Day hiking requires less preparation than backpacking—one of the most common misconceptions that claims its casualties every year. It’s no coincidence that day hikers made up 42 percent of the search and rescue cases, while only 13% were backpackers. It’s because they tend to leave crucial gear and knowledge at home.
You don’t want to end up like them, do you? That’s why I’ve compiled a list of 21 tips that will ensure a safe and healthy hike. You can use the other 31 to improve your hiking and learn some new skills.
Let’s get started, shall we?
Tip 1: Use A Good Day Hiking Checklist
It all starts with a good checklist. Forgetting one crucial item can mess up your whole hike, so it’s a good thing that REI has an awesome checklist.
Tip 2: Don’t Forget The 10 Essentials
It’s needless to say that REI’s checklist contains the 10 essentials. But I want to emphasize how important these items are.
- Your headlamp, accompanied by extra batteries.
- Your first-aid kit. How do you build one?
- A map and compass. Don’t solely rely on your GPS. Batteries can fail, so it’s important to bring a map and compass and the knowledge to use it correctly.
You could also bring a Personal Locator Beacon, which is a good idea if you’re going for a hike deep in the woods. You can use it to send SOS messages in places where your smartphone has no service. This is not an essential item though. If it sounds interesting to you, you may want to visit this page.
- An emergency shelter in case you’re not back before nightfall
- A knife
- Sun protection (sunscreen and sunglasses)
- Fire (matches, lighter, stove, tinder)
- Extra clothing
- Extra water
- Extra food
For more information on these 10 essentials, you may want to visit REI’s article.
Tip 3: If It’s Your First Time, Don’t Overdo It
Limit your first hike to 5 miles and see how it goes. It can be harder than you expect. If it was easy, you can try to hike 8 miles the next time.
Tip 4: Finish With The Pace You Started With
It’s not a race! You win when you reach the finish line, no matter what your time is. Try to finish with the pace you started with. The average hiking speed is 3 mph, but don’t be frustrated if you’re a bit slower. The worse you start, the prouder you’ll be at the end of the road. That’s the mindset you need!
Tip 5: Plan And Research Your Route So You Can Know What To Expect
Since water and food is quite heavy, it’s advised to take a route that makes it easy to resupply (if necessary).
If there’s some civilization around you could:
- Stop by a water fountain to refill your supplies.
- Plan a circular route and use your car as an aid station to resupply.
- Make a quick stop at a town.
- If there’s something like a farm around, you could ask the people who live there to refill your bottle.
You could also bring a mini water filter and resupply at a water source (a river, stream, lake,…). This is often the best option if you’re in the mountains with no civilization around.
Besides making sure you don’t run out of water and food, you should also look up if you need a permit to hike the trail. This is often the case with National Parks.
You can also look for people who have hiked the trail and see what they say about it. Are there any dangerous situations? Are there any blockades? Are there things you’re not prepared for? These are the types of questions you want an answer to.
So where are you going to find this information? You can use apps or websites like AllTrails. Search for a Park, a city or a trail name, and this website will give you the available trails. AllTrails also shows reviews, waypoints, the weather, the UV index and much more. With the Pro-version of this tool, you can also make your own custom maps. The video below shows you how.
Tip 6: Prepare For Rainy Hikes
Hiking in the rain can be a pain in the ass if you’re unprepared. While it doesn’t matter that much if it’s hot, you don’t want to be wet and cold at the same time. So if you know it’s going to rain, or even if there’s a slight chance, always bring rainproof pants and a jacket at the very least. If your backpack isn’t waterproof, it’s a good idea to bring a backpack cover. I always have one with me and it has saved me in many situations.
For more tips on day-hiking in the rain: click here.
Tip 7: Prepare For Hot Hikes
Hot weather is even worse to hike in if you’re unprepared. Not only that, but it can be pretty dangerous.
You should really take it easy when it’s hot. Take many breaks (in the shade), wear sunglasses, a baseball cap and bring sunscreen. REI has an entire article about this, check it out.
Tip 8: Research Local Wildlife
Look up every dangerous animal you may encounter.
Do you know what’s so annoying about animals such as scorpions, snakes, spiders and alligators? They blend in perfectly with nature. Their camouflage can be beyond words in some cases. If you don’t pay attention, you can easily step or sit on these animals.
Bears don’t blend in with nature that easily. Although they’re usually brown or black, they’re quite big and walking right past them is not something that happens often. Bears will naturally avoid humans, but most encounters happen because the bear didn’t hear you. That’s why it’s a good idea to shout ‘hey bear’ once in a while.
