Planning a Hiking Trip: How to Prepare For Your Outdoor Adventure

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Planning a Hiking Trip

Savvy outdoors people know that time in nature can lift your spirit and rejuvenate you in ways that few other activities can. Whether you’re an experienced hiker planning a bucket-list backpacking trip or looking to get out in nature and try hiking, this guide can help. Get ready to make your list, and refer back to this guide often as you prepare to spend more time hiking this year. Planning a hiking trip starts now!

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How to plan and prepare for your hiking trip

You’ve probably seen horror stories about hiking in the news: a hiker heads off on a beautiful sunny day and gets lost and snowed in, falls off a cliff, gets dehydrated, or has many other scary scenarios. While a stroll around your neighborhood doesn’t require more than a supportive pair of shoes, hiking requires adequate preparation for the climate, season, and your condition. Here are the steps to take to protect yourself. 

1. Condition your body gradually 

Beginners can start hiking in their neighborhood. Regular hikes can improve cardiovascular fitness and endurance; mileage and elevation gain can increase over time. Over time, you can start preparing for longer or more challenging hikes. 

If you plan to hike higher, you must also prepare to acclimate. A common saying for hikers is, “Hike high, sleep low.” In other words, hike to higher elevations and return to sleep comfortably to acclimate your body gradually. If you live near mountains, you can execute this training at home. If no significant mountains are nearby, plan to arrive early at your destination to acclimate.

If you don’t have a specific training plan, look at your desired hike and gradually build up. For example, if you plan to hike 10 miles with a 2000-foot elevation change, start by walking two miles and combining walking or hiking with other fitness training to improve your endurance. 

Asking a local hiking club for advice is a great way to meet potential hiking buddies and get advice. There are also hiking plans and apps to help you prepare. And if you don’t exercise right now, consider speaking with your doctor to start exercising safely. 

2. Invest in a high-quality backpack 

A high-quality backpack can make it easier to carry a heavy load — for example, a backpack with a supportive hip belt to distribute weight evenly. Even a simple daypack designed for hikers should optimize weight while leaving space for all the essentials. 

If you’re new to hiking, focus on day hikes until you’re more comfortable following trail signs and tracking your route. Then, as you gain experience, you can upgrade to longer hikes.

For overnight hikes, essential items to pack include a lightweight tent or shelter, a sleeping bag, cooking equipment, food and water, a first aid kit, navigation tools, and appropriate clothing layers. Speaking with experienced hikers can help you get the gear you need without extra weight. 

3. Break in your hiking boots well in advance 

Preparing for a hike starts with your feet. Blisters on the trail don’t just hurt; they are a severe infection risk. Breaking in your boots is essential to avoid blisters on the trail. You can wear them around the house initially, then plan to hike in them for several weeks before you plan to leave on your hike. 

A well-maintained pair of hiking boots could last five years or longer, so it’s worth breaking them in before your first hike, especially if they are made of leather. 

4. Familiarize yourself with the principles of “Leave No Trace” 

Hikers tend to care deeply about the environment. The hiking aesthetic protects nature and the experience for other hikers. One fundamental principle of outdoor people worldwide is to leave nature as it was and leave any campsite better than you found it. Plan to pack or dispose of all garbage in official garbage bins. If you see garbage on the trail, you can pick it up and pack it out. 

Likewise, don’t pick wildflowers, break tree branches, or otherwise disturb the state of nature so that future hikers can enjoy it. With a bit of attention to minimize your environmental impact, you can help preserve natural beauty for future generations.

5. Pack a lightweight tarp or emergency bivvy shelter 

The weather can change quickly, especially in the mountains. The unpredictable nature of the outdoors can turn a sunny day into a treacherous downpour in minutes. Even if you’re planning a day hike, what to take on a hike should include a lightweight tarp or emergency shelter that can be helpful in case of sudden storms or unexpected weather conditions. An emergency shelter could also be lifesaving if you get lost and need to wait for help. 

6. Learn basic wilderness first aid and carry a comprehensive first aid kit

No one plans to get hurt on the trail, but it can happen even to experienced hikers. Carrying a kit to sterilize water, clean and bandage a wound, and wrap a sprained ankle or wrist can help deal with emergencies as they arise. Most outdoor equipment stores carry first-aid kits and have experienced outdoors people who can explain how to use them. 

