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6 Quick Tips to Get Prepared for Your Next Hike

Getting outdoors on a hike is a great way to experience the beauty of nature up close, enjoy the fresh air, and be active. Planning and preparation are key to a safe, enjoyable hike.

Couple hiking in a forest preserve.

Here are some tips to help you get started:

1. Plan your route. Choose a route that matches your fitness level and experience. For example, if you're new to hiking, opt for shorter, less technical trails that are well-marked. Consider these resources for learning more about hiking routes:

  • Guidebooks. Looking for a hike with a beautiful water feature or a trail that's dog-friendly? Guidebooks are a great place to start as they organize trails by length, difficulty level, views, and other special features, like waterfalls or dog-friendly access.
  • Online reviews. There are a variety of websites dedicated to trail summaries that include reviews from recent hikers, photos of the trail, and other helpful details. Once you've narrowed down a few trails using a guidebook, online reviews can help you learn more about the latest conditions and see photos of what to expect.
  • Ranger stations. If you're visiting state or national parkland, stop by the ranger station for a route map and recommendations. Rangers will also have the most up-to-date trail conditions to help get you started.

2. Go with a hiking buddy. If you're new to hiking or unfamiliar with local trails, a hiking club or class is a great way to build your confidence as you safely explore the outdoors. You can also meet hiking companions this way and plan future outings. If you'd prefer to head out on your own, always let someone know where you're headed and when you should return. Choose well-known hiking destinations where you're likely to see other people on the trail should you need assistance.

3. Choose the right shoes and socks. You don't want to cut a hike short because of a painful blister. Choose footwear that's appropriate for the terrain. If you don't have hiking boots, lightweight athletic shoes or trail runners can be good options if they have a sturdy grippy sole for navigating uneven or slippery terrain. Moisture-wicking wool socks should fit snuggly to minimize blisters. Extra cushioning in the ball and heel adds support when carrying a heavy pack.

4. Stay hydrated. Proper hydration is important, and a good rule of thumb is to drink half a liter of water per hour on a moderate hike in moderate temperatures. Hotter days or more strenuous hiking conditions may require an extra water allowance. As an alternative to a water bottle, hydration packs help distribute water weight more evenly.

5. Pack the essentials. Getting your daypack right can be tricky, since you'll want to include all the essentials without adding too much weight. At a minimum, bring water and a small first aid kit with you when hiking, even if you're just going a short distance. Depending on the time of year, include sun protection from a hat and sunscreen, a lightweight poncho or rain jacket, or a wool hat and gloves. If there's a chance you'll be finishing close to sunset, bring a headlamp. Pack healthy snacks for an energy boost, like trail mix, energy bars, or jerky.

6. Dress in layers. Weather conditions can change rapidly in the mountains. Wear layers so you can easily add or remove clothes as temperatures fluctuate. Plan to be slightly cool when you first start as you'll quickly build up body heat from the hike. If you are hiking at elevation, include a warm top layer, like a fleece or down jacket, for use when you reach the summit. Avoid wearing cotton clothing as cotton absorbs perspiration rather than wicking moisture from your body. At higher elevations or when temperatures cool in the late afternoon, damp clothing can cause uncomfortable chills, and may even lead to hypothermia risk depending on conditions.

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