Planning for your first overnight hike can seem like a daunting task. Here, we’ll lay out the top 8 things you need to think about when preparing yourself for a hiking trail, including:
Now let’s look at each of these things in more detail.
1. ANIMAL RESEARCH
It’s important to know what type of animals you can expect to encounter on the trail you’ve chosen to hike.
The most common animals you’ll come across while hiking are scavengers, like raccoons, mice, and other rodents.
Also find out if you’ll be hiking in an area populated by dangerous animals, like cougars, bears, or venomous snakes.
Know if you’ll be hiking in bear country and educate yourself about what to do if you encounter a grizzly bear or a black bear.
If you are in bear country, there’s a good chance there will be food storage requirements you’ll have to research beforehand, so make sure you’re informed before you head out.
2. INSECT RESEARCH
Research what types of insects will be present on the trail you’ve chosen to hike.
You’ll need to know whether there will be biting insects where you’re hiking. There are plenty of things you can use to help you protect against them, such as:
- Insect repellent clothing
- A sleeping net to go over a hammock to protect you while you rest
- A head net to protect your head and torso while you’re eating
Some hikers also use rain gear to prevent against mosquito bites, even if it’s not raining.
3. CAMPSITE RESEARCH
Look into whether there will be established campsites along the trail you’ll be hiking. If there are established campsites on the trail, look at the distance between each of them and think about whether you’ll be able to make it from one campsite to the next in a single day. If not, you’ll want to figure out a place to stay in between far apart campsites ahead of time.
You’ll also need to know if you need to book a campsite beforehand or if you can just show up and set up camp without a reservation.
4. WATER SOURCES
You’ll need to bring a filter to get clean water while you’re hiking in the backcountry, but you’ll also want to know exactly where your water sources are along the trail.
Will you have a stream that might dry up? Will you be hiking by a lake or a river? Do you have to go off-trail in order to find the water? These are all important questions to ask and find out the answers to before you hit the trail.
If you’re hiking in the winter and plan on getting your water from snowfields, you’ll have to factor in carrying enough fuel to melt the snow.
Also, if the water is murky, you’ll need a specific type of filter to make it potable or a pre-filter to use with your regular water filter.
5. AREA MAPS
You should get a map of the area that you’ll be traveling in well in advance of your trip. A map will give you a really good idea of what you’re getting yourself into. It will also help you find water sources and tell you where your elevation gain is, where you can take rest breaks, and where the views will be.
Check out our guide about online resources for more information about where you can get maps online.
6. RIVER CROSSINGS
If there are river crossings without a bridge, you’ll want to research how to cross those rivers safely before you go and have a backup plan in case you can’t ford the river. Will you return to camp if the river can’t be crossed, or will you find an alternative route?
7. RESEARCH TRIP REPORTS
Trip reports from hikers who’ve already completed the trail you have in mind will let you know if there are any access issues with the trail, such as closed sections of road or rerouted sections of trail.
Trip reports also detail trail conditions so you can know in advance if there’s snow on the ground, lots of mud, a fallen tree, or poisonous plants.
You can also read blogs and watch Youtube videos about your chosen trail to give you a good idea of what to expect on the trail.
If the trail you choose does require a permit, you’ll need to figure out how and when to get it before you head out.