As an avid hiker and trail runner I take a lot of what I’ve learned over the years for granted. Knowing what’s needed for a hike based on the distance, elevation of the area, elevation gain, and weather has become second nature. But the truth is, most of what I know has been learned through trial and error. AKA screwing up and learning the hard way. So when my non hiking girlfriend and I started planning a trip to the Dolomites in Italy, I realized she had a lot of the same questions I had when I started. So what better way to help her and others by putting together a quick guide on how to start hiking the right way. With the info everyone should know before hitting the trails along with where to get it.
How to Start Hiking the Right Way – What to Know Before You Go
Below I’m going to go over the best ways to prepare and complete a successful hike. It doesn’t matter if it’s a ½ mile or 100 mile hike. These are the basics that will keep you safe when out hiking.
Do Your Research
There are few important things you need to know before going on any hike:
- How long is the hike?
- How much elevation gain and descent the hike have?
- What is the terrain of the hike? (Is it dessert, forest, mountains)
- What are the predicted weather conditions for when you are hiking?
- What has been the weather leading up to your hike?
- Is the area prone to spontaneous weather?
- Is there any wildlife or vegetation you should be aware of?
I know this sounds like a lot of information, but I’m going to show you how to find this info quickly and easily on just a few websites. And believe, this can be the difference between a great hike and a really bad time.
First, check alltrails.com for the information on the trail you are doing. They have almost every regularly used trail along with user comments. Simply googl the name of the trail you are doing and add “alltrails” after it. And it should pull up the link. This will give you the distance, elevation gain, elevation, and comments providing tips on terrain and wildlife.
Second, google weather for the area you are hiking. This should give you a good isea of what to expect the day of your hike. It’s also advised to check the 10 day forecast leading up to your hike. This will give you info on the current trail conditions. Like if it rains for 3 days before your hike, then the trail will most likely be muddy. And any water crossing will be running high.
Have The Right Gear
There are few basics that every hiker should know when heading out. I’ll cover the basics for a shorter hike, and go over a few extras for once you start going up in distance. Also adding in gear that should be conifers based on weather. Referring back to your research.
- Get the right footwear.
- Have the right clothing layers for the weather.
- Pack your emergency kit.
- How much water are you bringing?
- How much food are you bringing?
One of the most important parts of any hike is having the right clothing and footwear. On your feet you are going to want closed toe shoes with proper traction for the environment. Meaning if it’s going to be wet and muddy, you will want something with more traction. On top, you want to make sure you have the right layers for any weather you might face. Comfort is key, but I would recommend against cotton anything if possible. Keep a packable windbreaker and rain poncho can go a long way to keeping you warm in a quick moving storm.
Along with the right clothes and shoes, every hiker should have an emergency kit. You can pick one of these up online, or put together one yourself. I’d recommend having an emergency blanket, a whistle, a life straw or some sort of water filter, a few large zip ties, a small super glue and an ankle wrap. With this combo you can fix / get your you or someone out of a tight situation if needed. Remember super glue was invented to close open wounds during war. So it will close many small to medium cuts really well.
Next you need to think about how much water you think you will need. Then make sure you are carrying or will have access to more than that. Water is one of the most important things to have when hiking. Never underestimate dehydration. After water is food. No matter how far you are hiking, make you have enough food plus an emergency just in case. Packing an extra snack bar alone can keep you going and thinking straight for hours.
Review Before You Hike
If you have followed the previous steps, then you should be in great shape to head out on your hike. With only a few things to do before you go.
- Review the route & take a photo or screenshot of the map.
- Know the trail marking / blazes.
- Let someone know your plans, and leave a note with your planned hike and return time in the car.
Before you actually hit the trail it’s a great idea to review a trail map of the area you will be hiking. This should let you know if there are any trail splits, roads, or any other unexpected trunks that might show up while out hiking. Having an idea of the trail’s route before you go can save a lot of headache once you’re out there. A tip is to also take a photo or screenshot of the trail map. This will help you if you get lost and find yourself without cell service.
Next you’re going to want to review the local trail marking for where you will be biking. These are used in the forms of signs or blazes. A “blaze” is typically a colored paint stripe located in a tree, letting you know you are on the right trail. These are typically color coded to a trail. So knowing which blazes to follow will help keep you from getting lost.
Lately and one of the few tricks that can save you if something does go wrong is making sure you let some one know your plans before you go. And leaving a note in your car with your hiking trip details on it. Now this SHOULD NOT be visible from inside the car. You don’t want people walking by to know your schedule. So on a piece of paper write the trail you will be doing, the amount of people in your party, when you left and expect to return. Then fold the paper so the details can not be seen, and place it on your driver’s seat when you leave. Now if anything does happen or your car is there for longer than a day, potential rescuers will have a ton of helpful info to start their search.
Conclusion – How to Start Hiking the Right Way
Now I know some people will consider this list overkill. But every year hundreds of rescue operations are performed to save hikers who are wearing sandals and have hurt themselves, run out of water in the middle of summer, or who have taken a wrong turn on a well marked trail. All of which could have been avoided with a little forethought and planning.
Taking these steps on how to start hiking the right way as a beginner will also create the habit for when you start exploring more technical and less populated trails. Mother nature is incredibly beautiful, but incredibly unpredictable and dangerous when she wants to be. So the best thing we can do is give her the respect she deserves by putting the time and effort into completing a safe hike.
If you have any questions or feel I left anything out, please let me know in the comments below!