Some avid hikers convincingly argue that the best vacations are those spent on the trail. But any hiking adventure can easily lead to discomfort, injury, or even tragedy if you don’t properly prepare for the trek.
Here are a few tips and tricks for thriving on any given trail:
If you’re thinking about a multi-day hiking trip like the Inca Trail or the Grand Canyon, start training a minimum of 3 months in advance and at least three to fives times per week. Combine cardio with strength training and work your way up to some longer, more strenuous hikes with a weighted pack on. And don’t trick yourself into thinking the going-down part is going to be easy. The repetitive impacts your body absorbs while hiking downhill can quickly lead to extreme fatigue for your knees and leg muscles, which can lead to trips and falls. Being ready for a big-hike requires training for going up and down.
2) Take care of your feet
If you intend to buy new hiking shoes, break them in well ahead of time by routinely hiking distances exceeding those you’ll encounter on your planned hike. The night before your trip, cut your toenails. Just trust us on this one. Wear hiking socks and bring an extra pair along with moleskin and small bandages. At the first sensation of a “hot spot,” apply moleskin or second skin.
3) Take time to acclimate
Take a few days to acclimate before pushing yourself at higher elevations, and even then, proceed cautiously and with a hiking partner. The same goes for hiking in hot weather. If you spend most of your time in an air-conditioned office or in cooler climates and plan to hike in hot temperatures, take some time to get used to the weather before pushing yourself too hard.
4) Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate
If you are thirsty at the trailhead, you’re already dehydrated. Hydrate the night before your hike, the day before, even two days before and carry plenty of water. Water (plus accompanying salty foods) is the best thing you can put in your body. Steer clear of drinks with too much caffeine or sugar and be sure to avoid alcohol the night before your trip. Save that celebratory beer or cocktail for the night after your big hike.
5) Fuel up
Don’t forget the food you eat is also important, both before and during your hike. Eat a healthy meal before your trip and keep your energy level high by eating every hour and giving your body salt, protein, healthy fats, carbohydrates, and calories.
6) Protect your skin and stay cool
Reapply sunscreen often, but don’t put sunscreen above your eyes. Instead, use a broad-brimmed hat to protect your face and head—ideally one with a chinstrap. Wear a lightweight, comfortable shirt. In hot weather, cotton can be a good option, but in cooler, more variable weather, synthetics are best. Often it’s best to wear layers, removing items as you warm up throughout the day. You can also thermoregulate in the heat by soaking a shirt or bandana to enhance evaporative cooling.
7) Pace yourself and take breaks
If you can carry on a conversation, you’re hiking at the right pace. Listen to your body and take a short break every hour or so. Don’t forget to drink water and have another snack!