Are you ready to hit the trail? There are a few things that you should keep in mind when preparing for a hike. Footwear, wild animals, trail preservation, first aid, and proper stretching are on the list.

Common Mistakes Beginners Make

We all make mistakes the first time we try something. Here are the most common ones made by first time hikers. Avoid these potential pitfalls and your hike will be much more enjoyable.

  • Taking too much with you the first time – All of that extra weight can make the trek much more difficult than it needs to be.
  • Wearing new shoes – Even if they are the right type for hiking, the best time to break them in is not during a long hike. Your feet will end up with most of the damage.
  • Forgetting to check the weather – It is important when you are going to have to hike back through the weather conditions, regardless of how bad they are!
  • Not packing enough water – It may seem like one of the heaviest things we pack, but it is also one of the most essential. Do not underestimate how much you will need.
  • Not eating enough – This applies to eating before hitting the trail as well as bringing enough snacks along for the journey. Food is energy, and hiking takes up a lot of that.
  • Choosing a trail that is too intense the first time – The feeling of reaching mountain peaks is amazing, but keep in mind that your body needs time to work up to that level.

For additional hiking advice, visit HikeSafe http://www.hikesafe.com/, the American Hiking Society http://www.americanhiking.org/gear-resources/tips-for-your-next-hike/, and Austin-Travis County EMS http://www.austintexas.gov/blog/trail-hiking-safety-tips.


Hiking Safety

When it comes to safety, there are a few other mistakes that are best to avoid.

  • Leaving the trail – Getting lost in the woods can put a damper on any hike, and in some cases, it can turn extremely dangerous.
  • Going it alone – It is always best to have a hiking companion in case of an emergency.
  • Not bringing a cell phone – It is great to get away from it all, but communication should be a part of any safety plan. Do not leave the phone at home.
  • Ignoring a minor health condition – Hiking can make many conditions worse. Pay close attention to your health and know your own limits.
  • Not preparing for the conditions – Heat and cold both have the potential to turn deadly, especially if you do not have the proper gear.

For more safety tips, visit The California Department of Parks and Recreation http://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=24051, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation http://www.dec.ny.gov/outdoor/28708.html, and the National Park Service https://www.nps.gov/yose/planyourvisit/hikingsafety.htm.

Hiking Foods

Trail mix really is made for the trail. It includes everything you will need for that extra bit of energy to make your hike enjoyable. In addition, it is easy to eat, easy to pack and requires an absolute minimal level of pre-hike preparation (and that is only if you have decided to make your own instead of buying it at the store).

For longer trips, more will be required. Your food choices will primarily depend on the climate, food preparation options (Are you packing in a camping stove? Are campfires allowed?), and considerations such as wild animal dangers. No one wants to lure a hungry bear to his or her location.

Do not forget that the weight of items will start to matter when you have been carrying them for hours! Look for lighter foods and avoid bringing cans when possible.

Good foods to bring along include:

  • Nuts
  • Dried fruit
  • Jerky
  • Granola bars
  • Dried pasta or rice dishes such as macaroni and cheese
  • Dried beans, salmon or other sources of protein
  • Pastries
  • Peanut butter
  • Powdered milk
  • Olive oil
  • Powdered drinks
  • Chocolate

For more information on what foods to pack, visit the North Dakota State University Extension Service https://www.ag.ndsu.edu/pubs/yf/foods/fn659.pdf, Bastyr University http://www.bastyr.edu/news/health-tips/2014/09/hiking-and-camping-naturally, and Penn State Extension http://extension.psu.edu/health/food-and-nutrition/hike-for-health-recipes.

First Aid Kits for Hiking

A first aid kit is vital when hiking, especially if you are going into remote locations where help might be slow to get there. While a kit is vital, so is knowing how to use it. Consider taking a wilderness medicine or first aid course. You never know when it may save a life.

Useful items include:

  • Any necessary medications
  • Antihistamines
  • Bandages and antiseptics
  • CPR mask
  • Gloves
  • Tweezers
  • Scissors
  • Splint
  • Cotton swabs
  • Antibiotic ointment
  • Rehydration salts
  • Pain relievers
  • Diarrhea medications
  • Antacids

To learn more about first aid for hiking and camping, visit the CDC http://www.cdc.gov/family/camping/, the Washington Trails Association http://www.wta.org/hiking-info/basics/like-your-life-depends-on-it-building-your-first-aid-kit, and the Pacific Crest Trail Association http://www.pcta.org/discover-the-trail/backcountry-basics/first-aid/.


Conditioning and Stretching Before the Hike

It is important to be physically prepared before hiking. Conditioning and stretching before a hike can prevent injuries, stiffness, and pain. Take 5 minutes to stretch your whole body before hiking, with particular attention given to the hamstrings. If you are just starting an exercise routine, it may be time to consult your doctor as well as a fitness professional for advice in order to avoid injury caused by common fitness mistakes. Make a goal, set realistic step-by-step objectives, and make sure that the hiking trails that you choose are challenging while still matching your current abilities.

To learn more about starting out, visit AMC http://www.outdoors.org/publications/outdoors/2008/propert-stretching-techniques-for-a-hike.cfm, and the Mayo Clinic http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/fitness/basics/fitness-basics/hlv-20049447.


