How to Prepare for a Hike

Ready to go for a hike but not sure what you need to do to prepare for it? Follow this straight-forward guide on how to prepare for a hike. I'll cover how to plan for a hike, how to dress for a hike and what to pack for a day hike.

How to plan for a hike

1. Pick your location and get a trail map. If you're new the the area, ask some locals or check out an online trail guide like AllTrails. Once you decide on the area you want to explore, get a trail map (you can often find some online or go to the space itself to grab one) and look at your options.

2. Research the distance and difficulty of the trail(s) you'd like to hike. Once you get a hold of a trail map, read any available descriptions of the available trails in the area you'd like to explore. Look for the difficulty level and distance in each description. Novice hikers should stick with easy-to-intermediate trails with modest elevation gains and distances.

3. Check the weather forecast. Postpone your hike if there's a storm headed your way. If there's a small chance for rain showers, be sure to pack your waterproof jacket!

4. Plan your arrival. Figure out the best way to get to the trailhead, and whether you'll need to pay for a park pass. Some spaces like state, county and national parks, require a day or season pass for you to enjoy their trails. You can usually buy one at a kiosk near the entrance to the park.

5. Get dressed. See "how to dress for a hike" below for tips on choosing the best stuff to wear for a hike.

6. Pack your daypack. See "what to pack for a day hike" below. Remember, injuries can and do happen on the trail, so it's important to be ready with a first-aid kit. You may want to consider packing a survival kit, as well.

7. Tell someone where you're going and when you plan on getting back. This is the golden rule for all outdoor adventures! Should you get lost or experience a serious injury on a deserted trail, you'll want your friends and family to know where you are so they can send help.

8. Arrive at the trailhead and get your bearings. Look at the map again and get a good understanding of where you are. Getting lost can happen to anyone, even when following designated trails. Before starting a hike in an unknown area, consider getting a topographic map of the area and a compass, or carry a GPS device.

9. Enjoy your hike! Being well prepared and knowing your limitations are two big factors when it comes to hiking safely. If you follow these steps, you'll be good to go for an unforgettable day on the trail.

How to dress for a hike

From head to toes, this is what you should be wearing when you leave for your hike:

1. Hat. Protect your eyes and face from the sun with a breathable hat. If it's cool, use your hat to help your body regulate its temperature.

2. Sunglasses. Look for lightweight, wrap-around frames and polarized lenses that provide 100% UV protection.

3. Shirt. A lightweight, breathable, moisture-wicking and quick-drying shirt is best for hikes in warm weather. A shirt that provides additional ventilation and UPF protection is even better. If you're hiking in cool weather, remember to layer up!

4. Jacket. Even if it's clear and sunny when you start your hike, you'll still want to pack a waterproof breathable shell just in case a storm rolls in. Look for a lightweight, waterproof breathable jacket with an adjustable storm hood and fully seam-sealed construction. Pit zips are a great feature that provide ventilation when you need it.

5. Pants or shorts. Convertible (or zip-off) pants are a great option for hikers who might be starting a hike in the cool morning and ending it in the heat of the day. Shorts can be comfortable on a hot day, but remember that they won't protect your legs from brambles or rocks. Look for lightweight, breathable and flexible pants that don't restrict movement. Durable fabric is a bonus.

6. Socks. Leave your cotton socks at home and choose a pair of hiking socks or running socks that are made with breathable, moisture-wicking fabric like merino wool, high-performance polyester and/or nylon.

7. Hiking boots. Look for supportive hiking boots or trail shoes with a cushioned insole and midsole. The outsole should be a durable rubber (like Vibram®) with all-terrain tread. Choose waterproof hiking shoes if you live in a wet climate.

What to pack for a day hike

Even if you only plan on hiking for a couple of hours, you should bring a daypack with a few essentials in it. Here are the items you need for even the shortest hike (check out our more extensive hiking checklist for a list of what you need for longer hikes).

what to pack for a day hike

1. Water. Always pack water. It doesn't matter if you think you're just going for a 15-minute stroll, you always need to have water with you. Consider using a hydration backpack on your day hike. A collapsible water bottle is also a great option for saving space in your pack.

2. Food. Just like water, you should always have at least a high-energy snack on you. Granola bars, dried fruit and trail mix are all great options for trail food.

3. Trail map. Of course you'll need to take your trail map with you so you don't get lost.

4. First-aid kit. Just in case! Read this post to learn how to choose the perfect first-aid kit for your adventure.

5. Waterproof jacket. Pack a waterproof jacket so you're prepared for an unexpected downpour. They happen more often in the mountains than you think!

6. An extra layer. Temperatures can drop after a pop-up rain shower or when cloud coverage increases. It's smart to pack an extra layer even if it's warm and sunny when you leave. If your hike takes longer than you think, you'll want to layer up after the sun sets. Merino wool, fleece and other lightweight/breathable fabrics are great options for your extra layer.

7. Headlamp. A headlamp doesn't take up a lot of room and you'll be grateful to have one if you underestimate the time it'll take for your hike and the sun sets before you get back to your campsite or car.

8. Cell phone. While it may not get service during your hike, it could still come in handy. Plus, you can use it to take some pictures of the views!

Want more in-depth information on the gear and knowledge you need to make the most of your hike? Check out our hiking guide!

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