Setting out for the trails is an exciting, but humbling, experience -- you’re feeling good, relating to nature, and enduring a long trek to your final destination. Completing a thru-hike is one of the most rewarding achievements, so don’t let the pitfalls get you down. Hiking is no walk in the park. Here are the 10 best tips and practices for hiking.
1. Do Your Research
Make sure you research the area where you will be hiking so you know all the pros and cons by the time you start your trek. Become aware of the surroundings. Learn about poisonous plants and insects, and any other critters you might cross paths with while you’re out there. Translation: be prepared for everything. Anything can happen in the backcountry!
2. Make Your Hike a Priority and Train
Can’t stress this enough! Make your hike your number one priority, both on and off the trail. Training for your hike will make it easier for you when you’re making the big trek. Trust us, your body, feet, and mind will thank us later! Check out our 10-week training program for long hikes for some guidance to get started.
3. Be Positive, Find Success and Avoid Pitfalls
Hiking not only takes a physical toll on the body but a mental one as well. Believe it or not, many people quit before the summit on thru-hikes for a number of reasons. The most common being unrealistic expectations, mental fatigue, time, physical injury or sickness, or family and other obligations. So dig deep, be positive, and find success. Set a realistic goal for yourself on a relatively flexible schedule so you don’t quit. Remember, completing a hike is one of the most rewarding achievements, and if you’re putting in the effort and the miles, you want to make it through!
4. Lightweight Gear
Hiking is all about efficiency, not strength. No one cares if you’re carrying X amount of weight on your back, in fact, if your pack is extremely lightweight, other hikers will probably be jealous of you, so get your gear weight down. Lightweight packs will make it easier on your body to get through your hike. It’s not a race and it’s not a competition.
If you’re hiking with a group, try to share gear. However, if your hike is going to be months long, you might want your own gear in case there are conflicts or you need space from your other hikers. A 1+ month thru-hike is a long time to spend in the backcountry, so keep that in mind when you’re planning.
Check out 2017’s best backpacks for hiking and camping to help you get started with the most important piece of gear you’ll need: a backpack of course!
5. Maximize Packing Efficiency
Remember, it’s all about efficiency. Trying to fit days worth of hiking gear into your pack can be challenging. Learn to maximize your packing efficiency and take a few minutes to learn how to pack your backpack, get organized, and make your trip a breeze.
*Don’t forget to pack layers and moisture-wicking clothes like those made of merino wool. Merino wool is soft and breathable. Designed to keep you cool in the summer and warm in the winter, it will keep you comfortable and dry no matter what conditions you face in the backcountry.
Trail Hack Must-Haves:
Duct tape can be your best friend on the trail. Wrap some around a lighter or water bottle to save space in your pack. Duct tape can be used for quick repairs, blisters, and even tick removal. However, it’s also best to have a small bag of first-aid supplies in case things really get messy.
Ziploc bags can be used for waste, sorting gear, storing food, collecting emergency water, to waterproof your phone or camera. We recommend bringing 5-6 on any hiking trip, just in case.
6. Love Your Feet and Listen to Your Body
Hiking takes a huge toll on your body, especially your feet. To keep your feet happy and comfortable throughout your trek, it’s a good idea to invest in a good, durable and breathable hiking sock.
When your body needs a slower pace or a break on the trail, LISTEN. Pushing through and toughing it out might cause unwanted injuries and pain later on. When you’re planning your hike make sure to allot yourself time and a flexible schedule so you can take breaks when you need them the most. Remember it’s NOT a race.
7. Trekking Poles
Trekking poles can be used for balance during your hike to and from the summit. Depending on where you’re hiking, make sure to be careful around lose ground or rock that you could slip on. That being said, walk softly and carefully.
Whether you’re heading up or heading down, trekking poles can help reduce the impact and fatigue on leg muscles and joints, as well as your lower back. They also act as a support system to reduce your risk of tripping or falling.
8. Snack Often
Don’t be afraid to snack on the trails. You’re going to need the fuel to help keep you going. After all, you are enduring a pretty intense workout. Don’t forget to pack them at the top of your pack or somewhere where they are easily accessible when you need them.
9. Stay Hydrated
Make sure to drink water regularly while you’re trekking to stay hydrated. This helps combat muscle soreness and the effects of the hot sun (if you’re hiking in the summer) and the high elevations. We recommend taking a drink about every 15-20 minutes.
It’s also wise to bring a powdered drink mix to drink in the afternoon or when you reach camp to help rehydrate and replenish electrolytes. It will help you feel better too!
Ditch the wasteful plastic and bring along a reusable bottle or canister to store your liquids and food.
10. Estimate the Time of Sunset
If you’re in the backcountry we’re just going to go ahead and assume you don’t have your iPhone (or service) to estimate the sunset for you. In this case, when you haven’t yet reached camp and you’re worried about getting there before dark, we’ve got you covered.
To estimate the time the sun is going to set, hold your hand up horizontally towards the sky with your fingers touching and cover the sun with your thumb. Each one of your fingers becomes 15 minutes. Using this you can calculate how long until the sun will drop below the horizon or behind a mountain.
Don’t forget about your trail etiquette adventurers! Visit our post on trail etiquette to find out which groups have the right of way on the trails.
As long as you prepare for your hike (both mentally and physically), do your research, and pack lightly, you’ll be golden. Happy hiking!