Hiking in the vast wilderness is nothing like a walk in the park. It involves traveling a long distance, going through a rough route and living outside your comfort zone. For this, you need some serious level of planning and packing, or else this exciting outdoor adventure may become an ugly and dangerous trip of your lifetime.
Unprepared hikers are more likely to step on poisonous rattlers, tumble off a cliff, become lost or trap themselves in lethal situations. A well-planned trip can help you avoid hazards and can make your trip more fun, without having to worry about living, dining, safety, and cost.
Plan Your Trip
Before you even consider going on hiking, you need to comprehend the ability of you and your group to perform a task. Frequent hikers should recall their recent hikes and how they felt during and after the journey.
They should also think the state of their physical condition since that time. Newbies having no idea of their abilities should accompany an experienced hiker and should never try to wander too far outside their comfort zone.
1. Mileage Limits
Generally, people who aren’t habituated visiting rural areas or wilderness will struggle hiking 10 – 12 miles per day. Physical fitness is unrelated in here. Performing vigorous squats or half an hour on the treadmill is not same as walking for 5-6 hours a day. Mostly, the fatigue is only in the mind and a proficient trail leader can help the newbies overcome this limit.
You should at most hike 6-8 miles as an afternoon hike. For morning hikes where you eat lunch along the trail, then you can go for 10-12 miles. This rule is only suitable for flat terrains where the elevation gain is just a few hundred feet. If you choose a trail where you need to climb up and down mountains then reduce 1 mile for every 1000 feet of elevation gain. For new hikers, who can walk 10 miles on a flat terrain, they can only go for 5-6 miles up a hill or a mountain of 4000 feet of elevation.
2. Estimating Trail Time
Another way you can calculate your group’s limit of hiking is by considering the length of time you will be staying outside. This is particularly important in winter hiking where hikers may not want to stay outside in the cold for more than few hours. It is suggested to plan 30 minutes of hiking per mile and then extra 30 minutes for every 1000 elevation gain, making it an average hiking speed of almost 2 mph.
You should also consider time for water and rest breaks. Don’t compromise with this as it’ll harm you. It’s better to blunder and then coming back to trail during daytime then wandering in the dark.
3. First, go on day hikes and then overnight ones
Before you head out for a multi-day hike, go for single day ones in various terrains to make your body suited to different locations and situations. You should roam around in the woods as you may find yourself walking 15 miles in the wilderness during the trip. So, you have to train yourself first. At first, try to hike without any gear but carry plenty of light snacks, water, right shoes and a topographic map. Accompany with some friends for fun and safety. If you become well-suited, try longer and rougher trails. Gradually combine a series of trips and enjoy living in the wilderness.
4. Pick a general destination
The backcountry might be nearby or very far away, depending on your desired destination, such as the grasslands, the mountains or the great lakes. Generally, you don’t have to travel for a day to find a suitable hiking or camping site.
Also, choose an appropriate time for that trip. Some places are crowded at times, while others remain unsuitable for hiking during a specific time of year. Hiking in deserts during summer is a bad idea for newbies. You must beware of animals too.
5. Select a specific wilderness area
Once you have picked your desired part of the country for exploring, select an area for hiking in that region. You can also look for suitable hiking places on the internet to have some ideas.
6. Plan your route thoroughly
Different wilderness places offer varieties of options to hikers. You can check out your maps of the area to pick a specific trail or you can also look into the internet. Normally, there are 3 types of long hikes – type of terrain, the level of difficulty, and particular sights you want to visit. These types include:
- Long, circular, look hikes get you to end where you started.
- Go and back hikes allow you to go to a specific spot and then come back.
- End to end hikes typically requires leaving a transport at both start and end points or arrange a pick up at different intervals. This is normally done for lengthy hikes with multiple stoppages.
7. Schedule your first trip and be conservative with the routes
If you really want to do something challenging, you’ll need to consider the weather, terrain, the experience and condition of group members when you plan mileage to travel per day. Most trails are challenging enough. So you might want to go for level 1 and 2 initially.
Novice hikers should not hike more than 6-12 miles per day. Experienced and fit hikers can go for 10-25 miles per day depending on the trail.
8. Check if the chosen destination needs permits
if you hike in a public area, then you may need to pay fees for hiking and the place itself. The fees are normally less, around $15 or so, depending on the time of the year. Most parks require you to display permits on your car, tent, bag and so on. When you reach the ranger’s office, the officer will explain you all the local regulations that time. Most national lands and parks also have specific guidelines for hikers during a specific time of year.
9. Know local fire regulations
Lighting campfires in hiking is fun if it is legal. Some places prohibit lighting fires during dry seasons. Sometimes this is only allowed in specific spots, especially where there is a fire ring in campsites. Some parks require especial campfire permits for lighting and cooking.
You must leave a fire unattended. Ensure to have enough water to extinguish it when necessary and then lit the fire. Clear at least 5m circular perimeter around the fire to prevent anything catching fire outside of fire pit due to the gushing wind.