I see so many people on social media sharing their selfie with a bear or approaching it, which is something you should only do if you have a death wish. While it is true that 99% of encounters with bears end well, you shouldn’t forget what you’re dealing with. These animals are faster, stronger and weigh about 600 pounds. If they want to kill you—they will. Isn’t that enough reason to stay out of their way and do your research?
Then there’s also a small creature that many people forget about: ticks. Although they may look innocent, they can carry all sorts of diseases such as the Lyme disease. To prevent this, I usually tuck my pants in my socks and wear long-sleeved t-shirts. After my hike, I inspect my body to ensure no tick is hiding.
Tip 9: Travel As Light As Possible
Always try to cut the weight of your pack. That’s why newer gear is recommended. Old gear can be very heavy, and that takes its toll on long climbs and descents.
If you’re looking for some ultralight backpacking tips, I suggest you take a look at this article.
Tip 10: Respect The Leave No Trace Principle
Leave No Trace means that you should leave nature as you would like to find it.
- Travel & camp on durable surfaces
- Bring your trash
- Don’t damage trees, plants, etc…
- Respect wildlife
- Minimize campfire impacts
- Leave what you find
- Be considerate of other visitors
More information can be found on this page.
Tip 11: Check The Weather
Always check the weather as little as possible in advance. Checking it five days on beforehand won’t do you much good. As you may not know yet, the weather forecasts are not that reliable and it can change a lot as time goes by.
Also, don’t be stubborn and adapt to the conditions. If bad weather is approaching, evaluate the situation and return if necessary. Trust your gut feeling, don’t lie to yourself, and listen to your fellow hikers.
You should also never be too fixed on a certain route. If it’s too dangerous to cross a river, find another way.
Tip 12: Break Your Hiking Footwear To Prevent Blisters
Hitting the trail with your brand new hiking boots, that’s a true beginner’s mistake. Never start the trail with a brand new pair of boots or a very old pair that you haven’t worn for very long.
If you’re prone to blisters, I suggest you bring some Vaseline. It’s a great little trick to make your feet a bit slippier, making it less likely to develop blisters.
You could also wear two pairs of socks or toe-sock liners, for example.
But it doesn’t stop there. There are many more ways to reduce your chances of getting blisters. Check out this article.
Tip 13: Take Your New Backpack And Shoes On A Test Hike
As a follow-up on the previous tip, never head out into the wilderness without going on a test hike. Always make sure your backpack is not being annoying and that your shoes don’t mess up your feet.
Tip 14: Avoid These Poisonous Plants
There are a few plants you should watch out for. Some can seriously hurt you by simply making contact with them, so be careful!
- Poison ivy
- Poison sumac
- Poison oak
- Manchineel tree
- Castor bean plant
- Water hemlock
For images and more information on these plants, click here.
Tip 15: Share Your Route And The Expected Return Date With Friends Or Family
If the movie 127 Hours taught us anything, it’s to ALWAYS let someone know where you’re going in case you get lost.
Also, share your expected return date and make sure they send help if you’re not back by then.
Tip 16: Listen To Your Body
If you feel something’s not right, take a break and evaluate. Pushing yourself is good, but you shouldn’t push yourself too far.
For information on common hiking injuries, check out this article.
Tip 17: Take Short And Many Breaks
The best way to take breaks is by making them short and frequent. Long and occasional is not the go-to technique in this case. Your muscles stiffen up, making it harder to resume your adventure.
Tip 18: Drink As Much Water Possible Before Hiking Off
Bringing water is sometimes a whole lot of work. It’s heavy and bulky. That’s why you should drink as much water as possible before hiking off.
Oh, and how much water should you drink during your hike? Well, about a half liter per hour is a good rule of thumb. Now, if you’re a hardcore hiker, you should drink more of course. But there are other factors to consider:
- The temperatures
- Your age
- Your sweat rate
There’s no way to calculate the exact amount of water you need to drink. Just make sure you don’t dehydrate yourself. That’s why it’s a good idea to sip your water every 20 minutes (see next tip). After a couple of hikes, you’ll get a better idea of how much water you need.
Tip 19: Drink Many Small Amounts Of Water Rather Than Big Chucks Every Hour
Drinking big chucks of water is a common beginner’s mistake. I know it does feel way more satisfying, but your body thinks otherwise. The moments before your big water intake you’re actually dehydrated. It’s best to take a sip every 20 minutes. This way you never have to worry about dehydration.
If you know you’re going to forget this, it may be smart to set an alarm every 20 minutes as a reminder.
For more tips on staying hydrated, click here.
