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You just found free space in your calendar, you’ve got an itch to get outside, you’re reading this article… it looks like you’ll be heading out on an awesome day hike soon! Even though a day hike is not quite as involved as a backpacking trip, there are still some things you need to consider before hitting the trail.

“Hiking begins before you reach the trailhead.” — American Hiking Society

Before you drive to the closest sign that resembles a trailhead, check these 5 basic steps off your list. In the end, they’ll save you time and energy–that way, you can just enjoy the beauty surrounding you when you’re on the trail!

1. Pick a Trail

Choosing where to hike seems simple enough, but often times it’s not. Pick a place close enough to your home base that you’re not wasting an entire day on a car ride. Once you’ve picked an area, pick a trail in that area that really peaks your interest. Are you ready to see panoramic views, or would you rather swim at the base of a waterfall? Is wildlife viewing your priority, or do you want to get a really good workout in? Ask yourself these questions, and be sure to pick your trail accordingly. When you understand what you want and you pick a trail that fits your criteria, you avoid disappointment.

Also, be aware of factors such as your physical condition. What are the elevation changes on this trail? What is the steepest grade? Make sure that you are physically capable of handling these challenges, otherwise a relaxing day hike could turn into a potentially hazardous situation. And don’t forget about wildlife! Bring a whistle, and keep a lookout for wildlife in your area.

Looking for a trail near you? Run a quick search in the Tripleblaze trails database, home to  over 7,000 different trail listings (and counting).

2. Get a Topographic/Trail Map

Even though many day hikes are clearly marked, you should always bring a map and a navigation tool (ex: GPS unit or compass) with you. A topo map will show you elevation changes along the trail, as well as other areas of interest, such as water sources. You may have packed enough water for the day, but it’s good to know where other water sources are located, just in case. Maybe you’ve consumed more water than you expected, or for some reason you’re forced to stay out on the trail longer than you planned. Having a topo map along with navigation tools will certainly help you out in these situations.

If you’re looking for easy access to topo maps, try out the new topo maps on Tripleblaze! Not sure how to read a topo map? Check out this article by JohnH.

3. Watch the Weather

We all know that weather forecasts are not always reliable, but having an idea of what the weather will be like during your hike will help you decide what you need to pack. Although you should always bring a rain jacket (just in case), a weather forecast may help you decide to pack a down jacket, too. You might even decide to postpone the hike until another day if the weather looks dismal enough. Although the weather is fickle, looking ahead will help you to be more prepared on the trail.

4. Pack your Bag

Never forget any of the 10 essentials; you really never know when they’ll save your life. In addition to packing these basics, you may also want to test your gear. Make sure everything works before you get out on the trail; it’s best to know beforehand if a piece of gear is malfunctioning. If you’re bringing a dog or a child, make sure to bring a bag so you can pack refuse out.

5. Tell Someone

Just because you’re on a day hike doesn’t mean you should overlook this step. Emergencies can happen at anytime–they aren’t just reserved for backpackers. Make a simple hiking plan that should include: where you’re going, GPS coordinates, who you’re going with (names and number of people), when you’re going, and when you’re going to be back. You may also want to include trailhead names along with the names of connector trails. The more detailed you are, the better chance there is that someone will find you if something goes wrong.

Last but not least, be sure to have fun!

Your Turn: How do you prepare for a day hike?

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# Comments

  • LightFoot

    #5 is so important. Telling someone when and where you are going is important. Just last month, a Seattle woman went for a hike and didn’t take a friend or tell anyone where she was going and she’s been missing ever since.
    http://seattletimes.com/html/localnews/2021212282_mushroomfoloxml.html

    That’s good advice and it’s true that a little planning goes a long way toward a good time.

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