Why do we hike? We do so mainly to get a good workout, relieve stress, detach from the rush and monotony of our everyday lives, and reconnect with nature. Hiking lets us find that peace that we can only find in solitude, being one with ourselves and with Mother Nature.
The last thing that we need when hiking is a botched adventure that ends us up with more stress, an unenjoyed trip, or, worse, in a dangerous situation.
You will find endless guides on the internet and social media on how to plan and prep your hikes. What’s new with this article? Well, we’ll sum it up for you in a way never presented before – easy to remember, sticking to the essentials with resources that help!
In this article, we’ll teach you how to plan a hike using the TRAIL system. Trails, whether marked/signed or traced on our map, are the core indicator of our path to follow.
T – To where?
R – Rounding up the details
A – All prepped and packed
I – I gotta recheck!
L – Live it!
Imagine the steps as climbing a mountain. Keeping the TRAIL will get you to the peak of your journey without the unwanted surprises.
T – To Where?
-by Robert Ruggiero
If you already have a destination in mind, skip to ‘R’!
A big chunk of time for research is needed if you don’t have any idea on where to hike. Don’t fret though, this is an enjoyable process that adds up to the excitement of your journey, may it be big or small.
“Everyone wants to live on top of the mountain, but all the happiness and growth occurs while you are climbing it” (Andy Rooney)
For inspiration, you can ask friends and other fellow hikers, but you can also check these other resources.
- National Geographic Travel – Their account states, ‘It’s a big world’. National Geographic Travel brings this world within your grasp with their vast collection of exciting places to explore. Their captivating images and each photographer’s personalized content will never fail to draw you to the experience that you are looking for.
- Need A Hike – Our own crafted list of amazing destinations that we share to inspire hikers just like you. We fill it with the best hiking places from all corners of the world and in one of these may be your best hike yet!
- Hiking the Globe – At 373k followers, they surely know where to lead you. Hiking the Globe shares rich content and spectacular photos from hikers all across the globe. Browsing through their account is like hearing someone scream, ‘Go out and explore!!”
- Ever Changing Horizon – Quin Schrock built his name because of his mesmerizing and unique presentations of his travel photos. An avid adventurer and photographer, he portrays through his images and honest content aligned to his belief that “It’s never too late to feel a little more alive.”
- Lonely Planet Places – With notable names such as Lonely Planet, there is no shortage of travel inspirations. Dig into their user-friendly and extensive list of places to hike and visit. By doing so, you’ll invigorate that thirst to hit the trails!
It is also worth checking your journal, past mood boards, notes, and phone screenshots to rack up ideas that once sparked your interest, but might have slipped your memory. For example, a place that has been sitting in your bucket list for a long time and that you have forgotten about.
There are a lot of resources out there, start with the one that best resonates with you to be ready for the next step.
Essential questions to ask to help you narrow down your research:
- How much time do you have?
- How far are you willing to travel?
- What are your hiking goals?
- How much money are you spending on the hike?
- Are you going solo or in a group?
- What is your fitness level?
- What kind of hikes are you interested in?
- What views do you want to see?
You might wander around aimlessly at first maybe because of a lot of options or too little of them. Trust and enjoy this process as it is part of living your adventure.
R- Rounding up the Details
Walt Disney said:
‘There is no magic in magic. It’s in the details”.
In hiking and in any outdoor adventure, paying close attention to the details is the magic to enjoying your every adventure. You will have to spend more time and effort on this stage but knowing all the details will make your life easier in the later stages of tackling the TRAIL.
Trails – Once you have chosen your hiking destination, you have to choose a suitable hiking trail. Here are some tools we use to find ideal/possible trails in an area.
– Wikiloc is a place to discover and share the best outdoor trails for hiking, cycling, and many other activities. They have a user-friendly interface with a thriving community sharing authentic outdoor trails.
A search for hiking trails in Grand Canyon, Arizona.
A chosen trail will show you a detailed map with important details such as elevation gain (uphill & downhill), distance, technical difficulty, duration of the hike, and a map. Helpful information such as trail descriptions and reviews from those who previously used the trail are also shown.
