Go take a hike – LITERALLY! Hiking has incredible benefits for mental and physical health. It can help get you into better shape, reduce stress and even improve brain health. Some people may be intimidated or even overwhelmed by the idea of hiking, but don’t allow the thoughts of, “I’m not in good enough shape to hike” or “I’m afraid of getting lost” steer you away from stepping out into nature. Hiking is a great, low-impact cardio workout that is fun, scenic and can be enjoyed with friends and family!

And whether you’re trekking it through the Pacific Crest Trail, the Appalachian Mountains, or your local park trail, there are a few things you need to know before you tie up those shoelaces and head out. Here are 7 hiking tips to help guide you on a safe and enjoyable hike! 

1. Familiarize yourself with the trail

Plan out your trails, especially if you are a beginner. You will want to determine the type of trail and the difficulty level before you go. AllTrails is a great app to download that has access to over 100,000 trail maps. This app will tell you the trail type, difficulty, elevation gain, time, route type and more! It also has a GPS tracker that allows you to follow your trail, so you don’t get lost. A big challenge for any hiker can be making the right turns at each trail junction and keeping your bearing. Not all areas get the best cell service, so it is best you bring a paper map, too (just in case). 

2. Find a hiking partner or group

While hiking alone can be a form of meditation for some, it can also be dangerous should anything happen while out on the trail. Unless you are an advanced hiker, it’s always best to travel with friends or family members. If you are a beginner, bring an experienced hiker along to help show you the ropes.

3. Check the weather

Hiking in inclement weather conditions can be dangerous. If the weather forecast doesn’t look good, it’s best to reschedule for another day. It’s also important to remember that weather conditions on mountains can drastically differ from the current conditions in your town. In any event, be prepared for a random afternoon rain shower or changing temperatures. You never know when that hot summer day will transition into a downpour.

4. Pack the essentials

For a day hike, it’s best to keep your backpack light. Here are some important items to bring with you:

    • First aid kit
    • Food and snacks (Easy, convenient grab-n-go snacks like Crispy Fruit are perfect to bring on the trails!)
    • Water (hydrate, hydrate, hydrate!)
    • Whistle
    • Sunscreen
    • Flashlight
    • Extra clothes (depending on weather)

Remember, keep it light! The less you carry, the more enjoyable the hike will be.

5. Let someone know where you are

Whether you are planning a quick hike at your local town park or driving 2 hours away for an incredible trail you saw on Instagram, you should let someone know where you will be. Give one of your contacts a “check in” time. If they have not heard from you before the designated time, have them check up on you. Be sure to leave them a window of time that allows for extra breaks or even a wrong turn. 

6. Leave no trace

Keep nature beautiful! Make sure everything you bring to the trail leaves with you. Be respectful of nature’s gifts, as well as other hikers. Nothing should be left behind (snack wrappers, empty water bottles, etc.) The seven Leave No Trace principles provides a framework of best practices for anyone visiting the outdoors:

  • Plan ahead and prepare
  • Travel and camp on durable surfaces
  • Dispose of waste properly
  • Leave what you find
  • Minimize campfire impacts
  • Respect wildlife
  • Be considerate of other visitors

7. Bring your furry friends

Hiking with your four-legged friend not only provides them with great exercise, but also gives their noses and brains a work out, too! Make sure your dog is capable of the physical exertion involved in a hike, especially in the summer. Dogs can overheat on hot days. Bring dog food, water, and waste bags. Also, be sure to find out if your trail allows pets before you go.

You’re all set for your hike! Good luck and remember to be safe, have fun and enjoy the trip! 

-Gabriella Costantini

Smart Lifebites