So the weather has started turning warmer, and you’re at school or work, and you overhear someone say “I went on this awesome hike last Saturday! The views were awesome! Man, it was beautiful!” Sounds good, right? So you ask your classmate where he went, and you plan a trip out there yourself. But, instead of a wonderful experience with mother nature, you end up coming home with sore feet, heat exhaustion, and a bad case of poison oak! Woah! This was supposed to be a fun hike, not a disaster! So, what happened?
Well, it sounds like you weren’t prepared! You went hiking in an area you weren’t familiar with and you didn’t prepare properly for it. The person who was describing the hike obviously knew the area and had hiking experience, so he or she knew what to do. After reading this article, you’ll know what to do too.
How to prepare for your hike
Here are the types of questions you need to answer before you leave to go on your hike. What is the landscape like? Is it a forest? Is it a rocky area? Does the area have well defined, maintained paths? Is the hike fairly level, or does it encompass steep terrain? What is the weather forecast for that area on the day I want to go hiking there? Are the trails marked and easy to follow? Is this hike a short hike, or am I going to be on this hike for a good chunk of the day? Will I need to bring extra food and water?
Once you’ve asked yourself these questions you can start preparing for your hike. For instance, if you are hiking in a forest, find out if the trails are well maintained. In state and federal parks the trails are usually maintained and taken care of, whereas many paths in more rustic wilderness areas often are not. This is important to know because trails that are not well maintained can become dangerous. Rocks and fallen branches on a hiking trail can make it difficult to maintain your footing, or can cause hazards to you if someone hiking on the trail above you accidentally slips on a rock, which then tumbles down the slope towards you!
Also, you need to watch out for other hazards, such as poison ivy, poison oak, or poison sumac (if you’re not sure what these plants look like, do a Google search for them). In more rustic wilderness areas, these plants can be just about everywhere. This is why wearing shorts on a hike is not always the best solution. Brushing up against little poison oak bush may not seem like it should do much. But trust me – it can, and does! If you’re going to such an area, consider wearing some long pants, or at the very least wear high top boots or long socks which will at least protect your lower legs.
If you’re hiking in a more rocky type of terrain, one thing you want to be sure to do is wear some good, sturdy hiking boots with tough, thick soles. I know you like wearing your athletic shoes for day to day types of stuff, and why not? They’re comfortable, and for normal day to day activities or for exercising like running and jogging they’re all you really need. But if you wear those trusty athletic shoes on a rough, rocky hiking trails, the soles of your feet will feel every rock your step on. And after a full day of hiking with athletic shoes, you’re going to have some very sore feet! This is where your hiking boots come in. The thick soles will protect the bottoms of your feet from all those nasty rocks, and in addition they’ll support your ankles, which is especially important if the unthinkable happens and you do happen to slip and fall. You don’t need a broken ankle when you’re 3 hours hiking distance from your car!
If you are going on a really long hike, and you’re not sure how long it will take or how late you’ll be getting back, pack a small flashlight in case you don’t get back before darkness sets in. I once went on an all day hike thinking I had left early enough to get back to my campsite well before darkness. Wrong! My hike took me longer than I thought, and I ended up having to do the last 2 hours of it in almost total darkness! Fortunately, the trail I was on was well maintained, but it still was very unnerving for me to not be able to see what I was stepping on, or what was immediately in front of me. For me, this was definitely a lesson well learned!
Be sure you bring plenty of water and food to last you through your hike. I recommend wearing a hikers fanny pack which can fit a water bottle or two. Even if you think the hike is going to be quick, bring the water anyway. You might end up hiking up some steep terrain, or you may come across some additional paths you want to explore. Also, I’d recommend bringing some high energy snacks, or if you’re going to be hiking for a good deal of the day, pack yourself a good lunch. For me, I like bringing food such as hard boiled eggs, along with a turkey sandwich, and some fruit like orange slices or a couple of apples. I’ll also bring along some beef jerky or MRE meals if I have enough room. Your body uses a lot of water and calories while your hiking, and this needs to be replenished, so be sure you bring enough with you (I always try to bring a little more food and water than I think I’ll need in case my hike goes longer than expected).
Lastly, here are a few things which sort of fall into the “optional” category.
If you’re going to be hiking out in the open, such as a desert area rather than a heavily forested area, I really recommend bringing a sunhat, sunglasses, and suntan lotion. If it’s an area with a lot of streams, lakes, or standing water, bring some mosquito repellent. I also recommend you exercise and get into shape before going on your hike, especially if you know the physical demands of the hike are going to be challenging. You will have a much better time and will be able to go a lot further if you can squeeze in a few weeks on the treadmill or walking uphill in preparation. If you are in a remote area, check with the local forest service or ranger station and let them know where you plan on hiking and if they have any recommendations for you. Sometimes they will know about rockslide hazards, or if a particular trail you plan on driving three hours to get to is closed.