– Another amazing app for outdoor enthusiasts for searching trails and routes. Komoot’s planning and navigation technology will help you easily find your next adventure.
– All Trails has a huge collection of detailed, hand-curated trail maps as well as trail reviews and photos crowdsourced from a community of millions of outdoor enthusiasts.
– ViewRanger strength is being a powerful digital guide to the outdoors with downloadable route guides, outdoor maps, and powerful GPS navigation features.
These apps can be used for any kind of device, have offline navigation capability and you can see and share images to a huge community of outdoor enthusiasts.
Depending on which country you live in, have a look at local apps, which might be more developed than global ones when it comes to your area. For example, if you are in Switzerland, Swiss Map and SwissMobile are the best apps you can use to plan any outdoor activity: hikes, snowshoe trips, ski touring, sledding, cycling… If you do not know which app to choose in your region, you can always ask on Reddit, surely someone there will be able to help you!
Whichever hike you choose to do, be realistic, and align your abilities to the demands of the hike. If you are a beginner, you don’t know your limits. The solution is to test your capabilities by choosing a minimal hike at first and then do a mile or two more each week.
Start small and build up, in confidence, skills, and equipment to stay safe. And take into consideration the limits and capabilities of other people if you choose to hike in a group.
Familiarize yourself as much as you can about the trail, to enjoy pleasant surprises rather than the unwanted ones! These things in particular needs to be ticked off from your list:
- Trail information: This would include the total length of the trail and the duration of the hike. The elevation is specifically worth noting as the distance of a climb is not the same as hiking a flat ground.
- Trail conditions and updates: There is a long list under this section that are worth checking. These elements, conditions, and updates include but are not limited to – snow, rain, mud, heat, flood, wildfire, insects, wildlife, water sources/ availability, shade, terrain, Depending on the location of your chosen trail, there are a lot more applicable factors to be checked.
- Weather: Always check the weather before heading out for a hike, and adapt your planning, itinerary, and equipment to the forecast. It can sometimes be safer to postpone a hike rather than taking the risk of ending up at the top of a mountain under a big thunderstorm.
- Permits: Learning the hard way is having prepared everything, going all the way to your destination only to realize that you have not acquired the permit needed to hike the trail! Spending a few minutes checking google or making that call is better than a wasted trip. If you’re doing a longer hike or your destination is abroad, make sure to look into your passport, visa, plane tickets, travel insurance, and any required vaccinations.
- Possible side trips: If you are running ahead of schedule and have time to check out other spots in the area, have this information ready!
- Bail-out trails: At some point in the trail, you or someone else in your group is not able to finish the hike, you should have an emergency plan put in place. It is worth knowing exit trails along the way.
Research does not stop at collecting data. Rounding up the details also include sorting out what is relevant and not. The amount of information that you’ll find online is overwhelming. Use critical thinking to see what is applicable to your trip and not.
Now, you have done the grueling work on the details, the rest follows on smoothly. You can easily sort out relevant and irrelevant stuff in the next three more steps of your TRAIL.
A – All Prepped and Packed
You now know the details of your hike. It is time to prep the things you need before hitting the trail. These are the 5 essentials for hiking that you must take with you no matter how short or long your hike is.
5 Hiking Essentials
- Navigation: Bring your compass and map, and/or an electronic navigation system. Make sure to keep your gadgets waterproof or in a ziplock bag. And for your electronic navigation, don’t forget to download the maps for offline use.
- Appropriate weather clothing and protection: Will it be sunny, windy, rainy, snowing? Weather can change very quickly, especially in the mountains, so you should always carry these three layers with you: a t-shirt, fleece, and waterproof jacket. It’s important to remain dry, so a waterproof jacket, over trousers, and gaiters should always find some space in your backpack, but also to be ready for a strong sun with a hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen.
- Light backpack: Don’t put a strain on your back by carrying a heavy backpack. Get light equipment and bring only essentials!
- First aid kit: Injuries can happen, and while it’s great to prevent them as much as possible, you should also be ready to confront them and act quickly. A simple first aid kit with some essential items (plasters, bandages, sterile gloves and dressings, tweezers) and drugs that you might need can always be useful!