Appropriate Hiking Gear and Clothing

hiking-gearAvoid Cotton – While cotton seems like the most practical material to wear, it is not advised for hiking. Leave the jeans at home. In colder conditions, cotton will absorb sweat, become damp, and then trap the cold next to your skin. This lack of insulation can lead to hypothermia. Look for materials that move sweat away from your skin, rather than trapping it. Silk, nylon and wool are all good choices.

Dress in layers – changes in temperature throughout the day will require differing amounts of clothing, especially as hikers get going and begin to expend energy. Dress in layers so that you can add and remove them as needed.

To learn more about what to wear (and what not to wear), visit the University of Kentucky Extension service http://www2.ca.uky.edu/hes/fcs/FACTSHTS/HEEL-LR-916.pdf and the United States Arctic Program http://www.usap.gov/travelAndDeployment/documents/FieldManual-Chapt1ExtremeColdWeatherClothing.pdf.


Hiking Footwear

Your choice in footwear is vital. Shoddy, ill-fitting, or inappropriate shoes will begin to take their toll. You will need footwear that has good traction for rough terrain, that is well made, and that provides a proper fit and support for your feet. There are a wide variety to choose from, so take your time to do the research and make the best choice for your unique needs.

To learn more about finding the right hiking boots, visit Boy’s Life http://boyslife.org/outdoors/guygear/19580/hiking-boot-buying-guide/, the New York – New Jersey Trail Conference page about Hiking Boots vs Trail Shoes: http://www.nynjtc.org/news/hiking-boots-versus-trail-shoes and this boot guide (PDF) from Outward Bound California http://outwardboundcalifornia.org/assets/2016-Boot-Guide.pdf.


Group/Family Hiking

group-hikingIt is a good opportunity for health and bonding when we bring friends and family for a hike in the great outdoors.

  • Remember to pack extras for the kids and to make sure that the trail is manageable even for the least expert hiker in the group.
  • Inform children of the dangers of approaching wildlife.
  • You can make the trip a learning experience by pointing out nature and making a game of recognizing different flora and fauna.
  • Bring a picnic lunch and make a day of it.

For a list of games to play while hiking, visit the Park Trust https://parktrust.org/files/boredombusterhikinggames.pdf.


Seasonal Hiking

It is possible to enjoy hiking year-round in many locations. Be aware of seasonal closures, weather hazards and other potential issues. Most parks have websites that list when they are open and when the best times are to hike.

Summer hiking – Bring plenty of water, take your time and enjoy nature when everything is in full bloom.

Spring and autumn hiking – Watch the foliage change and enjoy temperatures that lack the extremes of summer and winter.

Winter hiking – Not for the novice, but it can be a truly beautiful time to get out into nature. Beware of snow surfaces that may hide unseen dangers. Make sure to pack appropriately.

To learn more about seasonal hiking in some favorite locations, go to Visit Adirondacks http://visitadirondacks.com/recreation/hiking/seasonal-hikes and Every Trail http://www.everytrail.com/guide/bay-area-hiking-by-season.

Wild Animals

Hiking offers the opportunity to view nature close-up. Be respectful of wild animals, give them space, and don’t forget your camera! The majority of animals are more scared of you than you are of them, so staying at a safe distance and being aware of your surroundings is enough of a precaution in most instances. However, there are some creatures that may need extra vigilance to avoid.

  • Spiders – if you find a spider web across your path with no way to go around, take a long stick, gently capture one side of the web, and move it to the side of the path. Be careful, while many are not poisonous, some spiders do jump!
  • Snakes – Give them space! Keep your hands away from rock ledges and other areas where snakes may be sunning. Look before you step and before you sit down. If a rock in the sun looks ideal to you, it probably does to a snake as well.
  • Bears and other large animals – Keep a clean camp to avoid attracting bears, stay calm, do not run, do not make eye contact, make loud noises to scare away animals that look like they may attack, and fight back aggressively if attacked.

To learn more about wild life safety, visit the Washington Department of fish and Wildlife http://wdfw.wa.gov/living/bears.html, the Student Conservation Association http://www.thesca.org/scas-black-bear-awareness-guide?gclid=CO7q6ey-n8wCFfAy0woduN0BHg, and the City of Boulder, Colorado https://bouldercolorado.gov/osmp/bears-and-mountain-lions.

Preserving Trailways

It is important to leave only footprints (and to minimize the impact of those as well) when hiking.

Simple rules that everyone can follow include:

  • Avoiding littering. If you pack it in, pack it out.
  • Stay on designated trails to avoid doing unnecessary damage to growing plants and animal habitats.
  • Don’t alter the environment. Leave everything as you found it.

To learn more, visit Recreation.gov http://www.recreation.gov/recFacilityActivitiesHomeAction.do?goto=hiking.htm.


After the Hike

Take care of yourself after a hike to prevent long-term soreness of the calf muscles and feet. Do a cool down period with gentle stretching, apply icepacks to sore muscles, eat a good meal, sleep well, and allow your body to have a chance to recover.

To learn more about what you can do, visit Runner’s World http://www.runnersworld.com/injury-prevention-recovery/get-proper-muscle-recovery, the University of Illinois http://www.mckinley.illinois.edu/handouts/pdfs/nutrition_exercise_recover.pdf, and the University of New Mexico https://www.unm.edu/~lkravitz/Article%20folder/recoveryUNM.html.


Popular National Trails/Parks

There are beautiful trails and parks all over the United States and the globe.

Here are some favorites with breathtaking views:hiking-summit-02



For additional information:

Hiking Guide for Beginners