How to prepare for a hike

Hiking is a very popular activity in the UK, especially in summer. We have forests, moors, coasts, urban, mountains and many many more. The trails fill up with hikers who dream of just wandering off for a days hike, basking in glorious weather and beautiful scenery. 

Let’s go for a hike! Some make it sound as easy as taking a leisurely stroll in the park. However, for the more experienced out there hiking is a lot riskier than others may assume. All outdoor activities involve risk, and all have ways of managing the risks involved. 

With hiking, there are several aspects that we need to look at which can increase or decrease the level of risk we put ourselves in. From appropriate footwear, how we walk, the equipment we pack and how much it ways all have an effect.  In this article, we are going to look at how to prepare for a day hike.  

Research the trail

You cant set off until you know where you are going. If you did, you might never get there. So, if you don’t know where to hike there are many resources. A quick google search of your area plus hiking will bring up many results. Thankfully most trails are well documents by tourism centres or other online hiking communities such as internet forums. 

The reason to look these places up online before setting off is, so you know what to expect when you get out there. You must know the information on the terrain, distances, and any obstacles on the trail that may slow you down or cause other problems. Also, I would advise some form of a map of where you are planning on going. 

Pysically Prepare for the hike

Hiking is not just going for a walk. Hiking is a physically demanding activity. So making sure you physically fit for the challenge ahead is a must. You may think you can walk for a few hours, now add a heavy backpack and sturdy hiking footwear. 

If you are planning a coast to coast walk but need to stop and rest after a 20 min walk in the park, then you are really going to have to build yourself up over time to the challenge ahead of you. 

The first step would be to get used to wearing the gear. So a walk around your neighbourhood with the backpack and clothing you would plan to wear, just to see how it all feels on you. 

To give your body as much protection as possible when hiking I recommend stretching correctly before and after a hike. This is an excellent warm-up for your muscles. 

The health benefits of hiking are huge, its great for weight loss, increasing muscle, relieving stress and much much more. 

Plan before you set out

If I’m truly honest, I always preach this but very rarely actually do it, and I know I should. Before you set out, whether you’re on your own or in a group you should let someone know where you are going, who with, and what time you will be back. 

This is such as easy thin now my mobile phones and network coverage nearly everywhere, so you can just message someone with the details, map co-ordinates etc., and let them know when you will contact them next. If you don’t at least, they know the area you are in. 

Who are you going with?

I love hiking alone, I even hike at night alone, you can read about this here. But I do recommend when possible to hike with other people, at least one other persons. The main benefit to this is safety, if you become injured there is someone else there with you able to assist and call for help. 

I do not recommend any more than four people, there are a few reasons to this, but it is bad for the area too many people trampling on a small area of ground, also the more people the differences in walking speeds and ideas so can create other problems. 

Dress like a pro

A big part of the success of your hike will be what you wear. This comes down to comfort and suitability. 

Certain materials are unsuitable for certain situations. Cotton is a good insulator when dry, but when wet takes a considerably long time to dry, it can also cause chaffing. 

Boots vs shoes is another issue, I cover this topic in-depth here. My main advice is to spend time trying out different clothing and equipment before buying. If you purchase something that ends up being uncomfortable, don’t wear it out on the trails, the problems will multiply out there. Also, go for a waterproof type of material that is fast drying and comfortable. 

Essential equiptment

1. Map and compass

2. Food and water

3. First aid kit

4. Whistle

5. Matches / lighter

6. Headlight

7. Torch

Do you need trekking poles?

Ok, trekking poles are not just for the older generation. I define animals as smarter than humans in many senses as they know that four legs offer more stability than two. So, what is the purpose of these poles? The primary function is to provide stability to the user. They help distribute weight and studies have shown that the use of these poles can reduce the strain on one’s knees by up to 25%. 

When considering poles, quality and strength is key. A pole breaking when you most need it is not something that is going to help matters.

You can check out how inexpensive hiking poles are here.  

Stay hydrated and energized

Your body needs air, water, and food to survive, how lucky that the air is everywhere, that’s one less thing to worry about. When hiking you must prepare adequate amounts of water and food. 

When on a physically demanding hike your body requires a constant supply of nutrition for energy. That doesn’t mean you need to go to the supermarket on your way to the trails, but simple things such as;

  • Nuts
  • Raisins
  • Energy bar / chocolate bar
  • Fruit

Next question is how much water should you take on a hike. Well, this is why you need to plan, so you know how long you will be out. Water is heavy but essential, so it’s about getting the balance right. 

Every person is different, but generally, a hiker would need between 0.5 and 1 litre of water per hour of hiking. That can be a lot of water to carry, if out for a long time just carry 2 or 3 litres of clean water and use purification tablets, a filter, Gatorade etc. 

A suggestion would be to hydrate yourself as much as possible in the day leading up to the hike. 

Know your limits

Sometimes I set out for a few hours and have the urge to stay out for a few days. Knowing when to turn around is essential. 

Let me tell you a true story. As I was just starting out in hiking, I was walking in the forests one day, I had set out after lunch, and now the sun was starting to set. I had run out of water, left my torch in the car, and had no clue where I was. Behold, as I walked on the trail nearly in the pitch black of night I noticed a very strange figure next to the path. I stopped and starred for several minutes at what it could be. It looked like a man dressed in black with a weird shaped hat on (Yes I know, but it was dark). Anyway, after starring for several minutes, I slowly approached, and it was a tree that had been cut down to the bare minimum. After wandering for another two hours, I finally made it out and back to my car. 

The moral of the story is always pack the right equipment even if you think you won’t use it. Second, know your limits and never question your gut instinct. When you feel it is time to turn back then turn back. 

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