How to Prepare for a Hike

By Richard Corrigan; Updated August 11, 2017

Hiking 101: Getting ready to hit the trails

How to Prepare for a Hike

There may be no better way to reconnect with nature than packing a few essentials and taking off on the nearest trail. But starting a hiking trip unprepared can be a recipe for disaster. Before you head into the woods, make sure you're ready for what lies ahead.

Physical training

Going hiking, even for a short trip, is physically demanding, so it makes sense to be in good shape before strapping on your pack. Practicing yoga is great preparation for a hiking trip. It helps build agility and flexibility as well as strength. You can also use each hike as preparation for your next, more difficult hike. Start with a short, level trail, and gradually increase the length and difficulty until you're climbing mountains with ease.

Mental preparation

A hiking trip can be just as hard on your mind as it is on your body, especially if it's a long trip. An open mind and resilient attitude helps get past obstacles inevitably faced on the trail, and if you can strike a balance between careful planning and taking things as they come, you'll be in pretty good mental shape.

Getting ready for a longer hike

Long-distance backpacking brings an additional set of challenges. All the dangers – and benefits – of a day hike are multiplied. A longer trip creates an increased need for self reliance and the ability to adapt to changing conditions and unexpected challenges. You'll also need more gear, which means a heavier pack that requires being in better shape. Before going on a long hike, consider the following:

  • Are you physically and mentally up to the task?
  • Do you have the necessary gear and supplies?
  • Will you be able to obtain food and water along the way?
  • Have you planned your route carefully?
  • Where will you sleep?

High altitude considerations

Thinner air at high elevations creates another obstacle, but one that can be overcome. Before hiking a high-altitude trail like the Pacific Crest Trail or the Continental Divide Trail, practice on shorter, easier hikes that also involve high elevations. The only real way to prepare for a high-altitude hike is to hike at high altitude and gradually get acclimated to the conditions.

Before setting out

Whether hiking for a day or a month, preparation is crucial. Be sure to take these steps before hitting the trail:

  • Let someone know where you're going, and provide them with an approximate timeline.
  • Plan your route using a detailed trail map. Never rely on electronics alone for navigation.
  • Select the essential gear and a well-fitted backpack for carrying it.
  • Wear durable, comfortable hiking shoes. 
  • Bring clothing for any conditions you can reasonably expect to encounter. 
  • Choose a method for obtaining and purifying water from natural sources.
  • Pack enough high-energy food to get you through your trip. 

About the Author

Richard Corrigan has been a full-time professional writer since 2010. His areas of expertise include travel, sports and recreation, gardening, landscaping and the outdoors. He earned a Bachelor of Arts in English from SUNY Geneseo in 2009.