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How to Prepare for a Hiking Trip

Updated on February 8, 2013
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“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”

–Henry David Thoreau

Many visionaries have trekked into the woods on a quest for a more meaningful, fulfilling life. The solitude that nature offers is undoubtedly rejuvenating to our rigorously scheduled souls, and while nature is full of astounding beauty and abounding lessons, she can be a harsh teacher. Always be prepared for the worst on all hiking trips. This article will focus on how to prepare and pack for easy to strenuous day hikes.

Be Physically Prepared

Preparation for even easy hikes should begin weeks ahead of time. It’s important to allow your body time to adjust to the rigors of carrying its own weight for miles at a time. You may be thinking, “I’m no couch potato, I go to Zumba every week and walk around campus every day,” or “I run after my kids all day long,” but trust me; even fit, healthy and active people can get shin splints or over strain their tendons and ligaments if they do not build up the proper muscles.

  • Begin by walking a mile,
  • then slowly add half a mile to a mile each day.
  • Take every fourth day off to let you body rest.

Of course, the activity of hiking has many health benefits of its own!

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Plan Ahead and Know the Area

Make sure that you acquire a good map of the area and get an early start. You'll want plenty of time to make it back to your car before dark.

Learn as much as you can about the area where you plan on hiking, as well as the season. Will the trail be extremely wet and muddy, or covered in snow? What animals are common? Is there a chance you could run into a bear? Or, perhaps a worse threat, deer ticks?

Ticks can carry diseases, and are active during warm moths in almost all areas of the U.S. Learn how to prevent ticks.

Hiking Clothes

Dress appropriately for the season, but don’t rely on weather reports. If you are hiking up a mountain than the temperature and weather conditions can change suddenly and drastically.

The best thing to do is dress in layers. If you have too much clothing on you will sweat, and this can be deadly in very cold weather. Avoid cotton like a slimy slug because it absorbs any sweat and moisture and keeps it close to your skin. If you plan on hiking in any very cold situations, remember COTTON KILLS!

Base Layer:

The very first layer is the base layer. It should be made of material such as merino wool or synthetic fabrics (I highly recommend wool, modern brands like Icebreaker and SmartWool are not itchy at all), which wick sweat away from the skin.

Mid-Layer:

Wool, goose down, and fleece are great materials for a mid-layer because they trap air (which warms up from your body heat) and will not soak up moisture.

Shell Layer:

A layer that is waterproof and wind resistant. Make sure that this layer can fit over all of the others without restricting your movement!

Pants:

Stay away from cotton and jeans. Invest in some hiking pants, some of which zip into shorts-- a handy feature.

If it's very cold and windy, you'll need mittens, hat, scarf, etc. With these and all your clothing and gear, buy for quality and durability. If you buy cheap gear that doesn't do the job right, you might as well throw the money that you did spend off the mountaintop. Good gear is always a good investment.

Socks:

Proper hiking socks are an essential part of the hiking wardrobe. There are several synthetic materials which will wick away sweat from the foot, but I believe that wool is by far the best material.

Hiking socks are available from lightweight to heavy thickness. For a day hike in mild weather, start with a lightweight sock. Some also offer arch support and extra cushion.

Hiking Shoe

I cannot stress enough the importance of hiking shoes. Hiking boots provide even more benefits such as ankle support for the uneven ground you will encounter, and a stiff sole to prevent your feet from feeling the edges of stones and roots.

Many people prefer light hiking shoes over hiking boots because the extra weight places a strain on the hiker. There are many options, so I suggest trying on as many as you can. Make sure that your foot does not slide around in the shoe, but also make sure to try on the shoe with a hiking sock instead of a thinner, regular sock.

Wear your shoes on errands a few times to break them in if you don't have a chance to walk some distance in them before hitting the trail.

Learn more about different types of hiking footwear.

Hiking Checklist

You may not need a full backpacking pack for a day hike, but a good backpack that fits well is a must.

In your pack you’ll want:

  • high calorie snacks
  • sunscreen
  • bug spray
  • water (make sure your water is easily accessible and in a container that will not leak. You also want to bring more than you think you’ll need, especially on a humid day)
  • first aid kit
  • toilet paper and spade (for digging a cat-hole)
  • cell phone (this is only for emergencies, so shut it off and enjoy nature! Ok, so it’s also good to make your friends jealous when you Instagram pictures of the gorgeous views. But don’t wear out your battery. It won’t do you any good in an emergency if it is dead.)
  • pocket knife
  • head lamp
  • compass

You'll also want trekking poles, which are especially helpful if you are carrying a heavier load.

Pack economically and wisely. Even a lightweight object can be burdensome after a few miles on your feet!

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Now you're ready to gear up, log some miles, and soak in all that beauty and lessons Mother Nature has to offer!

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    • Glimmer Twin Fan profile image

      Glimmer Twin Fan 4 years ago

      Nice hub! Love the photos. Right on about planning ahead. Years ago a friend and I stayed too long and had to find our way back to the car. Luckily we had one of those mini flashlight keychains which barely got us back. It's amazing how quickly light can fade!

    • sgiguere profile image
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      Stephanie Giguere 4 years ago from Marlborough MA

      Yes, especially when you are in the trees and/or on the other side of a mountain!

    • tipstoretireearly profile image

      tipstoretireearly 4 years ago from New York

      Very helpful list of stuff to bring on a trip. Nothing will ruin a good hike faster than forgetting to bring the sun screen or the bug spray!

    • sgiguere profile image
      Author

      Stephanie Giguere 4 years ago from Marlborough MA

      Very true, tipstoretireearly. Even still, my boyfriend, an experienced hiker, forgets bug spray every time and then spends the entire hike swatting at bugs and cursing... Thanks for the post!

    • ESPeck1919 profile image

      ESPeck1919 4 years ago from Minneapolis, MN

      Very helpful hub! I can definitely stand behind all of the tips, being a bit of a hiker myself.

    • sgiguere profile image
      Author

      Stephanie Giguere 4 years ago from Marlborough MA

      Thanks for backing me up ESPeck1919!

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