How to prepare for a hike like a pro

Have you ever seen people trying to pitch their tent for the first time in the rain and wind after a long day of walking? It’s often very entertaining, but rarely for everyone.

Preparing a hike is essential to the smooth running of it. First, because it avoids a lot of accidents. Then, because it eliminates most of the problems that would occur once on the walking path.

Who went in flip-flops?

Do not think that the preparation concerns only long hikes. Too many accidents each year involve unprepared people leaving for one day.

Preparing for a hike is much more than knowing where to go and when. Below are the important points to consider before leaving.

1 – Size and fitness of the group

Have you ever worn a friend’s backpack, or pushed that friend into the climbs? If so, then this topic is for you – and your friend. If not, read on unless you want to experiment with it.

Sometimes the group and their desires will determine the route and sometimes the route will be chosen first and the group will depend on it. In both cases, it is imperative that the group’s abilities be appropriate to the route. Here are some questions to ask yourself when you plan to hike with a group:

  • What is the experience of each individual and the average experience of the group?
  • Is there at least one person with enough experience to take charge and manage the group (in the case of a large group)?
  • Do some people need to acquire more knowledge before departure (practices, techniques …)?
  • What is the physical condition of each person and the average condition of the group?
  • Are there people with special medical conditions (diabetes, allergies …)?
  • What is the size of the group ? In general, the larger the group, the more likely they are to encounter problems and less easier it is to make decisions.
  • Will there be a leader and how will decisions be made ? It is best to avoid making too many decisions while hiking as this often creates tension.
  • Are there specific rules to follow – in the case of a structured group (associations, clubs …)?
  • How will the fees be shared ? Who will buy and keep the equipments for joint purchases?

Warning :

  • Many people overestimate their physical capacity – because they think that it is enough to know how to walk to go hiking.
  • Do not go for a difficult hike (long, physical, isolated, etc.) with people you have not hiked with before – whether they are longtime friends or acquaintances. I advise you to first test with something easier. People have very different perceptions about their abilities.

2 – Itinerary

Planning precisely your itinerary is essential. You think it’s easy – a map and off you go? Have you thought about the following?

Collect information

Start by getting a guide that will give you a glimpse of the region, distances, altitude, walking times, bivouacs, refuges, places to see … It may subsequently be completed by topographic maps.

The internet is also full of useful information to refine your research: hiking accounts, sites of regions and municipalities, regional and national parks, associations and federations, etc.

The advice of other people (hikers, shelter guards …) is an excellent source of information – which you will not find in the guides. Be careful though, because the impressions are very different from one person to another.

Organize the different stages, departure and arrival

  • How to access the starting point ? And where to sleep the night before, if necessary?
  • Is there a place where the group absolutely wants to go or avoid ?
  • If the route is not a loop or a round trip but goes from A to B, how to return to the starting point (A)? Is it possible to leave a car on arrival, take public transport, someone to pick you up, hitch a ride, etc.?
  • How to start from the point of arrival ?
  • Where to spend the night – for multi-day hikes? The stages are often camp to camp or refuge to refuge.
  • Will you camp or sleep in a shelter ?
  • If you plan to sleep in a shelter : is what shelters are open ? Some shelters are open only in summer, others all year round. Should I book ? This is often the case for nights in guarded shelters and on well-traveled paths.
  • If you plan to bivouac : is it possible to camp anywhere ?

Warning :

  • There are regulations and sometimes it is impossible to pitch your tent in certain places (rocky slopes, swamps, etc.).
  • Most shelters only accept cash.

Evaluate the difficulty

The difficulty depends in general:

  • the elevation and distance,
  • the type of terrain (off-trail, hilly, sandy, swampy, snowy, icy, steep, slippery …),
  • the weight of the backpack according to the weight of the person,
  • the number of days of walking, and
  • the altitude – above 10000 foot certain non-acclimated people feel the effect of oxygen depletion.

This article will help you easily estimate the difficulty and duration of a 5-step hike.

Warning :

  • It is necessary to adapt the difficulty of the route to the physical condition and the individual experience, do not overestimate yourself.
  • It is essential to identify the specific difficulties of the route as the rivers to cross, the steep passages to negotiate …

Manage your time

In general, a hike is prepared in time. That is to say, we must estimate how long the whole hike will take – from the point of departure to the point of arrival – and for each stage. Ask yourself the following questions to be well prepared:

  • How long does it take to walk ? It depends mainly on the abilities and desires of the group in relation to the difficulty of the route.
  • How long does it take for breaks and meals ?
  • What time to go ? I advise you to leave early.
  • How much preparation time is needed between waking up and leaving ?
  • At what time do you wake up ?
  • Are there children or is the group large ? Allow more time when you are with children or with a large group.

Warning :

  • If you are inexperienced, plan wide.
  • Always pace the hike to the pace of the slowest person in the group – whether for walking or before leaving.
  • Walking time can be estimated from the distance only for easy trails and small height differences .

3 – Essentiels 

You hesitate between leaving your hands in your pockets or taking your house on your backpack? I advise you to take a look at some essential points that should not be overlooked in terms of equipment, water and food that you will carry:

Organize your equipment

The term material here includes all the objects that will accompany you on a hike – be it your shoes, your bag, your pan, your underpants, etc.

