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5 Tips for Planning a Hiking Trip
Outside of fishing, hiking is right up there with camping as one of the best outdoors activities possible. Sure, we’re biased, but we are also big proponents of stacking your excitement for an even more memorable trip.
That said, we understand that many hikers are focused solely on the trails. Of the roughly 50 million who hike annually, however, the majority keep it nice and simple.
This probably means hitting the local trails at your area parks. Some may venture off to large state parks or national parks.
But for that small 1 to 2 percent who want to take on some of the most amazing hikes the United States has to offer, a considerable degree of consideration goes in to planning the perfect hike.
First, you’ll want to find the perfect place for your next hiking trip. The old adage of “location, location, location” didn’t become popular for no reason.
Maybe you want to hike some of the best trails in popular cities like Denver or Sedona. If you don’t want to limit to just Denver, maybe you’re interested in the entire state of Colorado. If you enjoy the smooth South, maybe hiking in Tennessee is a better fit.
For the more experienced (and daring), perhaps tackling the most challenging hikes in America is more your style.
Whether you’re planning a day hike or a full getaway on the trails, it never hurts to consider the following steps for planning a successful hiking trip.
First and foremost, tell someone (or, better yet, a few people) where you are going.
By letting people know specifics of your trip, you are giving them some peace and keeping yourself more safe.
Be sure to inform them of your intended route and when to expect you back. While it might seem old-fashioned, it doesn’t hurt to provide them with phone numbers of the nearest park services office as well.
This tip is especially important if you are hiking solo and/or are camping overnight.
Also, keep in mind that nature is wild. Anything from surprise weather conditions to animal encounters are possible and can catch you unprepared.
Consider the area you will be hiking through, what predators or reptiles are common, and whether they have an active season.
Also, is there a water source along the way should you need to refill your drinking container? And yes, we are assuming your are taking an adequately-sized drinking container that is filled before you hit the trails.
Are flash floods or wildfires common? In what conditions?
In 2017 the National Parks Service reported 4,125 search and rescue incidents. Of those, 183 were fatalities and 1,500 were ill (dehydration) or injured.
Be sure to do your research, pack plenty of water and don’t go wandering out of view of the trail. Also consider giving a ranger’s station in the area a call for updates on trail conditions and recommendations for your trip.
Nothing puts a damper on a hiking trip like a monstrous lug of a backpack.
Sure, it may add to the hiking aesthetic, but do you really want to be lugging around a giant sack for 15, 20, or 30 miles?
We didn’t think so.
Too much excess cargo just slows you down and chances are you don’t need half of it.
So, what should you bring on your hike?
This is a good opportunity to keep things nice and simple. That said, there are some items that should be considered essential, especially on longer, more challenging hikes.
As Franz Kafka said “Better to have, and not need, than to need, and not have.”
Essential Items to Bring on a Hiking Trip
- GPS or Other Navigation Tool: Even if you are simply using an old-school paper map, this is important if you don’t your terrain. If you’ve been hiking and find yourself crossing over intersecting loops – especially if you’re already getting worn out – this can be a horrible feeling. Having a device or tool to help remove the “guess work” is always a great idea.
- Food: Beef jerky, trail mix, or nutrition bars, nuts, and fresh fruit are all great options. You don’t want to get “stuffed” while you’re hiking, so eating food that won’t sit heavy on your stomach is the way to go. Spoiler: We’ll discuss this in more detail later.
- Rain Gear: If you plan on hiking in areas that are susceptible to downpours, make sure you have something to cover up with. A light poncho won’t take up too much space in your bag. They’re also fairly inexpensive, so cost shouldn’t be an issue.
- Water (or Other Sports Drinks): As we said above, this is almost a given. If you’re only going out for a mile or two, a simple bottle should do the trick (assuming you’re already well hydrated). Planning to go for longer? Throw in some extra bottles. Of all the supplies you can carry, some extra weight from water bottles is worth it. For longer trips, keep gallon jugs in your car, RV, or tent. Also, find out ahead of time where water sources are and if the water is safe to drink.
- Water Purifier: For longer hikes, a good water purifier may literally be a life saver. While you can opt for purifying tabs, high-end, single-step devices like the MSR Guardian Portable Water Purifier are worth their weight in gold. These devices are meant to purify any water type from anywhere in the world.
- First-Aid or Safety Kit: Injuries can happen in the wild. To ensure your own safety and the safety of others, you might want to consider investing in a quality first aid kit. The Adventure Medical Kits Sportsman 400 Medical First-Aid Kit is a perfect option for folks who are going to be spending a lot of time on challenging, remote trails. For the more casual trail goer, the Bass Pro Shops Day Hiker First Aid Kit is great for shorter trips.
