In today’s hustle and bustle, few things can reset a person like the outdoors can. Hiking is easily accessible, inexpensive, and requires minimal gear, most of which you may already have. While some people choose hiking for its health benefits, others relish the opportunity to spend time with loved ones or friends in nature.
Planning a hiking trip should include selecting a trail, researching the level of difficulty, type of terrain, and the weather you can expect at that season. Plan what gear you need to include, and the fitness level required accordingly. Remember to check if permits or bookings are required.
There are, however, a few things to keep in mind for your comfort and safety when hiking. We’ll further explore what to consider when planning your hiking trip and talk about the appropriate gear for the job. So grab your boots, backpack, and some water, and let’s do it!
Key Aspects For Planning Your Hike
For any hiking trip, there are three main aspects you need to consider to make your trip as enjoyable as possible: What to expect from the trail itself, what gear you should have, and your physical fitness. We’ll take a look at these aspects in more detail.
Selecting A Hiking Trail
This is the important part: Where do you want to go and for how long? The 30 days Camino de Santiago may be your goal, but if you’ve never hiked before, you need to start with small steps first.
Consider, honestly and realistically, your fitness level and whether you have any hiking experience. There is a difference between walking 3 miles on a treadmill and hiking 3 miles through a forest. Once you’ve determined that, it’s time to select your first hiking trail.
Start with a trail close to your home or in an area you are relatively familiar with. Other things to consider when selecting your hiking trail are:
- Permits and Park Rules: some trails may require a permit to be obtained. Make sure you call the park office or visit their website in advance to find out whether the trails are open, whether a permit is required, and whether they have specific rules or requirements for the trail.
- Distance and Duration: an average fit person walks around 3 miles in an hour on a relatively flat to gradual incline. Rather than selecting a trail based purely on distance, consider the topography and how this will affect your hiking time. This may be the difference between a pleasant morning hike versus a full-day hike that catches you unawares and unprepared.
- Topography: has many points to consider. For a new, unconditioned hiker, steep uphill climbs or descents can become very strenuous and may even become dangerous, particularly if the incline is significant and over a short distance, as opposed to a gradual increase. Terrain can also quickly make a hike unpleasant if you are unprepared for boulder-hopping to be part of your hike or if you are constantly battling your way through lush forests with numerous tripping hazards like roots and stumps.
- Natural Hazards:these can be anything from avalanches, rock-falls, flashfloods, cliff-faces, impure water, and poisonous plants to dangerous animals like bears, crocodiles, snakes, and other reptiles or insects.
- Weather Forecasts:it is essential to check the weather forecast before leaving on your hike. This will affect your clothing worn on the day, the supplies you take with you, and your potential emergency planning.
As an added safety measure, always remember to tell someone at home what your planned route is and when they should raise the alarm if they have not heard from you.
Access to information and resources is widely available in the form of websites, blogs, forums, and apps that have loads of real-time information on hiking trails. Google Earth is also a fantastic resource for satellite imagery that can help with identifying the topography and even natural hazards.
All the relevant information is already available. It’s just a matter of looking, and this is well worth the effort, to take a couple of minutes to search for information and read some reviews of experienced hikers to get the most out of your hiking trip.
Hiking Preparation: 8 Essential Items
You should try to limit the weight of your backpack as much as possible while still ensuring that you have sufficient supplies. Pack items with multiple uses and pack the small tube of sunscreen instead of the family-size bottle – every ounce spared makes a difference on a long or strenuous hike.
This list of essential items will keep you covered:
- Water and Purification: you should carry 1 Litre of water with you for every 2 hours of hiking. An integrated water bladder in a backpack is ideal for intermittently sipping small amounts of water throughout your hike and is a great way to stay hydrated. If the weight of the water is a concern and your planning reveals that you have access to other water sources, like streams, during your hike, consider carrying an empty bottle or cup with you and means to purify the water to refill your water bladder.
- Footwear: Boots or shoes? Although modern-day trail runners are fantastic, hiking boots remain the preferred hiking footwear. They offer the appropriate ankle support when traversing uneven terrain, which can easily result in a twisted ankle, and they are perfect for added support when carrying a heavy backpack on multi-day hikes. Make sure to wear appropriate wool socks and that your boots are laced to fit snugly to avoid too much movement, which may result in painful blisters.
- Navigation: many mainstream trails are well-traveled and have route indicators, but a significant number of more secluded trails don’t. Ensure that you have some form of navigation to guide you out of a tricky situation or communicate your location to rescuers. GPS devices have become affordable and accessible to most, and even some smartwatches and mobile phones have GPS or tracking capabilities. But electronics can fail, which usually happens at the most inopportune time, so ensure you have a backup paper map and compass handy.
- Appropriate Clothing: wear lightweight clothing that dries quickly. Rather wear long pants instead of shorts, as this protects your legs against scratches and scrapes, and when they cover the top part of your footwear, they also help keep sand or small stones out of your shoes, which goes a long way to preventing blisters. Stay away from cotton, which absorbs moisture, and clothing that fits too loosely as this can cause chafing. Rather wear multiple layers of thinner clothing, which can easily be taken off or added to regulate your body temperature.
- Food and Snacks: pack foods high in protein to sustain your energy levels. For snacks, take some jerky, or make a trail mix consisting of nuts, berries, and some gummy sweets. For meals, consider packets of tuna and crackers.
- Sun Protection: a proper hat and sunscreen are essential. Lightweight long-sleeve shirts or hiking sleeves are also a good alternative.
- Safety Items: a knife or multi-tool, rain gear, a headlamp or torch, a whistle to draw attention, and means to make a fire, like waterproof matches, flint, or a lighter.
- First Aid Kit: your kit should, at a minimum, contain a blister pack, chafing cream, an assortment of plasters, antiseptic, anti-bacterial or antibiotic ointment, bandages, adhesive tape, a triangle bandage, antihistamines, headache tablets, and rehydrate or glucose.
How To Physically Prepare For A Hike
If you are new to hiking, a good place to start is by walking around the block with an empty backpack. Gradually build on that in both distance and elevation while simultaneously increasing the weight of the backpack to get your body used to walking and carrying weight on your back.
Some good exercises that can be done in the gym or at home are:
- Squats and lunges
- Core exercises
With the vast amount of hiking-related information available on a wide variety of platforms and the accessibility of hiking trails, coupled with the simplicity of gear requirements, planning a hiking trip can’t be easier.
The health benefits and pure joy of being in the outdoors are within anyone’s reach! Safe hiking!