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How to Be Prepared for a Hike

Have you always wanted to experience the great outdoors, but are afraid that you will be caught unprepared? Read on to find out how to be prepared for a hike.


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    Enlist a friend to hike with you: someone who likes hiking and is good company is a good choice.
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    Choose where to hike. Consider the following when choosing: natural views and landscape, accessibility, the availability of marked hiking trails, the length of the hike based on your personal experience and ability. Consider the terrain of the area as well. Hills and mountains are beautiful but even a short steep hike can be too challenging.
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    Pack plenty of water. Even if you plan to hike for just a couple of hours, you do not want to run the risk of becoming dehydrated. Plan 1 L per person per hour of hiking.
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    Wear supportive, closed footwear and comfortable socks. Hiking boots are best. If you do not have boots, wear comfortable shoes with thick supportive soles. Make sure to take an extra pair of socks as well, particularly if you are going on a longer hike.
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    Wear comfortable clothes in layers that you can remove or add as needed. If you are hiking in an area where the weather is changeable, pack rain gear.
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    Wear a hat and sunscreen. Pack additional sunscreen.
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    Somewhere along the trail you will probably get hungry, so you should pack something like GORP (Good Old Raisins and Peanuts). GORP doesn't have to be raisins and peanuts. Cherries, almonds, M&Ms, walnuts, cranberries, and peanut butter chips are all good. Anything non-perishable and bite-sized will do. If you are eating a meal on the trail, pack light, and as spill-free as possible. Sandwiches, bite-sized vegetables, beef sticks, fruit leather, and apples are also good trail food. Pack a small bag to contain any trash that you make. Do not leave any trash on the trail.
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    If you are going somewhere with steep, rocky slopes, then fingerless gloves are a good thing to have on you. Normal work-gloves are good too. Hiking or walking sticks are also helpful for getting up a steep slopes, particularly if you carry a heavy pack or do not have good balance.
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    Let someone know that you are hiking, where, and how long you expect to hike. Tell them you will check in with them when you return. Then check in with that person when you return. Just in case anything goes wrong (for example, you get lost), that person will know where to look for you, or know to contact help if you do not return as expected.
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    Pack a cell phone. [Be aware that in many hiking areas, there is no cell coverage -- check your provider's coverage map.]
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    Pack basic first aid supplies, including bandages, moleskin, tweezers, and antiseptic wipes.
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    Pack your camera.
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    Make sure you are conditioned for long hikes. For example, if you are going on a 9-mile hike, try a 5-mile hike a week or two before, carrying the same gear on your back that you will have for the 9-mile. This gives you time to get comfortable with your bag, and to fix any weight-distribution problems in your packing, and also time to find a comfortable strap adjustment.


  • Always pack enough water! If you hike a lot, invest in a few bottles for water.
  • Although no doubt more people are stricken by lack of water in summer, and appropriate clothing in winter, the traditional safety items to carry are a whistle, map, compass (GPS), flashlight and matches. It is probably good that kids carry a whistle should they wander from the group (but parents it's your responsibility to see that your kids are well managed).
  • Remember the golden rule of hiking: Take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints.
  • In warm weather, start as early as possible.
  • Always hike with a buddy!
  • Only pack as much as you need.
  • You really don't need to buy equipment for a day hike, unless you don't have a day pack around and need to carry extra clothing (winter/rainy season), snacks and water. For beginner's day hikes (in spring though fall), sneakers are fine if worn with thick socks. Empty plastic bottles are suitable for water, some apples or oranges and chocolate or nuts do quite well for snacks. Once you are beyond beginner's stage, you'll know what you want or need. For a pleasant end to a hike, leave a few snacks and drinks in the car or hidden at the trail head if you don't arrive by car.
  • A sturdy backpack with a stomach strap is good to carry everything in.
  • There are now good hike descriptions to be found on the web for many parts of the country (even world); and of course there are regional hike books available in stores or your library. Don't use the lack of a car as an excuse not to hike: most areas have hiking paths in large parks, along trails from rail conversions, or at their fringes--all available by public transportation.
  • If you are new to hiking, look for free or low cost group hikes offered by local hiking clubs, park rangers, or local land- or nature-conservation groups. In California, check out Coast Walk, a coastal hiking advocacy group, or across the U.S., the Sierra Club; both offer public hikes.
  • Most 8-year-olds who are fit (play sports) can hike 5–6 miles (8.0–9.7 km) with no trouble. If a second child is along, it will help with the motivation. Of course, if you haven't walked much with your children, starting with hikes of 1–2 miles (1.6–3.2 km) is a good idea. Take along raisins, M&Ms, etc. as bribes to dole out each hour for younger children.
  • Individual water needs vary, and determining your need is as much a part of getting ready for a hike as getting fit. A liter an hour is probably a high limit for a fast walker on a very hot day. Considering a liter weighs more than 2 pounds, few hikers would carry 5 liters (1.3 US gal) for a 5 hour or 10 mile (16 km) hike unless they really had to.
  • A reasonably fit person will hike about 2 mph (3.2 km/h) over varied terrain; add 5-10 min per hour for rest (or photos), and 1/2 to 1 hour for lunch. By comparison, a moderately fast paced walk on a smooth, level path or sidewalk is 3 mph (4.8 km/h) or 20 min per mile. Use this to plan your hikes.

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Categories: Backpacking and Hiking