Some people are really good at planning when they go hiking, and others just jump into the car and go. While I do love to be spontaneous, I have learned over time that proper planning will result in a much more enjoyable hike. Whether you go hiking for a day, or on a multi-day trek, proper planning is one of the most important aspects of your adventure!
Step 1: Choose Wisely
Choosing the area you hike in is always the first step, because it will determine what you bring with you, how long you go for, etc… I try and go hiking almost every weekend, and by Sunday night, my mind is racing with ideas for where I want to go hiking next week. When you are picking your hiking trails, be sure to choose ones that match your skill level, as well as the skill level of those who will be hiking with you. You don’t want to ruin somebody else’s love of the activity by taking them on a trail beyond the difficulty that they can handle.
Step 2: Research, Research, Research
Hiking is all about adventure and exploration, so tackling new trails in unfamiliar areas is highly encouraged in our sport. Because you will be exploring new areas however, it is crucial to do a proper amount of research before you go. Start by going to the website of the national/regional park or the preserve you will be hiking in. These sites usually give detailed information about the hiking area, the length and difficulty of the trails, and extremely important information about potential risks such as bear warnings, eroded trails, or avalanche watches.
I also check to see if I can find reviews online about the trail I want to take- if other hikers have been there before and weren’t impressed by the hike, I choose something else. You can also find great information from other hikers on the conditions of the trail, what you will need to bring with you, and all of the great sights you will see. One time I was saved by one of these reviews when it advised to go really early to avoid large crowds. I was lucky I read this. I had a much more enjoyable hike because of it, and as I saw the large crowds piling onto the trail as I was leaving, I had a huge grin on my face.
Step 3: Dress to Impress
Once you know a little bit about the area, you can easily prepare the gear you will need for your hike. Planning what gear you bring is essential- you don’t want to bring too much and be weighted down unnecessarily, but you definitely don’t want to be caught without something you need. There are definitely some standard items you should always bring such as a first aid kit, a survival kit, and a map of the area.
Other items will be based on the hike itself such as extra layers of clothing, the amount of water you will need per person, and whether or not you will bring snacks (be sure to bring packaged food for proper animal safety). Check the weather forecast and base your gear on it, but don’t rely on it completely- be prepared for unexpected weather, especially in mountain environments.
Step 4: The Final Countdown
An important safety step before you go is to let somebody you trust know when you will be going hiking, where you will be going, and when you expect to be back. This is especially important if you are hiking alone (not recommended, but some people do prefer it). The day I go, or the day before, I also like to check in with the information center of the park I’m hiking in if it has one. The staff at these centers can give you up to date trail information right before you go hiking. A phone call to trail administrators would also suffice.
Step 5: Step Off, and Happy Trails
When you arrive at your hiking site, take your time getting your gear together and making sure you have everything. Apply your sunscreen and insect repellent, and even stretch a bit if you want. When I get to a hike, I am really excited to get moving, but I force myself to take my time leaving so that I don’t leave anything behind. Knowing you are prepared for any situation is a great feeling, and you can enjoy your hike to its fullest.
I hope this steps will help your with planning your hikes, and please let us know in the comments section below if YOU take any other steps in preparations to go hiking!