Wool Socks
Hiking blisters are no joke, but they can be avoided with the right hiking boots and socks. To prevent uncomfortable moisture and severe blistering, wear wool socks. If it’s possible to find wool socks made with water-resistant materials, that’s the most ideal solution. Have blister dressings readily available in your first aid kit before you leave and consider wearing them ahead of time if you’re prone to blisters.
Research Hiking Etiquette
Believe it or not, there are general hiking rules that are highly recommended for seasoned and beginner trekkers alike. For example, hikers walking uphill always have the right of way. You should also remain on the designated trail to avoid getting lost, endangering other hikers, or disrupting important ecosystems. If you’d like to learn more about hiking etiquette, do some light research ahead of time so everyone can enjoy themselves on the trail.
Bring Someone With You
While we’re sure you’re capable of handling yourself in the wilderness, if it’s possible, bring someone with you on the trail. In case of emergency, it can be extremely helpful to have someone else tend to your injuries, navigate your way back to the trail, or search for help. Plus, having someone to socialize with can add to the experience and make it more enjoyable.
Know Basic First Aid
If it’s possible to attend a wilderness first aid course, we highly recommend taking the opportunity. However, if you don’t intend on being a hardcore backpacker, consider brushing up on basic first aid skills before embarking on your hike. Basic first aid skills commonly needed during a hike include tending to minor scrapes and cuts along with securing rolled ankles.
Set up an Emergency Plan
It can be scary to think about what can go wrong, especially when hiking is supposed to be relaxing. However, the wilderness can be an unforgiving place, so it’s important to be prepared for anything. Before embarking on any hike, regardless of length or difficulty, always go down a list of essential emergency questions:
- If something bad happens, who will be in charge of getting help?
- Does the hiking area require hikers to call 911 or do they have their own emergency number?
- Will there be cell service? If so, will someone be ready with a fully charged phone or carry a portable charger?
- If there’s no cell service, who will be bringing a personal locator beacon or satellite messaging device?
Carry an Extra Source of Water
Water will be your ultimate life force, even if you’re going for a short, 5-mile hike. Thus, if you get lost or run out of water, consider bringing an extra source of hydration. This can include an entirely separate water bottle or water purification system to reduce weight. As clear as that mountain lake may look, never hydrate yourself straight out of a natural source of water. It may still contain harmful bacteria that could make the situation even worse.