21 Essential Hiking Tips

Follow these tips and stay safe on the trails.

man and woman hiking
Always be prepared. It’s the Boy Scout motto, and it should be yours if you’re heading into the wilderness for a trek. Forgetting simple things like rain gear, snacks, or a fresh pair of socks can ruin a day’s hike. Even worse, being caught unprepared on a mountaintop can be lethal. Follow these tips and stay safe on the trails.

1. It’s safest to hike with at least two other people.

2. Each hiker should carry a map and a compass (and know how to use them!).

3. Study a map and trail guide beforehand so you know where you are going.

4. Choose a hike that works for all the members of your group. You don’t want to have to stop halfway down the trail because one person cannot hack it.

5. Mountain weather is notoriously changeable. Temperatures can drop by as much as 40 degrees Fahrenheit in just a few hours. Always carry warm layers and rain gear.

6. If there is lightning, do not hike above the tree line.

7. Let someone know where you are going.

8. Pack a minimum of two liters of water per person per day.

9. Do not wear cotton, as it retains moisture. Wear synthetic materials that wick water away from your skin and keep you warm.

10. Pack a headlamp and extra batteries.

11. Always be prepared to have to spend the night out.

12. Pack insect repellent and sunscreen. High altitude and sun are brutal to the skin.

13. Pack a First Aid kit.

14. In case of an accident attend to the victim, and then assess your situation. If outside help is needed, record the time, circumstances of the accident, type of injury, and the weight, age, and sex of the victim. Mark your location on a map. One person should stay with the victim while others go for help.

15. The wilderness is a fragile resource. To protect it, carry out all of your trash and cover up all signs of your passing. Stay out of the woods during spring mud season when the soil is particularly vulnerable. Stay in the center of trails, walking directly through mud if necessary, to reduce erosion. At higher elevations, alpine plants are very fragile so please keep to the trails.

16. Pack a whistle or signal mirror in case you need to summon help.

17. Wear the right shoes. Heavy, stiff hiking boots are harder to trek in than a light, flexible shoe.  Minimize shoe weight by selecting a cross-trainer with ankle support, a trail-running shoe, or one of the lighter hiking shoes that are readily available.

18. Wear nylon sock liners under your socks, to keep fibers from irritating your feet.

19. Have an estimated time that you’ll stop and go back to civilization, no matter what.

20. Take plenty of food to help prevent fatigue. Trail Mix is not the best food for a tough hike involving high levels of aerobic and anaerobic exercise.  Nuts and other oily, fatty foods are harder to digest when your body is using oxygen elsewhere. Also, lots of fruit can cause digestive distress.  The best foods on the trail are sport bars like Clif Bar, Promax, Balance Bar, and others, as well as that childhood classic, the peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

21. Never hike in new shoes. Make sure you break in your shoes with several short hikes before attempting something challenging.

Sources: Adirondack Mountain Club, Hikingandbackpacking.com, NPS.gov, DayHiker.com, backpacking-guide.com, llbean.com, National Wildlife Federation

Reader's Digest
Originally Published in Reader's Digest