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5 Steps To Better Hikes

Updated on May 7, 2015

Whether you are a hard core backpacker or curious day hiker you might just benefit from this collection of hiking and backpacking tips.

Hiking can help to alleviate stress, is definitely great exercise and can provide a way to get back to nature that many of us city folk miss. A hike can balance our emotional, physical and spiritual states. There's not many things more peaceful than a backpack trail deep in the woods at 6 am.

Another of hikings many benefit's is its cost. A small investment in some sturdy hiking shoes or boots, a decent and durable water container and maybe a comfortable backpack will see you through many hikes. After that most trail systems are entirely free to use.

But remember, you don't need special hike gear or a fancy backpack to enjoy a walk in wooded areas. Just some simple items stuffed into your pant pocket and you are ready to hike. Though it really helps to know what to bring and what to expect on a hike.

With some general hike information and an understanding of hiking etiquette your outdoor hike adventure will definitely be more enjoyable.

Hike trail
Hike trail

Planning Your Hike

Proper planning and having the right equipment are essential to doing the job right. A little preparation and planning goes a long way in reducing stress and getting the most out of your hike. Knowing what to bring, when to bring it and where it's being brought are easy with some planning.

Following 5 five simple steps will help make sure you get the most possible enjoyment from your hiking or walking experience.

  1. Check the local weather reports.
  2. Write a small "to bring" list.
  3. Learn trail etiquette.
  4. Plan your route.
  5. Know your limitations

Cloud formations, something to watch for while hiking
Cloud formations, something to watch for while hiking

1. Check Local Weather Reports

Preparing for the elements is one of the most important things to remember when planning a hike. Stay informed by using the internet, radio or tv to find your local weather conditions and remember that conditions can change rapidly while you are hiking.

Key Points

  • Always check weather conditions before heading out.
  • Warm weather hikes may require 2 or more liters of water.
  • Make sure to bring the appropriate gear for the conditions you will be facing.
  • Avoid dangerous conditions like extreme cold, or thunderstorms.
  • Waterways can become dangerous after and during storms, be aware of flash flooding and slippery conditions.

Remember! There are lots of ways to get weather reports. Use them all when you are headed outdoors.

Try Accuweather to find a forcast near you!

A good backpack is needed for a comfortable hike
A good backpack is needed for a comfortable hike

2. What to Bring With You

This category has websites dedicated to the topic of what to bring. A simple google search should land you hundreds of results regarding what to bring with you hiking.

I have broken this section into two subsections. Pack items deals with some essential items you might want to bring along and the second involves clothing. Again, a quick search can net you a lot of information.

Pack Items

Packing just enough for your hike or trip is an art. Too much and your pack will slow you down but too little and you may wind up very unhappy.

Mountaineering: The Freedom of the Hills gives a list which they recommend as The Ten Essentials for survival in the back country. It has been mentioned that The Freedom of the Hills is the definitive resource for hiking and mountaineering safety. The list seems extensive but really all the items listed will fit into even a small backpack and should be carried at all times.

Clothing

Clothing will depend on only a few things, including your personal preference.

  • Comfort - obviously you want clothing that is comfortable.
  • Price - choose the gear or clothing that will give you the most bang for your buck but stay within your means.
  • Necessity - only bring what you will need. A wool sweater wouldn't be needed for a summer afternoon hike.
  • Durability - use clothing that is tough yet flexible to allow for greater range of motion.

Key Points

  • Layers work best for cold and cool temperatures, it traps heat in the airspaces and makes it easy to remove a layer if you get too warm.
  • Staying covered up in warm weather will actually help keep you cooler and protects against UV exposure.
  • Hike boots or shoes should not be "broken in" on a long hike.
  • A good hat will protect against the sun and rain.
  • Dress for the temperature
  • Hiking boots or shoes should be comfortable
  • Try to keep the color neutral unless you need to be seen like at night or during hunting season. Many hiking purists can't stand brightly colored backpacks because they are an eyesore in the woods.

Ten Essentials for Day Hikes

Map

Compass or GPS unit

Sunglasses and sunscreen

Extra food and water

Extra clothes

Headlamp / flashlight

Firstaid kit

Waterproof fire starter

Waterproof matches

Knife / multi-tool

Remember! Shop around for the best prices on shoes and gear. Off season can be a great time to stock up.

How Should a Hiking Backpack Fit?

Fitting a backpack can be a tricky operation. This video helps clear some confusion when it comes to backpacks.

Trail etiquette sign found on major trails
Trail etiquette sign found on major trails

3. Learn Trail Etiquette and Follow It

Some simple etiquette can go a long way in making everyones trail experience more enjoyable. Though the actual "rules" for trail use very area to area there are some that are common knowledge..... and common courtesy.