Tip 20: Don’t Forget To Drink Water In Cold Conditions
We all drink more than enough water during the summer because it’s so damn hot. But in winter, you don’t really feel like drinking a glass of freezing water. That doesn’t mean it’s not necessary though. It’s at least equally important to stay hydrated because the dry air in winter can actually dehydrate you from within, especially if you’re hiking all day.
For more information on why watering yourself in winter is important, visit this article.
Tip 21: Drink More Water At Higher Elevation
Since there’s less oxygen available at higher altitudes, your breathing-rate is much higher. Your body is doing extra work, so you should really not get thrifty at these moments!
For more information, click here.
Tip 22: Avoid The Crowds By Hiking Less-well-known Trails
Hiking and backpacking can be fun, but not when it doesn’t feel like you’re in the wild.
How to find less crowded trails: click here.
Tip 23: Keep Your Head High To Enjoy The Outdoors And Stay Positive
Remember to have fun while climbing that massive mountain!
Look up to the blue sky and try to spot some birds. I believe walking with a straight posture and keeping your head high has a positive effect on your mood. This article explains it in full detail.
This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t look down anymore. You should still make sure you don’t accidentally step on a rattlesnake or trip over a rock.
Tip 24: Re-waterproof Your Gear From Time To Time
A Durable Water Repellent (DWR) coating is awesome because it keeps you dry… for a while. Over time, this DWR coating degrades due to wear and tear and the build-up of dirt and other filthiness.
The good news is you can either:
- Restore your current DWR coating by washing and tumble-drying it (heat reactivates the DWR coating).
- Re-apply a new DWR coating with a waterproof spray.
For more information and how to actually do this, check out this article by REI.
Tip 25: Pack Your Toilet Paper Flat
To save some space, bring a roll without cardboard inside. Just take it out and pack it flat.
Tip 26: Consider A Child Carrier
If you have kids, you know they can suddenly decide to stop walking. A child carrier solves this problem. It’s like a backpack you can use to carry your children!
Tip 27: Try To Spot Wildlife At Sunrise Or Sunset
Spotting wildlife is a peaceful hobby… as long as you’re not looking for bears. That’s way too dangerous. But to spot harmless wildlife, I’d suggest you either get up before sunrise or sunset. Your chances of spotting animals are at their highest during these times of the day.
Click here for more tips on increasing your chances of spotting wildlife.
Tip 28: Use A Tick Key To Remove Ticks
Expect these bastards to sip your blood once in a while—there’s no escape. Fortunately, it’s usually not a big deal if you remove them in time. But what’s in time? The risk of infection rises 24–48 hours after the tick attaches to your skin. That means you want to check your body after every single hike.
Oh, and you may want to check your body thoroughly! Ticks like warm places… I have a friend who had to go to the doctor to have one removed because he had no vision of that particular hotspot—that must’ve been awkward!
A tick key makes it an easy job. It’s suitable for removing small ticks but also fat ones. Watch the video below to learn how to use it.
But why not just remove it with your bare hands? Well, that’s a bit riskier. You could do it incorrectly by only partially pulling out the tick, which increases the chance of infections. The tick will sort of ‘vomit’ if this happens, infecting you with whatever he’s carrying. But there’s another possible outcome. You could accidentally squeeze the tick, letting its blood merge with yours. Both situations are very dangerous and could make a simple tick removal turn into a life-threatening situation.
Tip 29: Make Sure You Study The National Park’s Regulations
The biggest mistake you can make when visiting a National Park is not looking up its regulations. What regulations are there concerning dogs? Are there any rules concerning campfires? Do I need a permit? These are important questions you might need answers to.
Here’s an example: the regulation page of Yosemite concerning pets.
Tip 30: Find People To Hike With
You can bring your friends, or you can make friends on the trail. It happens all the time. Making friends in the wilderness is much easier because everyone’s just so friendly, positive and happy. That’s partly because people surrounded by nature have stronger feelings of unity with other people, are more concerned with helping and supporting each other and have stronger feelings of belonging. If you’d like to know more about why people like to hike/backpack, check out my other article.
But of course, like many tips in this article, this one’s optional. If you rather hike alone, go for it. Just make sure you know what you’re doing.
Tip 31: Keep Your Electronics In Waterproof Bags
Even if your backpack is completely waterproof, it’s still a good idea to store your electronics in waterproof baggies. You wouldn’t be the first to fall into a river or come to the conclusion that you didn’t seal your water bottle properly. Sooner or later it happens to all of us.
For more information on how to protect your electronics in the outdoors, check out this article by REI.
