Tips for the Perfect Hike


by By Nancy Levenson /

Posted on July 17, 2009 at 10:27 AM

Updated Thursday, Nov 12 at 1:53 PM

About the Author

Nancy Levenson is a freelance writer based in Portland, Ore. Her work has been published online at and and in magazines such as Cottage Living and Northwest Homes and Gardens. She is also a contributor to theBest Places guidebooks.

Hiking boots? Check. Water bottle? Sure. Trail map? Got it. Packing the essentials for hiking is an important part of being prepared, but there's more to know before you embark on this new adventure. This pre-hiking checklist will help you prepare for your time on the trail.

Chart Your Course In order to locate good hiking locales, start with a guide. Hiking books are usually in the "local travel" section of the bookstore or library. Look for one that provides detailed maps and directions, describes the difficulty level of each hike, and explains what you'll see along the way. Check publication dates, too. An out-of-date trail map could lead you down the wrong path.

You can also find hiking information at state park websites. Be sure to print maps and bring along the phone number of the state park office in case you need to call from the road. 


(Don't) Go the Distance Maybe someday you can climb the highest mountain, but let's not get ahead of ourselves. A beginner should plan a short first hike--say, an hour or two at the most. At a moderate pace, you'll cover 3 to 5 miles in that time. Over time you can build up your stamina and work your way up to a day-long trek.

Know the Terrain When choosing a hike, be aware of the trail's elevation gain. It's best to try something relatively flat your first time out (say, less than a 1,500 foot elevation). Also, steer clear of a hike that takes you down in elevation first, then up. This way, you won't have a tough climb back to the trailhead at the end of your hike. 

Use the Buddy System Unless you're very experienced, hiking by yourself isn't recommended. Ask a friend to come along, and always leave the details of your hike with someone back at home. Include the driving directions and a copy of the trail map with your route marked.

Park PrudentlyIf you're in a state or national park, you probably need a parking pass, which is usually just a few dollars for a day. Avoid a ticket by calling the park/ranger station beforehand to find out where to purchase a pass. Theft can be a problem in some wooded areas, so remove all valuables from your vehicle.

Mind the WeatherIf you're driving out of town, remember that the weather could be significantly different once you get there, so check the forecast first. Also, hikes with higher elevations can be icy or even snowed-in (read: not accessible) during winter months, so check with the park before you go to make sure the weather conditions are hiker-friendly.

Wear the Right Stuff In addition to a good pair of hiking shoes or boots, follow the "dress in layers" rule. It's popular because it makes a lot of sense for the outdoors. Make sure your clothes allow you to move easily and that the fabrics are breathable. Once you've done your research, you'll know what temperature range to expect. Remember, you'll warm up as you hike, so make it easy on yourself to remove a layer or two on the trail.

Plan for Pets Check beforehand to see if your dog is allowed on the trail and never (ever!) leave your pet alone in the car while you're hiking. Bring the critter essentials: a leash, a collapsible bowl, food and water, and plastic bags to clean up. (Yes, you should pick up after your pet, even on a trail.) Larger dogs can carry their own supplies in a pack made just for them. Scout out your pet supply store or look at outdoor retailers for pet-friendly trail gear and biodegradable poop bags. 

What to Bring

  • Detailed directions and a trail map
  • Snacks such as dried fruit and nuts, beef jerky, energy bars
  • Water (more than you think you'll need)
  • Sun block and a hat
  • Cell phone (you may not have service on the trail, but it could come in handy)
  • A compass
  • Toilet paper
  • A camera
  • A sealable plastic bag for trash

Leave No TraceWhen you're enjoying the outdoors, remember to leave it just as you found it. That means you're responsible for taking your trash with you (don't count on finding a trash can), and never remove flowers, rocks or other property of Mother Nature you find along the way.

It might sound like a lot of preparation for a walk in the wilderness, but once you get the hang of it, these precautions will seem second-nature.  So, go take a (well-planned) hike!