How to plan a day hike
Americans love to validate hobbies by professionalizing them, which is why the quintessential image of a hiker is someone decked out in gear from head to toe, silhouetted atop a mountain or a mountain. Instagrammer sharing photos of, like, a latte in front of a waterfall. I’m sure the lattes in nature are delicious, and I would love to drink one myself. But given the internet’s natural tendency to create ambitious and ever-increasing content, it’s easy to forget that hiking – walking in nature – is one of the most accessible, cheapest, and most suitable ways. for beginners to have fun outdoors. A day hike is simply a hike that can be done in one day; it could be a 20 minute walk after work, a grueling dawn-to-dusk affair, or anything in between. And if you’ve never considered yourself an outdoor enthusiast but curious about getting your feet wet, there are few better ways to start exploring.
Find a trail
Chances are you have several trail options in your area – we’ll get to that in a bit. But if you haven’t hiked a lot before, you might not have a good idea of what to look for in a trail. So, before you start looking, think about (or write down) how much you hope to have with the day. Would you prefer a gentle walk or a hard workout? Are you someone who prefers to have a destination or a goal, like a waterfall or a great viewpoint, or do you prefer to enjoy the process? Do you want to bring friends? A dog? If there is something about the hike that makes you nervous, you may want to note it as well.
You are now ready to find options for the local trails. You can google “hiking trail [your city], ”Or use a tracking directory like All trails, Hiking trails, or TrailLink. Although they are not that many, you can also search wheelchair accessible trails and or braille tracks, which feature information signs in Braille and physical guides, like rope handles, to help visually impaired hikers navigate.
Pick a trail distance that you know is in your athletic comfort zone, and keep in mind that walking on uneven surfaces is more tiring than walking on roads or on a treadmill. If in doubt, choose a shorter, easier trail, or plan to hike halfway, then turn around. You don’t have to challenge yourself in several ways at once, and your first few hikes are not the time to test how far you can go in a day. You can always try longer or steeper trails if you feel like it later.
Prepare in advance
Day hikes can be quite spontaneous – there isn’t much to do in advance. But it is always wise to check the weather and plan accordingly. If the trail of your choice has a written description (or a map), print it out or capture it on your phone; you might not have service while you are there. And always let someone know where you are going and when you expect to be back.
What to wear
It’s time to hike! Impressive! Wear sunscreen and wear clothes that make you feel good. Your clothes don’t have to be fancy, just comfy – for these purposes, an old t-shirt is as good as an ultralight, quick-drying top. Expect to warm up once you start moving and plan to sleep off accordingly; it’s better to wear a hoodie over a tank top than a single long-sleeved shirt. Likewise, it can get colder or windier while you’re there, especially if you’re hiking uphill, so tie an extra layer around your waist if you’re starting with a t-shirt.
Hiking boots are great if you want extra ankle support, or know you’ll be traversing loose, crumbly ground, but for the majority of trails sneakers – or even good supportive sandals with adjustable straps. – will work very well.
What to bring
There is a big difference between the equipment you can bring, if you like to have fun, and get ready should bring for safety – and the truth is, for a shorter hike, the kind that can be completed in an hour or two, you don’t need much. But no matter the distance, you’ll definitely want a bottle of water. A good rule of thumb is to carry half a pint of water, or a little over two cups, per hour of hiking, and more if it’s hot or you’re working hard. Plus a snack, or a few snacks. (Bonus points for a special treat you plan to eat at the turning point.)
Once you’ve drunk half of your water, it’s time to turn around, even if you’re this close to your destination. It’s always better to end a hike wanting more than pushing yourself too far.
The etiquette of hiking, so to speak, is mostly about leaving nature as you found it and not being a jerk. If you have a dog, poop and keep it on a leash around other people, even if leashes aren’t needed on your trail. Do not play music without headphones; do not leave garbage; and appreciate the flowers by photographing them rather than picking them. Staying on the trail, rather than wandering off or taking shortcuts, will help protect your surroundings so everyone can enjoy it.
What about insects and ticks?
Ticks mostly live in vegetation, so if you stay on dirt roads and don’t wander through the grass or push through bushes, you’re less likely to be exposed. But if you tuck your pants into your socks and your shirt into your pants, it’s much harder for ticks to get to your skin. You can also wash / dry your clothes on a high heat after a hike to kill stowaways, and a spray containing DEET will help repel ticks and mosquitoes.
What about wild animals?
If you are lucky enough to see a wild animal, keep your distance, back away slowly, and keep in mind that it is also trying to avoid you. If you are hiking with someone else, talking, or making noise, the animals will likely disperse well before you reach them.
What about the safety of other people?
Being in the woods is especially vulnerable, especially if you are not a man. I know a lot of women in particular who have found great power in hiking alone, but it’s not necessarily something to try on your first few hikes, before you are completely confident and comfortable. Remember: you don’t have to challenge yourself in more than one way at the same time. If you’re concerned about others, bring a friend, borrow a large dog, and / or stay on trails near town so you have a phone reception.
Will other hikers judge me?
It is possible that they will. But if they do, they are the ones who suck. After all, part of the reason nature is so great is that it allows us to step away from human judgments and just be ourselves. If someone shames you for your athletic ability, what you wear, etc., you can pull a UNO backhand and rest knowing that being a judge they are missing out on the essentials, and so you are doing nature. better than them.
Find the fun
Of course, this is the most outdated instruction. But it’s true! You are doing this for yourself, not for anyone, real or imagined, who might be watching. Walk at a speed that feels good. If you are tired, slow down or sit down and take a break. (There is no such thing as a slow hike. It is literally impossible.)
There are a million ways to hike yours. Bring a sketchbook and draw pictures along the way, or photograph interesting plants. Check your local bookstore or outdoor store for regional nature guides and create a game by identifying a few flowers, trees or birds each time you step outside. You can push yourself to go longer distances, or you can take the same trip every time. There is no hierarchy of hikes, no more or less legitimate treks. Are you outdoors exploring and having fun? It’s official my friend: you are a hiker.
Main illustration: gmast3r, iStock