Packing the Car and Hitting the Trails: A Guide to Hiking

Hiking can improve your physical and mental health. Our guide to hiking is full of useful tips and resources to help you pack before a hike, what to look for on your hike, hiking safety tips, and more. The most common mistakes hikers make are underestimating the trail or going off-trail completely. Before you get out on the trails, read our hiking guide to learn what to do in case you get lost.

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Natasha McLachlan is a writer who currently lives in Southern California. She is an alumna of California College of the Arts, where she obtained her B.A. in Writing and Literature. Her current work revolves around insurance guides and informational articles. She truly enjoys helping others learn more about everyday, practical matters through her work.

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Laura Walker graduated college with a BS in Criminal Justice with a minor in Political Science. She married her husband and began working in the family insurance business in 2005. She became a licensed agent and wrote P&C business focusing on personal lines insurance for 10 years. Laura serviced existing business and wrote new business. She now uses her insurance background to help educate...

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Reviewed by Laura Walker
Former Licensed Agent

UPDATED: Jul 16, 2021

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Hiking is one of the best activities you can do to improve your mental and physical health. It’s also a pretty affordable and accessible hobby to develop. To start, all you need are a good pair of shoes and a bottle of water, and you’re ready to start hiking up and down some beginner trails.

But if you are looking to make it a serious hobby, you will need to do more prep and buy a few more things to ensure your safety and overall enjoyment of the activity. Here are some great tips and resources to help you get the most out of hiking.

Preparing for the Hike

Planning is probably the most important part of any highly physical outdoor activity that requires a little extra work. To have successful and enjoyable hiking trips, you will need to make sure that you are well-prepared for all your planned activities and any possible emergencies.

There are some essential things that every hiker should have on them on every trip into the wilderness. They are as follows:

  • A map of the trail you are planning on taking
  • A flashlight
  • A whistle
  • A wind jacket
  • A compass
  • An insulated jacket
  • Long pants
  • A hat
  • Extra food and water
  • A pocket knife

In addition, if you will be driving to the trail head, it may make sense to pack some extra supplies in the trunk in case you plan on having a picnic or camping out before or after your hike. Consider bringing supplies for a picnic, or camping gear such as a sleeping bag, tent, and bug spray. Also, leave an extra change of clothing in the car as well as an extra cell phone in case of an emergency.

For more information on how to prepare for a hiking trip, check out the links below:

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Enjoying Your hike

If you are driving, you widen your options when it comes to the number of great hiking trails that you can get to. Of course, whichever trail you choose, enjoying it should be your first priority.

There are many benefits and advantages to going on solo hiking trips, such as the chance to enjoy nature and spend some time with your own thoughts.

Seasoned hikers cite having great conversations with friends as one perk of hiking with other people. However, they also recommend stopping (walking or talking) once in a while to open up your senses to nature and take in the scenery and atmosphere of the trail you’re hiking on.

Part of the relaxing effect of hiking is caused by allowing your mind to relax and your body to be more aware of your surroundings. Observe the patterns of clouds. Try to differentiate

the various bird songs you hear. Feel the crunch the soil makes against every step of your hiking shoes.

Resources:

Hiking Safety Tips

Things can go wrong anywhere. But they can get a little more dangerous when you’re out in the wilderness of a forest or mountain far away from emergency services.

To ensure your and your companions’ safety while out and about, there are certain precautions that you should be aware of before lacing up your hiking boots.

The Seattle Mountain Rescue recommends that you leave a copy of your trip’s plan to someone you trust before you go. This should include your entire itinerary, the names and cell numbers of everyone in your party, the make and plate number of the vehicle you took, and an agreed time for when to contact authorities upon your non-return.

Meanwhile, remember the acronym S.T.O.P. if you get lost on the trail.

  • Stop if you feel lost, compose yourself, maybe have a snack and then assess your current situation without panicking.
  • Think about the last time you were certain of your last location on the map. Can you go back to it?
  • Observe if you can retrace your last known trail location. If you cannot, it’s probably best to stay put, so it will be easier for rescuers to find you based on your original trail plans.
  • Plan out how you can resolve the situation with your companions.

To find more detailed tips on keeping safe during hiking trips, check out other helpful links below:

Common Mistakes Hikers Make

If you’re a newbie hiker, be aware of making these dangerous mistakes.

  • Underestimating the trail. This is a common mistake made by beginners. Remember to be honest with yourself about your current physical capabilities. A challenge is good but sacrificing your health and safety to prove yourself is not the best choice.
  • Underpreparing. One forgotten essential tool or amenity can make or break your hiking trip. Be sure to make checklists for everything you need to bring or do before your trip.
  • Hiking alone without informing anyone. Hiking solo isn’t technically dangerous but doing so without informing other people can lead to disastrous results.
  • Going off-trail. Unless you’ve prepared for going off-track, staying on the known paths is much safer. It will also make it easier to get back to your car!
  • Ditching your plans. Going off without a plan is a dangerous choice. Ditching your plans is a more dangerous one no matter how experienced a hiker is.

Read more about the mistakes you need to avoid when hiking through the links below:

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Hiking with Kids

Hiking with your kids is a great way to bond as a family while also getting in some exercise. However, adding kids into the mix may spell disaster. To make your family hiking trips enjoyable, you can begin by piquing their interest first. Maybe give them interesting info about the place you will be going to. Point out interesting landmarks while in the car on the way to hiking. To motivate your kids on the trail, you can prepare some special trail snacks for them to munch on. And finally, you can take some of their friends with you on the trip to keep them happy during the hike.

Resources:

Additional Resources

There are still a lot of informative resources you may want to check out especially if you’re still looking for a trail to hike. The National Park Foundation has a guide to some of the most popular national park trails at their page, Happy trails: 25 unforgettable national park hikes. The Hiking project also has a trail directory at Hiking trail directory.

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