- Subsistence: Water, nuts, fruits, and other light meals to keep you going. Avoid processed foods and foods that can make you drowsy/tired (starches – potatoes, pasta, red meat -, sugar, energy drinks, etc.)
In addition, consider adding a small waste bag to keep your waste or any trash that you can pick up along the way (a way of giving back to nature while you are out enjoying it). And if you need a refresher on how to use a compass, check out this video.
Depending on your hike’s requirement, there’s of course more that you can add to your equipment list, like poles, lights, gaiters, gloves, glasses, etc.
Another important factor is your hiking gear. In order to enjoy your time outdoors, you should be light and be able to move comfortably. As such it’s important to choose appropriate, comfortable, light, and of best quality equipment. That applies to your hiking boots, backpack, clothing, poles, and accessories.
Go to your local outdoor shop, ask for advice, and try out every single thing you need to buy according to your needs, but don’t forget to break-in your new shoes/boots before you take a long hike/journey. Equally important is knowing how to use your gear.
If using old gear or equipment, make sure that they are properly working before you hit the trails.
This detailed video on choosing a hiking gear is worth checking out.
And to avoid forgetting stuff, ready your hiking backpack a day in advance. By doing so, you’ll have time to remedy problems, check the weight of your backpack, and so on.
I – I gotta recheck!
At least a day prior to your hike, there are things that you should recheck.
- Weather: Weather is unpredictable and you should check changes before going for any hike. Thunderstorms, flash floods, rain, heat, the humidity will affect you on the trail.
- Trail situation: Especially during this time when the world is dealing with a pandemic, you never know when your chosen trail, city, area, or country suddenly closes. Keep yourself posted.
- Gear: You owe this to yourself and to the adventure that you are looking forward to. A last-minute check of your backpack is a must.
- Emergency Plan: Let someone know of your itinerary, how you can be contacted while you’re out, and when you’ll be back. You’ve probably read and heard this many times. Don’t leave this out from your to-do list even if you’re taking a short hike. For emergency occurrences in and out the trail (while you’re out there), this is a lifesaver. Also, don’t forget to inform them once you’re back.
L – Live it!
You’ve done your research, you’re all prepped and packed, rechecked, and now is the time to live your adventure.
While you are at it, take note of some considerations while on the trail.
- Be silent and be mindful of others
- Respect nature and others who you are with or whom you meet on the trail.
- If you find trash on your way, clean whatever you can.
- Do not hike on unmarked paths, reservations, and other sanctuaries.
- Beware of where you step and what you touch. You wouldn’t want to find yourself in an unpleasant situation with either dangerous animals or the environment.
- Hiking is not a race. Relax, enjoy, and observe things in a new way.
Again, why do we hike? We mentioned the more apparent reasons at the beginning of this article.
Looking deeper into the whole process of pre partaking in hiking or any kind of adventure and while at it; and looking at the goals and reasons why we go on these trips, there are some deeper lessons to learn. These are lessons that not just get you to the end of the trail, but most importantly, living and loving the journey. The same lessons that once we get back from the trail, can also be applied in our daily lives.
- It’s all about the mindset: The most important thing in reaching your goal is feeling the burning desire to get to where you dreamed of getting, and…beyond. With the right mindset, positive energy and opportunities will be attracted to and will be thrown your way.
- Making mistakes is great: If you fall down, get up and try again. Don’t be afraid to get lost. Instead, equip yourself with the knowledge and skill on what to do when you get lost. Making a mistake is a great source of knowledge.
- Don’t compare yourself to others: Trust your own pace. Sometimes you’ll be ahead, at times you will fall behind. Make people your inspirations, learn from them but do not compare your steps to theirs.
- Be your own superhero: Choosing a destination, a trail, prepping, and wandering out is taking charge. In life, this is being your own superhero, taking responsibility for your decisions, for your future, and the life you want to lead.
- Be grateful: The nature, the ability, the chance for connection, the opportunity for simply being out there, the small and big steps that got you exactly where you are – these are more than enough reasons to be grateful.
The world is rich and vast and it is yours to explore. Plan it, hike it, and live in its splendor!