- Multi-Tool: You never know when you’ll need a knife, scissors, pliers, wire cutters, tweezers, or a flathead screwdriver. Luckily, many popular multi-tools (like the Gerber Dime Pocket Multi-Tool) come fully equipped with all these features at an affordable price.
- Sun Screen: Even if you are hiking in heavily wooded areas, the sun’s rays will find you. Be sure to protect your skin with adequate SPF protection.
- Polarized Sunglasses: It isn’t just your skin that needs protection. Make sure to protect your eyes as well. We recommend checking out some of these polarized sunglasses if you’re hitting the trail, the water, a music festival, or really any outdoors activity.
- Bug Spray and Insect Repellent: You don’t want to get eaten by large predators while you’re out hiking. Likewise, you won’t want to be eaten by bugs, either. Be sure to stock up on some of the best bug sprays and insect repellents before going out. This is especially important if you’re going to be hiking woods, forests, swampy areas, or any other insect havens.
- Hats: Even if you don’t plan on wearing one, you may eventually find yourself wanting that added layer of protection. A lightweight cap or fishing/bucket hat usually does the trick. Even a nice bandana goes a long way. If you’ve got a shaved head, make this a top priority.
- The Right Shoes: I did a fourteen mile hike once in $10 tennis shoes from Wal-Mart. The result? I had a giant blister on the sole of my foot for the next two weeks. Needless to say, I never hiked in cheap athletic shoes again. Picking up a nice boot from brands like Columbia, Zamberland, Keen, Merrell, or even RedHead will be worth the investment.
If you’re still struggling to determine what to pack and what to leave at home, consider laying out all of the items on your floor. Start packing those listed above.
If you still have room and your pack is light, then look at the non-essential items. Start eliminating things you won’t need. Vanity items like make-up, jewelry, or other styling products should pack separately.
Bring Smart Food
No, this doesn’t mean food that you can control with your smartphone! We’ll get there someday, but let’s keep it simple for now.
For your hiking trip, pack food that is full of calories and nutrients. Lightweight and easy to carry foods like trail mix, mixed nuts, energy bars, jerky, and dried fruit are great options.
For longer trips, consider tuna pouches, ramen, oatmeal packets, fruit, vegetable puree pouches and MRE’s (Meals Ready to Eat). Wise Company Freeze-Dried Entree Meal Kit is an excellent option for flavor and convenience.
The general recommendation is to consume 200-300 calories per hour during shorter trips.
For longer trips, aim for 2,500-4,000 calories per person per day. Keep in mind your calorie intake requirements will differ depending on hike intensity, weather, weight, sex, and age.
Tracking your movement with a smartwatch or fitness tracker is a great way to get an idea of how many calories you are burning on a daily basis and when exercising, so you can plan accordingly.
Know Your Limits
This is something to keep in mind for both beginning hikers and more experienced trailblazers.
You may be comfortable with the idea of walking 2 miles. Unless you’ve hiked those miles on an uphill trail, with a full pack, however, it might be a good to ease into longer hikes.
Also, keep this in mind: Just because you were able to backpack long distances twenty years ago, it doesn’t mean you are physically ready to do so today.
Planning a 3-day hiking trip with 1,500 feet in elevation gain is not where you want to start out if you are a beginning (or lapsed) hiker.
Instead, try high trafficked, less strenuous hikes in your area to get a feel for what you can do and work up from there.
Be honest with yourself and your capabilities and if you need to, plan extra time in advance of your hiking trip to train.
Focusing on cardio, leg strength and balance for approximately 8 weeks leading up to your trip will really help improve your endurance. It can also play a huge role in ensuring your safety.
Wear High Quality Hiking Boots and Shoes
If there is a hiking product worth splurging on, it’s quality hiking shoes – and socks for that matter.
Blisters, sore feet and rolled ankles are seriously inconvenient when you are on the trail and can slow you down considerably.
Ultimately, the hiking boot or shoe you choose will come down to personal preference. If you’re the type who likes a heavier, weighted, higher-fitting design, you might opt with a traditional boot. These can pay dividends if you are hiking more rough or rugged terrain.
For more casual hikes on trails with flatter, regularly maintained trails, a lower-cut shoe could be a better option. Not only will this shoe be lighter, but many hikers often find them more comfortable.
Also, once you choose your shoes, make sure to wear them often. Ideally, break them in for a couple weeks before you go hiking.
A good pair of hiking boots or shoes should help prevent blisters. Pairing with a nice wool or synthetic blend hiking sock will also add a layer of cushioning.