Whether you’re making a single day trek or planning on staying out for several days, a little hiking trip preparation can make all the difference between pain and agony, or pure joy of a successful adventure.
The basic rule is to anticipate potential challenges: hunger and thirst; beating sun or pouring rain; pesky bugs or vermin; and darkness, detours, or injury. There’s no need to expect the worst, but hiking is best enjoyed when there are minimal surprises.
The first step is to read up on the trails you’re tackling. Plan to start with shorter days before setting off on a six or eight hour hike. Especially if your terrain is at altitude, allow for some lighter days to adjust to the height, climate and type of trails.
Your feet will do the walking, so they deserve good shoes and socks and time to break them in. Put some miles on those new trail shoes or hiking boots before hitting the trails. Test your shoes with different thicknesses of socks, with and without any orthotics, toe separators or cushioning devices you might use.
Practice distance walking and climbs. Make sure you’re in decent physical shape by walking daily before your hiking trip. I’d recommend walks of at least an hour for at least a few weeks before you tackle a five-hour hike on day one of your trip. Add on hills or stairs to challenge your hiking trip preparation. Maybe carry a pack on your walk to practice hiking with the extra weight and try some tougher terrain with walking sticks to start feeling comfortable with the equipment. Some practice is better than none. Get some walking in ahead of time.
Remind yourself you’re not in the city anymore. Parks and wilderness, no matter how highly managed, are a different matter, requiring different skills.
Essentials for Wilderness Day Hikes
Here’s a list of essentials we include for day hikes of any length—unless it’s a walk around the block in the city. All of this will fit into a little daypack that can be at the ready inside your larger luggage or car.
- Water – Hands free water bladders are a luxury and prompt us to drink more. Depending on the heat and exertion level, take 2 to 3 liters for the day, and remember as you’re packing that a liter of water weighs 2.2 pounds (a kilo).
- Walking Sticks – Even if you don’t think you’ll use them, don’t leave them in the car. They can easily be strapped to the outside of your pack, just in case the terrain or conditions gets tougher than you expect.
- Bug Spray – Depending on where you’re hiking, you might also want to bring bear spray or a whistle.
- A Good Knife
- A Blister Kit – You can repair blisters instead of proceeding in pain. Pack a needle and alcohol swabs to pop the blister, antibiotic ointment to prevent infection, a Band-Aid to cover it, sports tape to hold the bandage on and powder to eliminate friction against the taped blister.
- First Aid Kit – Besides the blister kit, our first aid kit includes a bandana, Band-Aids and an ACE bandage or ankle/knee wrap. Foot powder is also handy for other chafed areas. Benadryl or EpiPens are important items for your first aid kit if you’re prone to allergic reactions.
- An Extra Pair of Socks – Changing to dry clean socks mid day is the best advice we can offer. Powder your sweaty feet when you make the change.
- A Wide-brimmed Hat – Chances are there will be sun or rain.
- Headlamp or Flashlight – It gets dark fast in the woods.
- Energy bars – Even if we’re packing sandwiches or snacks, we include some bars to keep us stable.
- Maps – And compass if appropriate.
- A small camera – Even an iPhone camera will suffice.
Extended Day Hiking
We’ve taken multi-day hikes in Patagonia, the Guatemalan jungle and all the way across Spain. Luckily, in the jungle, we had pack animals to carry the really heavy stuff such as the tents and food. In the case of Spain and Patagonia, we had rudimentary inns to stay in at night. When your journey involves several days of hiking like this, the clothing you pack becomes more important because the weather can change quickly. Just be sure you know how much each item weighs, and practice packing and carrying your fully loaded backpack.
Over the long haul, we recommend packing these additional clothing items.
- Bringing a second pair of hiking shoes is definitely worth the extra weight. For best care of your feet, alternate days between your shoes so you always have a dry pair. Choose trail shoes or hiking boots depending on the difficulty of the terrain.
- Even though you’re hiking, pack flip-flops or shower sandals. Now you can allow your feet to air out in the evening and have something easy to slip on for nighttime visits to the “facilities.”
- For your basic clothing pack two pairs of shorts, pants, shirts and at least four pairs of socks. This is plenty, if you have a place to rinse everything out at night.
- Bring one polar fleece layer and/or SmartWool layer.
- Stocking cap, gloves, scarf are hiking trip essentials. Even in warm climates, plan for changes in altitude, wind and weather. Gloves come in handy anytime you’re climbing or crab walking on rocky terrain. Also, scarves are the ultimate thermostat adjustor or versatile head covering.
- Bring a rain jacket which doubles as a tarp and, with all the layers mentioned above, will provide wind protection.
- Depending on what electronics you’re carrying, don’t forget extra batteries, extra storage cards and maybe a solar or kinetic charger.
Finally, the best advice we can give is stop walking and stand still before gazing up into the amazing scenery surrounding you. Keep in mind the trail is uneven, and you’re just one sprained ankle—or worse—away from the end of your trip. There’s always time to pause to take in the landscape. That is, after all, the point.
Kristin Henning blogs about her travels at www.travelpast50.com. She and her husband, Tom Bartel, have been to 55 countries in the past five years and have hiked over 1000 miles in that time. They have the blisters to prove it.