Tip 32: Keep Some Spare Clothes In The Car
You know, hiking is lots of fun, but you do miss warm showers, your couch and fresh clothes. Obviously, you can’t bring your shower and couch, but you can leave some spare clothes in the car. It’s an easy tip you’ll thank me for later.
Tip 33: Don’t Fall In The Trap Of Buying Waterproof Boots
Waterproof boots by Gore-Tex or other big brands get so hyped up, but are these boots even worth it? Will they keep your feet dry? There are two main problems with materials that claim to be both breathable and waterproof, like Gore-Tex:
- They’re hardly breathable and waterproof at the same time, even if the manufacturer says they are. They may be a bit breathable but not nearly as much as they say.
So what is Gore-Tex? It’s a technology that features small pores, big enough for sweat to escape but too small for the rain to enter. Sounds good, right? Well, the bad news is, it doesn’t breathe well when it’s raining. It has something to do with the process of diffusion. Here’s the definition of diffusion: “Diffusion is the movement of a substance from an area of high concentration to an area of low concentration.” This means that if it’s equally wet on both sides of your boots, there’s no reason for your sweat to move his ass to the outside.
This article goes much more in-depth on this topic.
- So-called waterproof boots are in most cases only waterproof for a few months. From the moment there’s a little hole or a bit of wear and tear, you can forget about the waterproof feature, even with the most expensive boots you can find.
This article goes more in-depth.
So what can you do? The best tip I can give you is to ditch your waterproof hiking boots and invest in a decent pair of hiking shoes. They won’t keep your feet dry but they dry much quicker, are much more comfortable, are lighter and breathe very well.
This article goes more in-depth about why hiking shoes are a much better choice.
Tip 34: Dry Your Hiking Boots By Stuffing Them With Newspaper
If you’re still going to wear hiking boots on your next hike, dry them properly when you get back home. Stuff them with balled up newspaper and replace it every few hours until the boots are dry. Letting them dry in the sunshine or by a radiator may cause them to crack.
For more information, click here.
Tip 35: Fight Odors With Tea Bags
Your boots can smell really bad after a day of hiking. Fortunately, there’s a simple cure: tea bags. Just place them in your shoes and it’ll help reduce the smell of growing fungus.
If you’re willing to spend a bit of money, this does the job way better.
Tip 36: Train Your Balance
A good balance is very important if you’re hiking. Whether it’s to avoid spraining your ankle while descending or not falling into the river while crossing a tree trunk—it’s a crucial skill to have in the wilderness.
Try to train your balance on one leg whenever you have time. Maybe when you’re waiting for your water to finally boil? Or when you’re brushing your teeth?
For more tips on how to boost your balance, click here.
Tip 37: Get In Shape By Doing Exercises
On top of training your balance, you can also train your body by doing some exercises. Actually, I do advise this is if you’re a complete beginner and are not used to a lot of movement.
Any exercise that strengthens your legs, core or hips is a great one. Check out this article by REI.
Tip 38: Stretch A Lot
You can do as many sit-ups as you want, if you’re not going to stretch, you won’t be having a good time.
I know, stretching sucks, but it’s crucial in this case. If you hike all day long, your muscles are going to be stiff, tired and sore. Stretching solves these problems. It decreases soreness, lower back pain and tension in your muscles. On top of that, it also increases your flexibility.
For a couple of great stretches, click here.
Tip 39: Eat Lots Of Blueberries And Tart Cherries
Joint pain—not a fun thing to experience. Fortunately, you can eat lots of things to reduce it. Blueberries and tart cherries are great examples because they reduce inflammation, which is a major cause of joint pain.
Of course, there are many other foods and drinks that reduce inflammation. Green tea and dark chocolate, for example.
You could also bring some Ibuprofen since it also counteracts inflammation.
For more information and inflammation-reducing foods, check out this article.
Tip 40: Make Sure You Organize A Group Hike
- Everybody knows the route and the distance.
- Everybody knows how many people there are in the group.
- Make sure the trail is appropriate for everyone.
- Take all breaks together.
For more information on how to organize your group, check out this article.
Tip 41: Shape Your Sentences Correctly
What do I mean by this? Well, you shouldn’t make stupid decisions and get your friends hurt by practically forcing them to follow you. Here’s an example situation:
You’ve been hiking for four hours and are about to climb a massive mountain. The problem is that a huge thunderstorm is approaching, to which your reaction is: “We came all the way here and not to give up now, right?” Of course, your group members agree and you head out into the storm.
As you can see, you practically make the decision this way. Instead, get your message across like this: “What do you guys think? Should we continue or return?” This is a much more responsible question because it’s less likely for your group to make stupid decisions driven by emotions or because they feel forced.
