6 Ways to Prepare for a Hike

Summer is perfect hiking season for many of our nation’s gorgeous trails and national parks. The sun is out, which usually means you don’t have to focus on staying warm, and the longer days gives us plenty of time to get to the summit and back home again before nightfall.

If you’re a beginner hiker, or whether you’ve been hiking plenty of times before and are tackling your first tough trail, it really pays to plan ahead. As mountaineer Ed Viesturs once said, “getting to the summit is optional but getting down is mandatory.” No one ever wants to turn around before you reach the summit or the end of the trail, but conditions in the wilderness can turn on a dime and being prepared is the only way that you can ensure not only an enjoyable hike, but one that’s safe for all involved.

As you start to daydream about your upcoming summer trekking adventure, here are some tips to help you prepare.

Get into shape

When you’re planning a hiking or backpacking trip, the first thing you should do after deciding where you want to go is build up the physical skills necessary to tackle that particular challenge.

Two of the most common trekking injuries are rolled and sprained ankles. These might seem like minor injuries, but if they happen miles from the anybody that can help, it can become a life or death situation fast.

You can avoid these types of injuries by intentionally strengthening your knees and ankles, as well as building core strength, which will help you keep your balance as you traverse rough terrain. Running or walking, especially in sand, will help you build up key leg and ankle muscles. Practice carrying the weight you’ll need to carry, then do a few step-ups on to a chair or park bench. Lunges, resistance band workouts, and leg curls are also great pre-hiking exercises.

Research the trail

After you’ve started your training, the next step is to learn everything you can about your hiking trail. While the Internet is always an invaluable resource, another great way to get personalized advice is to join the local hiking club. You’ll meet plenty of like-minded people who may have hiked that exact trail recently and have more updated information on current conditions. While there have been many guides written on almost every hiking trail in the world, these published books often don’t have the most updated information, such as recent weather-related conditions and changes in terrain.

Trekking for three days to find a critical bridge or path washed away is something that’s possible if you don’t have the most up-to-date information.

Make a plan to tackle the hike

Once you’ve figured out the best plan of attack for your chosen trail, the next step is to create your own plan for how much you’d like to hike in a day, where you’re going to sleep, what you’re going to eat, and how long you plan to be out. Once you’ve determined how long you’re going to be on the trail, you can start drawing up a meal plan, purchasing food, and buying enough gear to get you through. This is also the time when you should be booking any necessary accommodations and permits.

Share your trip plan with family or a trusted friend

Once you’ve come up with a plan for your hiking trip, it’s extremely important to share it with family and friends, so they know where you’ll be and when to expect you home. Your plan should include the names and contact info of whoever you’re traveling with, a detailed plan of where you’ll be hiking on which day, what equipment you have with you, and where you’re planning on staying each night. If anything happens to you on the trail, this plan will be integral for helping emergency personnel locate your party.

You should check in with friends and family as much as you can along the way, but you may be out of range of cell service. Even if you do have cell service, ensure that you sign in at every trail registry since it’s the first place a rescue party would check.

Wear and carry the right gear

In all hikes other than the most sedate of walks in the park, gear becomes extremely important.

One of the most crucial pieces of gear that you can buy for a hiking trip is a good pair of shoes. They should be sturdy but not too heavy, and offer plenty of support, ventilation, and protection from the elements. Wool socks may seem like a recipe for sweaty toes, but wool is actually excellent at wicking moisture away when you get hot. Technical hiking clothing is useful, but woolens are always a safe and inexpensive choice. Cotton may seem light and breathable, but as soon as it gets wet, it will chafe and lose all its thermal properties. Rain gear is an absolute must. You should also have a hiking backpack, and you may want to use walking poles, especially if you’re heading into a rocky area.

Bring the right food and plenty of water

If you’re out in the wild for a few days, it may seem like a good idea to just pack granola bars and energy drinks, but realistically, you’ll need lots of protein if you want to make it to the end of the trail.

Dehydrated foods, fruit or veggie puree in pouches, canned fish, and cereal are all great options for a multi-day hike. If you’re just going out for the day, good quality energy bars, meat jerky, dried fruit, and nuts are all great snacks to pack. If you plan on cooking anything, think about what utensils and tools you’ll need to cook outside. You’ll also need to carry enough water — a good rule of thumb is two cups for every hour of hiking.

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