20 Hiking Hacks to Take to the Trail This Summer

By Tara Struyk on 18 August 2015 0 comments

A lot of people who want to spend more time outdoors are quickly drawn to hiking. After all, hiking can be really accessible. You don't need a lot of technical skills or fancy gear, and it's a lot less intimidating than, say, rock climbing or whitewater rafting.

But hiking is not just walking, or at least it isn't like a walk around the neighborhood. In fact, ensuring a safe and enjoyable hike takes a bit of preparation and know-how. Here are 20 handy hacks to take to the trail this summer.

1. Know Where You're Going (and How to Get There)

Randomly selecting an unmarked trail is likely to leave you frustrated when the trail suddenly turns a corner and disappears. Worse still, you could get lost. Choose your hike at home so that you can do some research about it and print off some information and maps. If you're in a park of some sort, you may also be able to access maps and information from local guides before you hit the trail.

2. Pack Ahead

Whether you're backpacking or just taking a day trip, anyone and everyone will recommend that you pack light. The problem is, it's hard to know just how heavy all that stuff will be until you get it all into your pack — if it'll even fit. Take some time before you set out to lay out what you'd like to bring, pack it, and then attempt to lift it. If the load is back-breaking, you'll have time to make adjustments.

3. Break In Your Boots

If you're serious about hiking, a good pair of boots is a good investment. They're durable, they're comfortable, and they'll protect your ankles from twisting and your toes from being crushed by loose or rolling rocks. But, because these babies tend to be stiff, you must buy them at least two weeks before your first hike, and wear them as much as possible to break them in. Do not try to break in your shoes on a hike of any significant distance; walking miles and miles with sore, blistered feet will not be a fun time.

4. Pack in Layers

Particularly when going out for an overnight hiking trip, it's important to pack in layers, ensuring that the top layers of your pack include the things you will need during your hike. Keep snacks, sunscreen, and extra layers on top. Camping equipment and anything else you won't need until you arrive at camp should go at the bottom.

5. Waterproof Everything

Water is your enemy. Not only are wet clothes cold to wear, they're also much heavier to carry. If you don't have one of those nifty rain covers for you backpack (basically a large shower cap that fits over your pack), line your bag with a garbage bag. If your clothes, matches, tent, sleeping bag, etc. are nice and dry, you'll be a much happier camper. If you're really concerned about keeping something (like your phone or box of matches) dry, place it in its own sealed baggie.

6. Wear Shorts That Can Be Pants and Vice Versa

Yes, they're kinda dorky, but there's a reason why there are rows and rows of these at REI. Not only does carrying both shorts and pants add unnecessary weight, but the weather can change pretty quickly (particularly in the mountains). Being able to make a quick change can make your hike a lot more comfortable.

7. Be Religious About Changing Your Socks

If your socks get wet, friction increases and where there's friction, there are blisters. Bring a few extra pairs of socks to change into, and do so whenever your feet are feeling damp. If the weather's dry, you can also hang the used pair from your backpack to switch into again once they've dried out. Be sure to wear socks designed for hiking or running. Regular cotton sports socks tend to bunch up and hold moisture.

8. Pack Duct Tape

Duct tape can be used to cover a blister, patch a tent, remove ticks, and all manner of other nifty things. Rather than carry a full roll, wrap some around your lighter or water bottle to save space. (See also: 10 Great Ways to Use Duct Tape)

9. Repackage Your Snacks

Snacks are a great way to keep your energy up while you're hiking, but classic hiking picks like trail mix, pretzels, and candy tend to come packed with a lot of air. Before you leave, remove what you think you'll need from its original package and compress it into sealed baggies.

10. Bring a Map, Compass, and/or GPS

Some trails are wide and exceedingly well-marked (and well traveled). Many are not. Particularly if you are headed out into the backcountry, be sure to bring (and know how to read) a map, and use a compass or GPS device. In some areas, getting lost means getting rescued. Not cool.

11. If You Lose Your Way, Don't Assume Things Will Improve

Below is a recent photo of two people who were recently rescued in Kananaskis Country, an area of the Rocky Mountains near where I live. These two were scrambling, a sport that falls somewhere between rock climbing and hiking. One fell a few feet down a cliff and, as you can see, they ended up on a pretty sheer rock face. This looks insane, I know, but it can happen pretty easily. So, when you find yourself getting into dangerous territory, don't continue on in with hope that things will improve. They may not. Sometimes, it's best to go back the way you came. The pair in this picture was rescued by helicopter and arrived back on the ground safe and sound.

12. Get to Know the Local Wildlife

Having an understanding of local wildlife — and how to behave safely around them — is a key skill when heading into any wilderness area. If you know what you may be dealing with and what to watch out for, you can ensure that your interactions with wildlife are positive, rather than dangerous (or even deadly).

13. Wear Sunscreen — Always

Sunburn can happen any time you spend extended periods outdoors. Lather up before you leave, regardless of whether it's overcast, or cool. If you're in the mountains, know that you'll burn faster at altitude too.

14. Bring a First Aid Kit

In most cases you won't need it, but you'll be glad to have it if you do. You can get a basic fully-stocked kit at a camping supply store, or put together your own.

15. Make Sure Your Friends and Family Know Where You're Going

If you're heading out for a hike — particularly if it's a long one — make sure that someone knows where you're going. That way if things go wrong and you are unable to make it back, rescue crews will know where to find you.

16. Be Honest About Your Fitness

Beware of hikes that are labeled "hard" or "very hard." These hikes tend to be not only steep, but also include technical terrain such as loose rock, large boulders, and very uneven ground. They may even include exposed areas, which typically means you'll be walking along a sheer drop of some sort. Even if you're a very fit person, it's best to work your way up to these. Hiking requires some skill, and it's best to build that over time. Be honest about your fitness before you head out. Choosing an easier hike will ensure that you have a good time and keep coming back.

17. Learn How to Use Any and All Equipment Before You Leave

I can't even tell you how many hikers and campers I see with a full stock of brand new gear — and absolutely no idea how to use any of it. There's nothing wrong with being a newbie. Just don't be a dumb one; try out and practice using all your gear before you leave home. Or at least take it out of the package.

18. Assume That Any Weather Is a Possibility

I recently hiked 10 miles into the backcountry and then back out the next day. On the way in, I was stripped down to a tank top and shorts, and soaked with sweat. On the way out, I was wearing mittens, a hat, and all my layers to protect myself from the flurries I found at the top of the pass. It was July. The moral of this story is that the weather can be unpredictable, especially across different altitudes. Pack layers and rain gear, regardless of the forecast or what it looks like outside when you're leaving. You never know what'll happen out there.

19. Bring a Quality Knife

A good camping knife is handy for all kinds of outdoor tasks. If things get really dramatic, you could also use it to fend off a black bear, or free yourself from a boulder (not really, I hope!). In most cases, you'll find it handy for cooking, setup, and most important, making marshmallow roasting sticks.

20. Stop and Smell the Flowers

For real! Wildflowers are beautiful. What I also mean by this is to give yourself plenty of time to complete a hike so that you can stop and enjoy the scenery along the way. Wild places offer so much to see and learn. I'd hate for you to miss out on any of it!

What's your top hiking hack, and how has it helped you?

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