Pack Necessary Items
1. Carry a durable, small backpack
Best hiking backpacks should be durable to withstand a good amount of weight and should be light enough to be easily carried without pain during the trip. Choose a bag with waistband, internal frame, and chest straps to secure it to your body properly.
These bags are available in most sports shops and in various shapes and sizes suited to your body. If needed, make it fitted for your body. The bags should have enough space for water, food, first aid kit, flashlight, sun and rain gears, headlamps, batteries, sleeping bags, tents and other necessary equipment.
2. Wear comfortable hiking boots
A pair of proper footwear is a must for hiking. Since you will be walking for miles, your feet should be comfortable as much as possible and the shoes should be durable. The best bet would be to buy waterproof boots with good strength and support to take you along the journey. A flimsy pair of sneakers or sandals is not enough for a multi-day trip. For hiking in some environments, tennis shoes can be perfect as these are lightweight and comfy, but you also need sturdy boots for rough terrains.
3. Dress in layer
This allows you to stay comfortable in various weather conditions. Even if you start with a warm day but as the day will pass, the weather may change to colder and wetter. Unpredictable and quick changing weather are dangerous for mountain hikes.
Even if the temperature is 90 degree when you start, still pack rain gear or a raincoat, hat, gloves, underwear, socks, shorts, lightweight pants and durable hiking boots. Bring wool or synthetic clothes, and not cotton, to keep you warm and dry. Packs plenty of socks as you’ll be walking a lot, so your feet should be dry and clean along the journey.
4. Pack lots of high-calories, light food
When hiking you can’t eat smores or bacon. Since you are traveling light, you need to carry light food like instant stews and soups that are made with water, or other freeze-dried food. Pasta, noodles are good hiking food you can carry.
You should be responsible for your own snacks but the dinner should be communal. Pack foods rich in protein, calorie, like dry fruits, nuts, which will energize you and get you on the move. Raisins and peanuts can be good too. Try to pack only food that you really need for saving money on hiking.
5. Pack as a group
Tent space should be sufficient to accommodate everyone, but sleeping bags will be individual. Pack smart. You don’t want to be left with 4 tents for 3 people, or 5 stoves and 1 canister only for 3 people. Discuss among group members while packing and share essential equipment. Pack at least 1 camp stove, 1 cooking pan or pot and 1 water filter. More than one person should pack first aid kit, flashlight, compass, match or lighter, and a copy of the map.
6. Check your equipment
Make sure that all the gadgets and gears are working properly. Test and repair the devices beforehand before packing. If a gear breaks, you still have to tow it back to the base. Clean your tents if it is dirty since the last time it was used. If the tent has remained unused for a while, then it is important to remove debris and clean food particles on it. Remember not to forget something essential which is listed in all you need to know about hiker blunders.
Repair it, clean it and dry it before you pack it again. Always pack new camp fuel, lighters, batteries of flashlights or other items that can get damaged and leave you struggling.
7. Carry a whistle and a mirror
Every hiker requires a mirror and a whistle to carry in their bag pack in case of an emergency. If someone gets lost in the wild, then the whistle can be used as communicate from a distance and rescue the lost hiker. In more serious events, mirrors can be used to reflect light as a signal to inform rescue teams. These are small yet life-saver items.
8. Carry maps of the trail
For a safe and enjoyable hike, a detailed map of the trail is essential. Generally, park maps are available at the start of the trail, in visitor’s center or you can also buy topographic maps from local sports stores. State park or national maps have a low resolution which is only suitable for day hikes.
US geologic surveys have elevation contours which are more accurate and reliable during emergencies. You can find these maps in most local sports stores of hiking destination. Bring a compass with you and know how to use it along with your map. You can also print your print on waterproof papers if you can’t buy one. Even though a GPS device can locate your position, but you should still pack a compass and a map.
9. Properly balance your pack
It is important to balance your bag from side to side by spacing out heavy items. You may momentarily feel ok to just stack things in your bag until you have walked some miles and weight of the unbalanced bag starts to put a strain on your shoulders. Keep the heaviest items at the back and lower the base so that you remain balanced.
Typically, it is a good idea to keep the heaviest and the bulkiest ones at the bottom and then top them and fill the extra spaces with smaller items, like clothes and other materials.
10. Pack essential gear
You must learn about the essential gears and be equipped. You should discuss among the group members and ensure who is bringing what item. Don’t let any confusion come in. Double-check the checklist prior to leaving your home. It will be in great trouble if you find out in the camp there is no water filter or any lighter to light the stove.
One of the major advantages of hiking with experienced hikers is that they most likely carry the communal items needed by the group members along the trip, like tents for a couple of hikers, kitchen supplies, stoves etc. Moreover, the experienced hikers can suggest you what not to pack to keep bag light.
Group Packing Gears
The weight of hiking tents is much lighter than that of the car camping tents. This is so as hiking tents are more compact and are specially made of super light poles and materials. So these tents are a bit costly. Also, it is more feasible and light to buy one 3-person tent than 3 individual tents. If you decide to set up a base camp with your group members for some days then it is worthwhile to add some extra weight in packing a larger tent having more head height.