Some universal rules regarding trail use:

  • Share the trail - common rule is bikers yield to horses and hikers, hikers yield to horses and horses yield to none. See image upper right.
  • Leave only footprints and take only pictures - many government protected areas carry stiff fines for disobeying these 2 common courtesy rules.
  • Stay on marked trails - keeps you safe and protects flora and fauna.
  • When in a group remain in single file - this keeps the trail from widening and will allow others to pass more easily.
  • Avoid hiking after heavy rains or severe storms - Not only will the trails be muddy and slippery, there could be downed trees, washed out bridges or other hazards. Not hiking on wet paths also preserves the trail conditions.
  • Read any trail guides available for the area you wish to hike - this will keep you informed of any special information or restrictions in effect for the area, like campfire bans, dangerous trail conditions or threatening animals.
  • Keep the noise to a minimum - you may be surprised to find that there is a world of things you will hear if you just listen
  • Clean up after pets - Carry doggy pick up bags with you and use them. Not much worse than stepping in someones neglect.
  • Report any problems to park authorities - trail damage, vandalism or people disregarding the rules may be a harm to you and themselves

Remember! You will always run into someone who has no concept of trail etiquette. It may be a cyclist who doesn't have a bell to notifiy you of their approach or a dog owner who doesn't pick up after Spot. Keep an eye open for them because they probably aren't keeping one open for you.

A bridged trail
A bridged trail

4. Plan Your Route

Know where you are going and how long it will take. A few minutes spent looking for a map online or plotting out a walk using a local road map could save hours of frustration later on.

Local parks and hike trails usually have a group or organization that take care of them. Do a google map search in your area and you might be surprised what you find. Or just search for a website using the name of the trail system you will be using, you are bound to turn something up. One last place you can check is your city's website or cityhall, they may have local maps available for free as tourist give aways.

Key Points

  • Plan your route ahead of time and follow it.
  • Tell someone where you intend on hiking or walking and when you plan on returning.
  • Use maps or trail guides to keep track of you position in the woods and stick to clearly marked trails.
  • Talk to local hikers to learn about new trails.

Remember! Local trail guides contain tons of useful information. Things like the types of animals and plants you will see and what the trail difficulties are will be included. They usually included emergancy information, special trail information and history as well.

Google Maps

Simple tools like google maps can make planning a hike really simple. You can even print out what you are veiwing giving you a quick, basic map to use for hiking.

A markerShort Hills provincial park -
Short Hills Provincial Park, Thorold, ON L0S 1M0, Canada
get directions

A great hike spot near my home.

Always heed trail warnings
Always heed trail warnings

5. Know Your Limitations

Let the slowest member of the group set the pace is an old hiking saying and for the most part it's a great summary for this category. Knowing what you can do will save you from getting into areas or circumstances that are dangerous or uncomfortable.

I have seen people hiking steep hills and rugged terrain in flip flops and sandals. Not knowing what type of gear is needed to keep you safe is a limitation in my opinion. Without knowing what gear should be used can be dangerous at the worst of times and uncomfortable at the best of times.

Physical conditioning is the most obvious limitation people will face when hiking. Just stay within your means and hike at a pace that will allow you to continue for the length of the hike. Stop if necessary to rest and get moving when you are ready.

Key Points

  • Put the slowest member of the hike group in the lead and let them set the pace.
  • Improper gear is a limitation.
  • Start out small and work your way up to bigger and better trails.
  • Hiking can be demanding physically, if in doubt about your condition, consult your physician.

Remember! Honestly assess your condition and have every member of the hike group do the same. It's best to be honest about things before starting than to wait till you are 2 hours into a hike to let everyone know you have a bad hip.

Leave your boot print!

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    • chrissuard lm profile image

      chrissuard lm 7 years ago

      Great Lens! Thanks for all the helpful tips!

    • vanidiana24 profile image

      vanidiana24 7 years ago

      Great hiking tips, thank you for sharing!

    • capriliz lm profile image

      capriliz lm 7 years ago

      This is a great lens for anyone just starting out with hiking. You have a great lens!

    • capriliz lm profile image

      capriliz lm 7 years ago

      This is such a great lens for anyone who is getting started with hiking.

    • LoKackl profile image

      LoKackl 7 years ago

      Beautiful and informative. Blessed by a SquidAngel. Rolled to Planning a Rocky Top Vacation and Colorado Captivates.

    • sulcatamandy profile image

      Mandy 7 years ago from Montana

      Great page about Hiking! Coming from Arizona, I hike often. You have great tips and recommendations.

    • profile image

      Tarra99 7 years ago

      Cool lens...I wish in Ottawa we had more "mountain-ous" terrain to hike around...we have lovely trails and many of them...but they are flat :o) Thank you for popping into my fruit smoothie lens...I appreciate your comments!

    • sheriangell profile image

      sheriangell 7 years ago

      A great hiking lens with a lot of useful information.

    • profile image

      myraggededge 7 years ago

      Great advice - very clear and well laid out. Blessed by a Squid angel :-)

    • glenbrook profile image

      glenbrook 7 years ago

      Great lens. Thumbs up.

    • KarenHC profile image

      Karen 7 years ago from U.S.

      Really nice lens! I used to backpack and I still hike, and your tips, suggestions, and listed resources are really good and comprehensive.

    • smange lm profile image

      smange lm 7 years ago

      Some excellent hiking advice here - Great lens. Blessed!