A good reminder for veterans and essential for newcomers, here are 14 best practices for hiking.
1. Don’t assume that you’ll have cell service
Smartphones give us a false sense of security that a single call, app, or Google search will rescue us from any situation. Even though some hiking trails reside within urban city limits (e.g. Griffith Park in Los Angeles), spotty service is just as likely to happen as being in an underground carpark. Be prepared to deal with situations (e.g. weather, being lost) as if you didn’t have that lifeline.
2. Don’t assume that the physical demands of hiking are the same as going to the gym
I hear and see this all the time. Just because you kick ass in your cycle class doesn’t mean you can easily climb a mountain. Hiking involves much more than cardio. Weather, terrain, elevation, mental aspects and unknown variables make hiking more challenging than meets the eye. Unrealistic expectations breed poor experiences, and in some cases, injury or other mishaps.
3. Don’t underestimate the amount of time needed to finish a hike
Hiking brochures and guide books often provide timing estimates for each hike, but some are vague and just indicate if it’s full or half day. But what does that really mean?
Timing estimates are fine and dandy, but they don’t account for weather, fitness level, and breaks. For example, if a hike says it takes 5 hours, be generous and allow 6-7, etc.
If you’re a reasonably fit person, assume you’re going to average around 2 miles per hour; less, if the hike is extremely strenuous. Kudos if you end up being faster than that.
4. Start hiking early
Getting an early start is especially important for wilderness hikes, popular trails, and trails that you’re unfamiliar with for these reasons:
– Fewer crowds
– Chance of better weather (e.g. before the midday sun, threat of afternoon thunderstorms)
– You’ll return before it gets dark.
– “Real” hikers always start early. Don’t be pedestrian.
5. Don’t underestimate the weather
It is possible to hike in some types of inclement weather if you have the proper gear. As such, check the forecasts up until you leave for your hike.
Also, know that some places (e.g. mountain ranges) may create their own weather systems which will be harder to predict in advance. Pay attention to changing conditions during your hike. Do you see dark clouds forming? Strong gusts of wind out of nowhere? Etc.
Also, practice common sense in bad weather situations. Like, don’t plan on climbing a mountain with the threat of a thunderstorm, and don’t enter a canyon when it’s raining.
6. Check your ego and FOMO (fear of missing out) at the trailhead
This is a hard one, especially for me. If you’re hiking up a mountain, you obviously hope to reach the summit, right? But what if the weather starts to turn? What if you start becoming nauseous? What if you’ve run out of water? Etc.
Unfortunately, common sense doesn’t always prevail on a hike. It’s hard to see this “in the moment” because we always tend to think that nothing bad can happen to us when we really want to do something.
You should be ready to turn back for the following reasons:
– Any hint of bad weather that you’re not prepared for
– Any member of your party becomes ill or injured
– If you’ve run out of critical supplies like food or water
– Any other variable that would impede the safe return of all members of your group
You can always return another day. Repeat after me. You Can Always Return Another Day.
7. Always hike with someone else, unless you’re super experienced or hiking a heavily trafficked trail
Hiking with another person is just safer. Plain and simple.
8. Don’t skimp on water
I see this all the time. Beginner hikers (or the uninformed) don’t carry enough water, if, at all. Again, I believe it’s the gym’s fault. It’s easier to go without water for an hour at the gym than on the trail.
Bring at least 1 liter of water for every 2 hours of hiking. Obviously bring more if it’s hot outside, or if your hike is super challenging.
If this seems like a lot, make it easy on yourself. Buy a cool looking, 1 L refillable water bottle in a fun color (e.g. Nalgene, Hydroflask) and a smart-looking mini daypack. Also buy a 2-3 L hydration system (e.g. Camelback, Platypus).
9. For early morning hikes, pack everything (backpack, water, snacks) the night before
That way, you can just roll out of bed and only worry about making coffee and breakfast.
10. Research all hikes prior, even the easier ones in your area
Since hiking involves venturing in places that are not part of a vehicular road map, it’s a good idea to have some lay of the land. For example: what’s the parking situation? Any wild animals indigenous to that area? Any areas where it’s easy to get lost? Etc.
There’s plenty of online info about every single hike imaginable, including blogs, hiking trail websites, forums, and more. Ask other people who’ve hiked the trail before.
11. Always tell someone where you’re going
It’s important to let someone know where you’ll be hiking, even if it’s a local trail that you frequently visit. And for obvious reasons; there are many unknown variables on any hiking trail. You could become injured, sick, incapacitated or stuck due to weather. A wild animal could attack you. You could fall down a ravine. Don’t rule out anything. Watch the movie 127 hours.
12. Abide by the Leave No Trace (LNT) rules
LNT rules are an environmental code of ethics. In other words, when hiking, don’t trash the place.
13. Bring the “10 essentials”
For example, bringing things like sun protection, extra food, warm clothing are all part of the ten essentials. Read up on all 10, and take them seriously. It could save your life or someone else’s.
14. Be courteous to other hikers, wildlife, plants, and ecosystems by following trail etiquette.
Trail etiquette involves knowing when to yield on a trail, how to pass another hiker, if it’s okay to take a rock home (no), and other stuff. In other words, knowing simple trail etiquette ensures you won’t be a jerk when you’re hiking. Read here.