The National Park Service offers excellent resources for hiking preparation. REI also offers helpful online resources for improving wilderness first aid skills

7. Master the art of dehydrating meals 

Hikers rely on dehydrated meals to reduce pack weight while maintaining nutrition. If hiking for more than a couple hours, you may need a meal on the trail. Especially on multiday hikes, dehydrated meals can help you save weight while getting vital nutrients. You can read reviews on dehydrated meals and, ideally, try them out before you go so you know which meals you like and are comfortable preparing them. 

8. Research the flora and fauna of your hiking destination 

Nature is full of beautiful surprises when you know where to look. Understanding the local flora and fauna can enhance your appreciation of nature and make the hike more enjoyable. Consider learning to identify edible plants, or plants that can be used to treat wounds, as well as local birds and animals. 

Learning about common insects and pests can also help you better prepare. If your area has unique geological formations, learning about this can help you better appreciate even the rock or soil formations. 

9. Invest in a reliable navigation system 

For increased safety, if you get lost without cellphone reception or your battery doesn’t last, consider having more than one backup navigation system, such as a GPS device or compass. 

But having them isn’t enough; learning how to use them effectively is also essential. Practice at home and during shorter hikes until you’re confident using a GPS and a compass in the backcountry. 

10. Carry a lightweight yet durable multi-tool or knife 

Multi-tools eliminate the need to carry separate tools and can easily be worn on a belt or strapped to the outside of your pack. Multi-tools can be used for various campsite tasks and emergencies. You can use it to open your dry food packets, cut up fruits, or sharpen a stick to roast marshmallows. 

11. Study the local hiking regulations, permit requirements, and trail etiquette

Hiking sometimes requires permits. You may need park or state permits depending on your destination and planned hike. Some federal lands require permits for backcountry camping. Some popular wilderness areas also allow entry only through an annual lottery system. 

Final Tips for Planning a Hike

If you want to hike more, the most important tip is to go! It doesn’t have to be complicated. Planning and preparation are essential but shouldn’t get in the way of the experience. You can start small with what you have and gradually build up. 

Consider finding a local hiking group on Meetup or a similar platform. By joining more experienced hikers, you can benefit from their local knowledge as you build your expertise.  You can often find high-quality hiking equipment for much less on Facebook Marketplace or eBay. 

Ready to plan your dream hiking vacation? Check out these travel dupes for ideas, then get tips to save on flights and learn how to earn credit card points for more free travel. Hiking Kilimanjaro or the Alps could be within reach!


What is the best time of year to go hiking?

The best time of year to go hiking depends on your destination. Generally, the best times are in mild weather, such as the spring and fall, when the weather is neither too hot nor too cold. In Arizona, the mildest time could be from December to February, while in the Himalayas, the most mild times are usually from June through October. 

How do I choose a hiking trail that matches my skill level?

Many websites and apps list local hiking trails with total mileage, elevation change, and a beginner, intermediate, or advanced rating. To choose a hiking trail that matches your skill level, first decide realistically about your skill level. Are you in excellent shape with good mobility and comfortable scrambling up rocks for hours? You could be an intermediate hiker. Does walking a couple of miles on a mostly flat surface feel challenging? If so, stick with beginner trails and a comfortable distance. 

What essential gear do I need to bring on a hike?

How to get into hiking doesn’t require a lot of gear, but essentials include good-quality hiking shoes or boots that are broken in, plus water and snacks. You may also need layers of clothing for changing weather, additional food, or shelter for longer hikes. 

How much food and water should I pack for a day hike?

For a day hike, pack at least two liters of water per person and more if hiking in hot conditions. For food, bring energy-dense snacks like trail mix, energy bars, and dehydrated meals, with more than enough to cover the meals or snacks you’ll be on the trail. 

What should I do if I get lost while hiking?

Before leaving for a hike, tell someone where you’re going, which trail you’ll take, and when you expect to return.  If you get lost while hiking, you can check your map or GPS or try to retrace your steps using landmarks. Check if you have cellphone reception, send your location to a friend or family member and ask them to call for help, or call the park services or police directly. If all else fails, stay put and wait for rescue.

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