  • What to pack ?
  • Do I have the right material – for difficulty, terrain, conditions, etc. ?
  • Do I know how to use it ? If not or uncertain, test it at home.
  • Is it in good condition? It is imperative to check, because it is very easy to forget in what state we left our equipment last time.
  • Do I need to buy additional equipment ?
  • Will equipment be used in common – in the case of a group (tent, stove …)?

Manage your water

  • How much water do you need for walking ? Do not hesitate to pack more than necessary.
  • How much water will be needed for meal preparation ?
  • Will you carry all your water or will you need refueling ? Refueling is often unavoidable beyond a few days of hiking.
  • If you opt for one or more resupplies, where are the potential water points ? It is possible to find water in some refuges, villages, springs, rivers …
  • Will the supply water be drinkable ?
  • If no, will you have something to filter or purify?

Warning :

  • Some shelters do not have water, especially in winter.
  • Some sources freeze, and are inaccessible.
  • If you spend the night at a place, it is convenient to have water nearby to avoid having to carry water for the evening meal, breakfast and the following day.

Manage your food

  • How much food will be consumed throughout the hike? Weighing food is common to optimize the amount carried.
  • Are you going to use a stove? How to estimate the amount of fuel needed?
  • What to eat? It is best to pack food dense in calories.
  • Will you take all your food ( full autonomy ) or do you plan one or more resupplying ?
  • If you plan to make a resupplying, where to refuel ? This is often possible in some shelters kept, in the villages crossed, or by organizing a personal resupplying.
  • Are you going to cook or prepare meals in advance? For example, some people dehydrate or lyophilize their food.
  • How to pack food ? Have in mind the management of your waste.

Warning :

  • If you are buying bags of freeze-dried or dehydrated food, try it first at home because the portions can be surprisingly small.
  • Remember that on the trail as for any physical activity our body consumes more food.
  • For supplies in villages, inquire about opening hours and days .

4 – Natural Variable Conditions and Human Restrictions

Evaluate natural variable conditions

As indoor hiking does not exist yet – and fortunately – we depend on natural outdoor conditions such as climate, weather, etc. Here are some things to consider to be well prepared:

  • What will be the minimum and maximum temperatures ?
  • What will be the likely conditions (snow cover, river height, UV, etc.)?
  • What will be the length of the day- from sunrise to sunset?
  • What will be the state of the roads or the planned route? Roads can be closed due to flood, landslide, avalanche …
  • Are there frequent high winds ? Sometimes it is impossible to pitch your tent in some places too exposed.
  • Are there frequent weather events in the area (thunderstorms, storms, extreme temperature changes, etc.)?
  • Are the terms are subject to change throughout the route (elevation change, move in a different orientation valley …)?
  • Are the conditions are likely to change over time (thunderstorm late afternoon, melting snow that causes the rivers to swell during the afternoon, etc.)?
  • Are there particular environmental risks (avalanches, fires, floods, tides …)?
  • Are there particular risks related to flora and fauna (snakes, bears, pests, plants, etc.)?

Prepare for human restrictions

We also depend on certain human restrictions that must be known in order to avoid many problems.

  • What are the rules applying in the crossed lands ?
  • Is there a need for a permit or authorization ? Some are sometimes required to cross certain parks and private grounds.
  • If yes, do you have to pay and how long does it take to obtain?
  • Can we camp, bivouac and where ? Many regional and national parks only allow bivouacs near shelters – and sometimes only for certain hours.
  • Should we book (refuge, hiking, bivouac, etc.)? In some places it is even necessary to book the hike such as the Overland Track in Tasmania.
  • Does the route cross protected areas ? It happens to have to clean its equipment to be able to avoid the proliferation of parasites in certain zones.
  • Are there specific regulations for rescue ?
  • Are there security problems (hunting season, 4×4 path …)?
  • Are the lights are allowed ?
  • The use of stoves is permitted outdoors ? In certain regions and periods, stoves can only be used indoors.
  • How to manage your waste ? Some parks do not provide garbage cans. So you have to be able to manage all your waste.
  • Are there instructions to respect to do your needs in the nature ?

5 – Anticipate the unpredictable

Before going on a hike, always keep in mind that nothing will happen as planned. Reflecting on the following contingencies can be better prepared and react more quickly in case of unforeseen:

  • What to do if the weather changes drastically (storm, snow, hail, wind , heat wave, sandstorm …)?
  • What to do if equipment is no longer able to function properly after an incident (tent, stove, backpack …)?
  • What if someone gets hurt badly ?
  • What if someone gets hurt slightly ?
  • What to do if someone suffers from allergies, hypoglycemia, hypothermia, sunstroke , etc. ?
  • What if someone does not want to walk anymore ?
  • What to do if a water source is polluted or dry ?
  • What to do if one is lost ?
  • What to do if you can not move forward or backward ?
  • What to do if there is no place to bivouac ?

Warning :

  • This list is not exhaustive, it is only intended to reflect some common unforeseen.
  • We must always give his precise hike route to a person of trust that can alert the rescue team and direct them where needed.
  • It is better to have an itinerary that is adaptable if an unforeseen event ever takes place.

To finish

Planning a hike may seem complicated but if you have read this article you should have a solid foundation for good preparation. Moreover, the more experience you have, the easier and faster this process will be.

This article asks a lot of useful questions to prepare a hike. Most of these questions will find detailed answers in future articles.

I left several times poorly prepared during my first hikes and it is a mistake that I want you to avoid at all costs.

Share in the comments section below your mistakes or those of others due of poor preparation!

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