For group dining, the ideal item to pack will be an integrated canister system or compact stove that can boil water in a jiffy. You only have to pour the boiling water on the freeze-dried food and allow them to wait for 10 minutes. If your group consists of more than 3 members then you should pack 2 stoves. In this way, no one will remain hungry waiting while the pot is being boiled.
- Water filter
Some people carry loads and loads of water like a fanatic as if they’ll die out of thirst and make their bags heavy. By filtering water from streams and lakes, you can save weight. Share water filters with group members and friends and is sure to bring at least 2 filters. You may also need to carry your own water bottles or dehydration reservoir with a drinking tube, depending on filter type.
- Kitchen supplies
You will get a built-in cooking pot if you are bringing an integrated stove system, or else you will have to carry at least one pot or kettle for boiling water. Every person must also carry individual bowl, mug, spoon, and fork.
You can make a kitchen kit contain all the kitchen supplies- a small spatula for making pancakes, a long handled spoon for stirring, a knife, salt, pepper, other spices, bottles and tiny bags. Try bringing a collapsible camp sink, a small sponge, and biodegradable soap to discard away the water from the camp’s water sources and washing dishes.
Personal Packing Gears
Pack clothing which is made of quick-drying, moisture-soaking fabrics. You should avoid cotton as this takes a long time to become dry when wet and so it can cause you to have hypothermia. Consider clothing as separate systems-
- Close-to-skin base layers
This is essential in mild cold to extremely cold temperatures.
- Hiking layers
Zipped off or rolled up nylon pants, like sun-shorts, sun-hat, and T-shirts.
You must carry a waterproof jacket and pants. It depends on the type of current weather. Rainwater can effectively prevent mosquitoes from biting.
Fluffy jacket and vests, warm gloves and hat, and lightweight swindle pullover.
Since your feet are an essential limb to have a successful hiking trip, the most important item you must consider is your footwear. Choosing footwear is also personal. Some hikers prefer the lightweight trail running shoes, while others like the supportive over-the-ankle boots. The trail also affects the choice of footwear, whether it will be soft, dirt, duff or rocky in most of the trail.
Any shoes or boots you take should be comfortable and well-broken-in to wear for long distances. It is best to wear synthetic socks and wool and rest in the midday to change into a fresh pair of socks and just allow the worn ones to air out your feet. Some hikers also like to wear a lightweight pair of sandals, shoes or water boots for fording creeks and camp.
If you are going to borrow a lightweight backpack for hiking, you must try it on first to see if it fits comfortably or not. The capacity should be of around 45-60 liters. Fill it with water bottles and equipment that weighs around 30 pounds and you can wear it in a long test hike. If you feel comfortable on your shoulders and hips, you can surely take it to your hiking trip. If you want to buy a bag for the trip, consult a REI sales specialist to take a measurement of your torso so that the bag fits you properly. General items that you need to pack are
- Sleeping bag
Your sleeping bag should be lightweight and compressible. If you are borrowing one, you should make or buy a liner with it. If you buy a sleeping bag, at first do some thorough research and know the pros and cons of synthetic fill and down fill, particularly in terms of the temperatures and the weather that you may have to face during the hiking trip.
- Sleeping pad
The insulation and cushions of your sleeping pad are essential for a sound sleep. If you want to buy sleeping pads, you can choose from 3 types- self-inflating, air, and closed-cell foam. In order to find the perfect one, check the insulation factor, weight and the size of the packet. Insulation is essential even during summer.
You can keep your bags light by bringing freeze-dried food that only needs pouring boiling water into it. You can also pack exotic ingredients for cooking a gourmet meal in the trip if you don’t have a problem carry some extra weight. Bring food items which are rich in protein, calorie, like snacks and energy bars to munch on while walking down the trail during the day or sometimes instead of eating a meal.
11. Packing with children and pets
It can be an eye-opening experience to bring your children along with you on the hiking trip. They learn to appreciate and love the mother-nature, and simultaneously parents learn that they only need to bring some items for older kids or babies.
Go for a short route to your campsite, about 2 miles in, and halt frequently to observe rocks, plants, animals, nature etc. Pack some games for the road for older children to pass time and have some fun in the camp.You can develop self-reliance in your kids by giving the kids their own bags to carry and do their own tasks.
If you have a pet dog with which you are okay to go traveling, you can bring it to your hiking trip. As a matter of fact, a dog is actually a fun companion especially if you are hiking alone. They can even save you from danger at times. Before you bring it, find out if the campsite allows a dog or other pets and, if you can, whether they need to be on-leash all the time and if there is any special requirement for them. Remember that dogs and tents cannot go together all the time. If a dog wants to get out of the tent, it can scratch the tent to go right through the mesh door anytime.
Make your dog carry its own water and food in its own dog bag. Often stop to feed your dog with food and water. Pack out or bury your dog’s poop. Never leave on the path.