The sun’s out and you’re feeling that pull of the great outdoors. Whether you’re going for a walk in a nearby park or a full-blown wilderness backpacking trip, you’ll learn all about how to plan a hike here
Hiking Trip Planner 101: How to Plan a Hike
Hiking allows you to see and explore places you can’t access otherwise. It’s a great way to regroup, disconnect and destress, while also offering several health benefits, such as better heart health, lower blood pressure and improved mental well-being.
It’s also one of the easiest activities to participate in. To hike, you don’t need a lot of equipment at all, while you don’t even have to be fit to start doing it either. It doesn’t matter if you’re a total beginner or an experienced backpacker; hiking is a fun activity for nearly everyone.
This blog post offers a bunch of great actionable tips for planning a hike, from figuring out where and when to go, to what food to eat and other logistics.
12 Tips for Planning a Hike
1. Know Your Capabilities
The first step when planning a hike is determining what you and your hiking buddies are capable of. Before you do anything else, you should figure out what your general fitness level is.
Have you been on numerous strenuous hikes before? Or are you completely new to hiking? Do you already work out regularly or is hiking how you will get in shape? Be sure not to overestimate your abilities. It’s okay to push yourself a little bit, though!
2. Think About What You Want to See When Planning a Hike
Why are you planning a hiking trip in the first place? Do you want to see waterfalls or spring wildflowers? Maybe even wildlife? Climb a mountain or just go for a relaxing walk in the woods?
Thinking about the things you’d like to see and experience will help you zoom in on your ideal hiking destination and trail. Many of these things are also seasonal, which is an important consideration.
If you’re planning a hike in late-summer, waterfalls may be dried up, for example. A winter hike, on the other hand, requires totally different gear. So, take some time to pinpoint what exactly you expect to get from your hike.
3. Pick Your Destination
Step three in the hiking planning process is choosing a destination. When you’ve figured out what you want to see during your hike, you can start looking at places that have both hiking trails and your chosen attraction(s).
This could be a place close to your home, but also a faraway destination that requires a longer trip. I usually choose the focal point of my hike first—waterfalls, wildlife, wildflowers, panoramic views, rugged coastline,… After that, I start looking at potential places that offer that and are within a reasonable distance from my home.
4. Determine How Long You Want to Hike
Another important thing to think about when you plan your hike is the length of your hike—both the distance and time. This is not necessarily related to your physical fitness. Sometimes, you simply don’t have enough time for a really long day hike, even if you’d easily be able to complete one.
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Look at your schedule. Discuss your hiking plans with your hiking partner(s) or maybe even someone who’s staying at home while you’re gone. With that information, you can then determine what duration is most realistic, practical and achievable considering your specific circumstances and expectations.
5. Choose Your Route / Trail
When you’ve figured out your perfect destination and ideal duration, you can start looking at individual trails. Remember that your pace when hiking is slower than when you walk around your hometown.
A conservative rule of thumb is to assume you’ll hike at a speed of 2mph. It’s also important to take into account the terrain and elevation change.
This website offers a really useful formula to figure out the ideal hike for your preferences:
Trail hours = ½ * (miles + elevation gain in 1,000 feet)
6. Always Check the Weather When Planning a Hike
Don’t forget to check the weather forecast! Don’t only look at the temperature and the chance of precipitation, but also look up the wind speed, fog, risk of lightning and UV index.
I understand it’s easy to let excitement guide your decisions, but please take a step back and look at the conditions that you’re literally going to walk into. Be prepared to postpone your hiking trip if the forecast shows unfavourable or even dangerous weather.
7. Tell People Where You’re Going
Once you’ve chosen your destination, trail and general hiking itinerary, tell a couple of people about your hiking plans. Let them know when and where you’re going and how long you think you’ll be gone.
In case you don’t return on time, they can then inform the local authorities and provide them with useful information.
8. Find Out If You Need a Permit
Often overlooked but undeniably important, you should also check whether or not you need a permit or pass for your destination park or specific trailhead. Nothing ruins an amazing hike quite like arriving back at your car to find a ticket on your windshield. Do a quick online search to see if you need to get a permit in advance.
9. Inform Yourself About Wildlife or Insects
When you’re planning a hiking trip, it’s also essential to be aware of any wildlife or insects at your hiking destination. Are there bears around? How’s the mosquito situation?
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Make sure you know which animals live in the area you’ll be hiking in and take the necessary precautions. This can include everything from bear spray to bug spray.
10. Make a Hiking Gear Checklist
What you wear when you hike can make or break your hike. Having proper hiking footwear, clothes and a comfortable backpack is more important than you might assume. I encourage you to create a gear checklist for your specific hike. You can find lots of information about clothes and other gear here.
Basic items include the following:
- Hiking shoes or boots
- Strong pants or shorts
- Breathable rain jacket
- Water bottle
- First-aid kit
Make sure that all your gear is in working condition and that you know how to use it. Break-in your hiking boots, learn how to best pack a backpack, assemble or buy a comprehensive first-aid kit, and so on.
11. Eat Properly Before and During Your Hike
Food is also a critical part of planning a hike. This includes both food before your hike and during your hike. Since hiking is a form of physical exercise, you need to make sure your body has enough fuel.
Before your hike, you should eat plenty of healthy carbs, such as whole-wheat bread, low-fat yoghurt, fruits and vegetables, brown rice and whole-grain pasta. Carbs are the best pre-hike energy source, while proteins are best eaten during and, especially, after your hike to help your body recover.
Here’s a non-exhaustive list of great, lightweight and nutrition-packed hiking snacks:
- Dried fruit
- Trail mix
- Dark chocolate
- Low-sugar granola bars
- Nuts, seeds and nut butters
- Dried beans
It’s also important to stay hydrated throughout your hike. So, bring plenty of water—the minimum is 16 ounces (473 ml) per hour of hiking. To stay hydrated, it’s best to take many small sips regularly rather than just a couple of big gulps.
12. Learn About Best Hiking Practices When Planning a Hike
While planning a hike, I encourage you to learn about the impact you have on the environment, how you can minimize that, and how to behave courteously towards fellow hikers.
The Leave No Trace principles are a great place to start. They range from respecting wildlife to proper waste disposal and being considerate to other visitors. This is a great resource on how to enjoy the great outdoors in an ethical and sustainable way.
Conclusion – Planning a Hike
Hopefully, these tips can help you plan your hike. Whether you’re just visiting a nearby park or heading out for an extended wilderness adventure, I think most of these tips will be applicable to your trip. If you have any other hiking planning tips, feel free to share them in the comments below. Have fun!
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