Many of us outdoorspeople want to get away on multi-day hiking trips, but it’s not realistic for the average working person to do that all the time. We might have a free day, or two days if we are lucky. Maybe we only have a few hours to spare. This is what day hiking is for!
It’s only a day hike, right?
The detail of your planning will vary based on the length and ferocity of the hike you plan to take, and the current weather in your hiking spot. I live in Wisconsin and hike year ‘round. Although the weather here is unpredictable, we are pretty accustomed to it. In fact, Milwaukee made Weather Bug’s top 10 list of cities with the most unpredictable weather in the United States. Needless to say, I am careful to pack based on my knowledge that I have no knowledge of what weather today might bring!
You are most likely familiar with the weather patterns in your hometown, so you’d probably feel comfortable planning a hike there. If you’re not hiking in an area you know very well, I suggest doing a bit more planning. Either way, it’s smart to be prepared.
But, how should I prepare?
It can be a pain in the butt finding a hiking route online, and then finding the correct directions to that location. I would suggest familiarizing yourself with local hiking guides, and of course with your state’s Department of Natural Resources website.
- Plan your route:
I’ve learned that the easiest way to find a hiking trail, is to type “hiking trails nearby” into your favorite search engine. If you are having trouble, feel free email me for help. Here are a few hiking guides I found:
2. Check the weather:
As much as you think you know what weather the day will bring, it’s best to check. The temperature could drop in the early evening, or there might be some rain in the afternoon. In any case, you’ll need the proper clothing with you. It might be as simple as a hat for sun protection, a rain jacket to help you stay dry, or a pair of gloves to protect your fingers from bitter cold. I always err on the side of over-preparedness.
Here is a well-researched article about hiking safety, by Near Field Communication Tags.
3. Dress smart:
My two pieces of advice are to dress in layers and to steer away from anything made of cotton. This tip goes hand-in-hand with preparing for the weather. Just build onto your layers, as needed.
Start with a “base” layer. Something synthetic, like a lightweight, quick-dry athletic shirt is great for a base layer. On top of that, you’ll need an “insulation” layer. A basic fleece or a wool sweater would be perfect! Lastly, you’ll need a “shell” layer. This layer will protect you from rain, wind, and snow, so a rain jacket or a winter coat would be good shells.
For details from the experts, read this REI article on layering clothing for outdoor activities.
4. Protect your feet:
By “protect” I mean to shelter them from the harm of blisters, ankle rolling, lack of support, and even severe weather conditions. The best way to do that is to wear good quality hiking boots, trail runners, or some supportive athletic shoes.
Read Gorp’s 10 Easy Steps to Happy Hiking Feet to find out more about how to care for your feet, while hiking.
5. Think about hydration:
Whether it’s hot or cold, you’ll be burning calories while hiking. This means you need to stay hydrated. Always have some water with you.
The Hiking Life blog suggests that you should be drinking at least one liter of water when you are hiking in extreme heat and humidity, or in higher altitudes. In milder conditions, at lower altitudes, the Hiking Life recommends half a liter.
6. Stock up on snacks:
It’s amazing how ravenous you get while you’re hiking! Personally, I don’t need to be exercising to crave food, but I will say that the cravings become extra intense on the trail!
While hiking, the same rules apply to food preparedness as they do to water preparedness. You will be burning calories on that hike, and you will need to replenish them. Snacks are vital!
Everyone’s got their own energy snack secrets. Buzzfeed’s Christine Byrne has a well-rounded and mouth-watering list of healthy, homemade hiking foods. The recipe for curry and Sriracha roasted chickpeas sounds especially delicious!
My personal hiking munchies usually consist of anything from trail mix to granola bars. I focus on keeping my snacks lightweight, energy-rich, and calorie dense. Depending on the length and intensity of the hike, I might bring a small stash of carrot sticks or apple slices. If I’m planning to really blow through some miles, I will bring some sort of a sandwich. I’ve found that even something as simple as a cucumber hoagie with avocado spread is so refreshing at the peak of an intense hike!
However, there is nothing like the well-deserved, post-hike meal and carbonated beverage combo. I have devoured some of my favorite meals just after a long hike! This might be the perfect reason to keep to snacking on the hike, and save the gorging for after.
7. Pack the essentials:
There may be other things on your basic day hiking pack list, but no matter the hike, you should have certain items in your pack. The Backpacking-Guide.com has a great article about the simple items to pack for a hike. This website and many other hikers and campers refer to the basic survival gear list as “The 10 Essentials”:
- Extra clothing
- Fire-making materials
- First aid kit
- Sun protection
Even on my shortest hikes, I carry all but one item on this list. The one thing I don’t typically carry is a map. I usually use my phone as a map. I will freely admit, relying solely on a cell phone for navigation is a silly mistake. They aren’t 100 percent reliable. Carrying a map is a simple and reliable navigation method.
If you would like to learn how to read a map, check out “How to Read a Topographic Map” by How Stuff Works.
*Further reading: REI article with the updated “10 Essentials”. The new list contains categories of essentials, instead of individual items.
8. Spread the word:
Tell someone where you will be hiking! This is so important. Whether you tell a family member or a friend, at least one person should know where you will be going. Anything can happen, and you are much safer when people know where you are.
Every time I head out on a hike, I text my mom with information about where I will be hiking. It’s such a simple thing and, as simple as it is, it could save your life if anything were to happen.
These are only some of the things you can do to prepare for a day hike. Like I mentioned earlier, planning depends on many variables. Take a look at Section Hiker’s “How to Plan a Day Hike” for more ideas.
Here are some more great hiking articles:
Boots vs. Shoes: Outdoors with Dave has an article with pros and cons of each style of hiking ware, and the locations/terrains where each type of shoe would be most appropriate.
Winter hiking: Taking care of your feet, staying hydrated, and replacing burned calories are a few of the tips that The Active Network offers in their winter hiking article.
Thunderstorms: The Hiking Dude has a fantastically-informative article about what to do if you are hiking and get caught in a storm.
Wildlife encounters: Here is About.com’s collection of articles on preparing for wildlife encounters.
Communication: Informative and thought-provoking article on communication devices and techniques.
Hiking tips: Familiar tips, different perspective.
Signaling for help: This article covers everything from signal fires to signal mirrors.
What are some things you do to prepare for your hikes?
Thanks to everyone for reading!
If you need me, I’m just Two Tents Down!