Hiking 101: Getting ready to hit the trails
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.
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.
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.