How to Hike: A Readiness Checklist for Avid Hikers

Estimated read time: 4 minutes

One of the best ways to shake off the stresses of daily life is with a good, long hike. When you're out on the trails, your worries seem to melt away, as your mind becomes preoccupied with the natural sights and sounds all around.

No matter your ability level, anyone can find a hiking trail that'll suit their needs. But if a hiker's unprepared, even the simplest urban park loop can end in discomfort, and possibly even harm. Make sure you're ready to hit the trails by preparing with these hiking essentials.

These are the Hiking Essentials

  1. Bring a backpack with safe storage for valuables.

    Part of the beauty of hiking is leaving the modern world behind, but when it comes to your valuables, you'll want to make sure they're still there when you get back home. When you get to your destination, take anything valuable out of your car. Parking lots near trailheads are an easy target for thieves looking to make a quick smash-and-grab. Put those valuables in a comfy backpack that you won't mind wearing all day. When you're shopping for a backpack, look for one with a secure compartment within the backpack. That way, you can keep your credit card on hand without the risk of the card falling out when you reach for your water. You also want a waterproof backpack, or at least a rain cover, in case you get caught in a downpour.

  2. Bring extra food and water.

    When you're out in the wilderness, it's up to you to make it back to civilization, and you can't do that if you're too hungry or thirsty to take another step. That's why you want to bring more food and water than you think you'll need. Even if you're just doing a quick loop through a city park, bring along a granola bar and a water bottle. If you're doing a long hike, bring along as much food as you can handle carrying. If you're bringing food that needs cooking, take a close look at cook times and make sure you bring enough fuel for your camping stove. Water can weigh you down, so if you're hiking along a river or some other waterway, bring a filter that can make the water potable.

  3. Bring a smartphone with GPS, map & compass apps.

    As little as a decade ago, hikers might have had to bring GPS, maps and compasses separately. Today, all you have to do is bring your smartphone. Keep in mind that your standard navigation app won't work if you lose cell service. However, there are apps like MAPS.ME, which use real GPS technology instead of wifi or cell plan data. That allows your phone to work even in the most remote forests. If you can, download and save any trail maps from a park's website. Also make sure to have a compass app (or a real compass) to quickly orient yourself.

  4. Bring the right kind of shoe.

    Depending on the trail you pick, appropriate footwear could range from a simple pair of sneakers to a sturdy pair of hiking boots. To figure out which you'll need, look up the trail's condition and elevation gain. The less the elevation gain, and the more paved trail available, the less you'll have to worry about footwear. For rugged backwoods treks up a mountain, you'll probably need hiking books to grip the steep, rocky terrain.

  5. Prepare for rain or shine.

    You can follow the forecasts, but you'll never know for sure what the weather will be like during your hike. That's why you need to prepare for a turn for the better or worse. Dress in layers so you can shed them or layer up as temperature changes require. Bring along rain gear like a waterproof parka or jacket, so you don't get soggy during a rainstorm. Also make sure to bring a hat that will keep the sun out of your face, and apply sunscreen so the UV rays don't hurt your skin.

  6. Bring safety gear and first aid.

    There are a few emergency situations you want to prepare for with the proper safety gear. First, bring a first aid kit. At the very least, you want to be able to disinfect cuts, slow bleeding and make a splint. That'll give you time to get back out to the trailhead and call for professional help. Secondly, bring a sturdy flashlight or headlamp so you don't lose your eyesight if you're out past nightfall. Even if you aren't planning on being out late, you never know what will happen, so it's best to be prepared. Similarly, bring equipment to make a fire, like matches or a lighter. A campfire will help protect you from hypothermia if you get caught unprepared for a cold night, and it also helps lost hikers signal to rescue crews.

Are You Ready?

Once you get the essentials together, you're almost ready to go. Before you head out the door, check a couple last things to ensure you aren't caught unprepared on the trails.

Learn about local wildlife. You don't want to wait until you've been bitten to look up whether there are any poisonous spiders in the area. Parks should make it easy to learn about dangerous wildlife in the area, but don't let that scare you. Preparing is usually as easy as carrying a snake bite kit to counter venom, or positioning smaller hikers in the middle of the group to avoid luring cougars.

Tell someone what trails you're hiking and when to expect you back. Most of the time, this is an unnecessary step, but in those few-and-far-between cases, it's a life-saver. If you get lost or badly hurt on the trail, this will get search and rescue crews looking for you much sooner, and it'll give them a more accurate idea of where they should search.

So, think you're ready to hit the trails? Or maybe you have an extra tip or a favorite destination for newbie hikers? I'd love to hear about any of your hiking experiences in a comment!