Tip 42: Hike With People Of Your Level
Of course, in some situations, it’s a good idea to have a more experienced hiker with you. For example, if it’s a difficult trail and your experienced friend knows it through and through. In this case, it’s a great idea to bring a pro.
What I’m trying to say is, know who you’re hiking with and what you want to achieve. It’s no fun if you’re trying to get a decent hike and constantly have to wait or detour because someone is too afraid to cross a river.
Tip 43: Use Miniature Packets Of Honey To Boost Your Energy
Do you know why many sports dietitians recommend that athletes include pure honey into their pre-exercise meal or snack? Because it gives you a great natural energy boost.
So whenever you feel drained after climbing yet another mountain, take a break and bring out your mini-portion honey.
Tip 44: Take The Easy Way
Don’t climb every big rock to walk in a straight line. You’re better off zigzagging your way through. Avoid the big rocks and your body will thank you. More information on this matter can be found in this article. It has some great comments too!
Tip 45: Change Your Hiking Technique
Yes, there are techniques to master. You can improve your hiking by changing the way you descend, ascent or take your steps.
Here’s an entire article about it.
Tip 46: Stash Your Water Bottle In A Reachable Place
This is something you’ll discover on your own, but a water bottle is best stored in a sideway mesh pocket of your backpack. Of course, you can also bring a backpack that’s equipped with a camel bag.
Tip 47: Attach Your Keys To A Wine Cork
Besides the fact that it looks fashionable, there’s another benefit to it. Have you ever dropped your keys while crossing a river? Well, I sure hope you didn’t, but you can be damn sure it happens to people all the time.
So for the sake of sparing yourself an entire dictionary of swearing, I suggest you take five minutes to attach your keys to a wine cork. It could save you a river of time and misery.
Tip 48: Don’t Wear Jeans
If this would be the ‘80s, I’d let you adventure with your jeans on, but the truth is, that time’s over. These days, there are much better fabrics to wear while hiking.
So why not wear jeans?
- It holds moisture like crazy, making your clothes heavy.
- It’s thick and doesn’t breathe well.
- Wet jeans cause chafing, which is something you want to avoid at all cost.
- It takes forever to dry, increasing your chances of hypothermia.
Regular wool is also not advised. It stings, absorbs crazy amounts of water and is really heavy when wet.
So what are the better alternatives? Merino wool and synthetics. These fabrics dry quicker, are lighter, absorb less water and are less likely to cause chafing.
Then there’s also fleece, a very reliable fabric. It insulates very well and is therefore one of the best fabrics you can wear during winter hikes. Not to mention, it looks quite fashionable too, and let’s not forget how cozy it feels—definitely my favorite fabric!
For more information on hiking clothes, click here.
Tip 49: Use Your Phone As A Back-up Rather Than A Primary Tool
Bringing a cell phone is already a must-do but using it the right way is also crucial in some situations.
If you didn’t bring a power bank, you may not be given the luxury to carelessly use your phone. Your battery life is limited, so try to avoid using it as a flashlight or compass. Instead, keep if for when your compass is lost or when your flashlight is broken.
Of course, this doesn’t mean you’re not allowed to take a picture from time to time. All I want to say is keep an eye on your battery life because it can get scary real quick.
For some great hiking survival stories, click here. Maybe you could learn something from it.
Tip 50: Consider Buying Hiking Poles
Hiking poles are great tools and in most cases worth the extra weight. However, some people think it’s unnecessary, so don’t be afraid to say no to hiking poles.
But it’s a fact that poles significantly:
- Increase your stability
- Reduce stress on your joints
There are even more pros (also cons).
One benefit not mentioned in the above article is that you can use your poles to intimidate bears. In some cases, it may be a better move to fight the bear instead of running away.
Again, for more information on bear safety, check out my other article.
Tip 51: Make Your Own Walking Staff
Hiking poles can be quite expensive and maybe that’s what’s holding you back.
So why not make your own walking staff? It provides stability, reduces stress on your joints and most importantly, you can use it to scare bears.
Moreover, you have to admit that it looks pretty fashionable. You can even make it look more impressive by carving it.
Check out the video below to see how you can make your own walking staff.
Tip 52: Wear Your Jacket Backward To Prevent A Sweaty Back
Not wearing your jacket is too cold but wearing it will result in a sweaty back—we’ve all been there.
To solve this, simply wear your jacket backward and keep it unzipped to avoid a sweaty back.
Have any tips to add? Let me know in the comments below!