If there’s anything you can be sure of when planning a hike, it’s that it will almost never go as planned. So, let’s make a concise list of good hiking habits that will prepare you for the unplanned.
For experienced hikers this guide might read as boring, but for a beginner and a hiker with anything less of a dozen hikes under his boot this is a must-read.
1. Always have a list
Whether you are known as that type of person that’s constantly looking for their car keys whilst always being sure that, “…this is where I left them…”, or the over- diligent organization “freak”, never underestimated the power of making a list of things to do and pack when preparing. Ten minutes the night before can save you hours on the day or even make or break your hiking experience.
You don’t want anything to take away the focus from the beauty around you, especially not things like thinking about the fact that you forgot to bring that second water bottle.
It might sound like an overkill, but a simple list on your phone does the trick for me. After a few hikes, you’ll have the list “engraved” in your brain and having it physically in front of you becomes less important.
2. Get up early and don’t dillydally
I’ve hiked most of the popular trails and it’s one of the mistakes I made most often in my early days. These popular trails deserved to be called that, so unless you can choose a day when you know most people will be at their work desks and not on the trail, you better start early.
My first few hikes had more of a school field trip feel to them than a feeling of serenity and connecting with the nature.
3. Make sure you are really good at reading a Topo map and carry a compass
Don’t laugh. Just because your last hike went great, you saw all the markings and you have a GPS it doesn’t mean that your next hike will be exactly like last time. Don’t get cocky and think , “It’s the 21st century, I don’t need a map.”
You do. Learn to read one and carry it as an essential. End of conversation.
4. Take two minutes for yourself before you go
I have a ritual – just before I get out of the house I sit on the floor by my bedroom bed, rest my back to the side of it and repeat for 1 minute:
Today, I’m not going to think about my problems.
You can make the argument that besides adventure a hike is about clearing your mind so you can deal better with every day problems that await when you come back. And it is, but most people go about this the wrong way – they look at the trees and the mountains and think about their problems at the same time.
But here’s the beauty of this technique – whatever you do and no matter how relaxed your brain is your subconscious is regrouping and it’s cogs are working in the back of your mind on your problems.
Nobody really understood what I was talking about until Men in Black 3 came out and they saw the lets-have-some-pie scene.
To explain it better, I started calling what I do The Apple Pie.
So, do the apple-pie just before you go.
On the trail you’ll enjoy the songs of the birds but when you come back and plug in again, you’ll have all these new ideas on how to close that account or organize that hotel lobby. Now you don’t have to wonder where they all come from.
They’re coming from the Apple Pie.
5. Bring rain gear and a hat
You do not want to make aunt Hypothermia mad, trust me. And no matter what you saw on TV or on your phone the day before, ignore it. The higher you go the less reliable the weatherman’s words become.
And besides keeping your feet dry (which is pretty much the main thing this site talks about – hiking footwear and the rights socks) you’re whole body needs to remain dry.
A light rain gear and a hat will do the trick.
6. Prepare to adapt to the worst case scenario
“What kind of thinking is that?”, I can almost hear the voice in your head.
The right kind.
The first thing I do before I go on a more serious hike is make sure at least two people know where I’ll be and when I’m due back.
Besides the basics that are already in the first aid kit – various types of bandages, gauze rolls, bandanas, medical adhesive tapes, tweezers…I also make sure that I carry:
- a multi tool – the most adaptable piece of equipment ever (I personally swear by my trusted sidekick Leatherman Wave)
- universal duct tape
- a small handy head lamp
- a waterproof firestarter and a few balls of cotton soaked in Vaseline
- a water purifier, no matter how small
- a light foil emergency shelter and a few plain garbage bags
- a loud emergency whistle
7. Be just as careful on the way down as up
One of the most common rookie mistakes I’ve seen over the years – allowing the endorphins that overflow your brain after reaching the top to make you just relaxed enough for a serious injury to happen.
Do enjoy, but don’t take your eye of the trail.
8. Have a post-hike ritual
The hike itself is reward enough and you’ll feel great and you’ll want the feeling to last as long as possible.
Making a habit of post hike ritual does just that – prolongs the joy.
*hint: a beer or two makes for a great post-hiking ritual