A Little Planning Goes a Long Way
If you are a beginner in hiking, probably stick to short, easy hikes that can be managed with little to know prior planning. One of the wonderful things about hiking is that it allows you to spend time in a natural setting while getting good exercise, but it can be done spontaneously and doesn't require a big commitment of money or time.
However, if you are enthusiastic about hiking, you may find that you are interested in longer, more challenging hikes as you build endurance and continue hiking regularly. As intermediate to advanced hikers know, a little planning and careful packing can go a long way toward ensuring that longer hiking days turn out well.
Water, Water, Water
When engaging in any physical activity, it is always important to stay properly hydrated. Even beginning hikers on easy, shorter hikes should always remember to bring water along and drink it at regular intervals. For hikers, hydration is particularly important for a few reasons.
First, hiking is an outdoor sport and hikers can be exposed to sun and wind that can dehydrate the body. Second, hiking is about endurance, and drinking lots of water will help you build endurance and tackle more challenging trails without becoming exhausted.
For longer hikes, consider bringing a hydration pack that you can carry on your back and drink from easily. This helps distribute the weight of water evenly and allows you to bring along more water than you could easily carry in bottles.
Don't Forget to Eat
On longer hikes, food is just as important as water. Hikes of two hours or less can often be accomplished without bringing food along, as long as you eat a good meal an hour or so before the hike. If you plan to be out longer than that, be sure to bring plenty of snacks so you can refuel and keep going without experiencing fatigue.
The best foods to bring are those that have a good balance of carbohydrates and protein and can be digested quickly and easily. Sports bars and gels can be good, but a simple trail mix of peanuts and raisins works, too.
Remember, even if you don't plan on being gone long, as you become more experienced you may want to hike farther or longer than you thought you would. If you stay on marked trails you won't get lost, but food is an important resource just in case, so think about bringing some snacks along even if you don't anticipate needing them.
If you are technologically inclined, GPS location systems can be handy to have on the trail. For most casual hikers, however, trail maps are just as good. Although many popular hiking spots have trail maps posted on signs at the trailhead and often throughout the trail system, a trail map can still be useful.
Becoming a better hiker means learning how to be flexible and adjust your plan as the situation requires. If someone in your group is getting tired sooner than expected, you may want to consider cutting the hike short. With a trail map, you'll be able to assess the situation and determine whether there's a more appropriate route for the new circumstances.
On the other hand, if everyone is feeling at their best, you might consider adding another mile or two, taking a scenic loop you hadn't planned to do, or otherwise altering course. The trail map will also help you keep track of how far you've gone.
As an avid hiker, you will find as you gain more experience that there are other items you like to have along with you on any hike. Some hikers never set off without binoculars or a pocket knife, for example.
A whistle can also be a good idea in case you run into trouble and are unable to use a cell phone to call for help. But remember: pack light! Having too many "just in case" items can weigh you down and make for an unpleasant hiking experience in the end. After all, hiking is a wonderful activity and should always be done in fun and safety.