How to Prepare for a Hike

Lester Harper’s take on how to prepare for a hike.  Advice from a seasoned military veteran.

It’s Spring and 65 degrees outside where you live.

You are planning on making a day of hiking through the higher elevations of the nearby mountainous region. What should you bring or plan for?

I know that where I lived in West Virginia it could be 65 degrees at the base of the mountain and have snow on the top and be below freezing. This is why it is crucial to properly plan for your excursions through the wilderness, even if it is just a hike through the local park.

To put it in the simplest of terms, knowing how to prepare for a hike can save your life.

A good example of how fast the weather can change was the other day. I went to my church where I pastor with the temperatures at 75 degrees. Less than an hour after I arrived, it was 43 degrees and this is Texas.

You never know what might be in store for a simple day hike. So, to not end up in the hospital with hypothermia you might want to properly prepare for the hike.

Plan for Your Hike by Planning Out Your Route

I wouldn’t head out on a road trip without knowing the route I would take, neither should anyone head out into the wild for a hike without planning the route.  Planning the route you will take is a crucial component of preparing for a hike.

Local park rangers or DNR services usually have topographical maps of locations if you ask for them. I also check online to find maps of the areas I wish to hike.

I usually plan multiple routes on the map in case of danger, let’s face it a rock slide could block a possible path you might have taken and you will need to have an alternate route.

Many people rely on GPS to guide them and there is nothing wrong with this method since technology has come such a long way.

This being said, I would suggest if you are going to use the GPS to get you in and out of a location always have a backup in the form of a map.

I have seen where a GPS will get lost or broken on a hike and then you have to know what to do next. Planning a route for a hike is a must in any preparation work.

Learn How to Prepare for a Hike by Learning From My Wife’s Mistake

As we discussed earlier, the weather can change at a moment’s notice. Here is a story that demonstrates perfectly, the need to always bring the right gear.

My wife went out with a local Italian lady for a luxurious hike up a mountain. I must admit she was young and unprepared for the trip. We had only lived in Italy for about a year at this time.

They began their excursion and after numerous hours and many trails later they became lost on the mountain. Without the proper gear for the colder temps in the higher elevation things turned from bad to worse in the blink of an eye.

Temps went below freezing and they were lost. Thankfully they were rescued from the mountain by a helicopter and her friend could speak fluent Italian.

If my wife had not been rescued, she would most certainly have frozen to death.  She did not have any tools to start a fire and hadn’t even thought to bring an extra sweatshirt with her.

However, if my wife and her friend had known how to prepare for a hike, they would have taken a small day bag with some extra clothing, an emergency blanket, and some extra food. With just this small day bag, they could have been lost for days without ever being in any serious danger.

How to Prepare Your Body For a Hike

Your body is a piece of equipment like any other gear you might have. Even if you can’t go hiking all the time your preparation work can be all year long with your physical training.

Physical fitness can be as intense as you want it to be but it doesn’t have to be totally demanding of your body. Although conditioning for hiking may not always be easy, it should always be fun.  After all, isn’t the point of hiking to have fun?

Find a good regimen of stretches to conduct before any hike or workout. Follow this up with simple jogging, walking, or running.

Cardiovascular activities will build your endurance and lung capacity so that you will not tire so easily on more demanding hikes. While you do not have to hit the gym to lift weights to get in shape, I wouldn’t neglect to take the time to work on my upper body strength and torso either.

For a lot of us, hiking is a great past time activity and a true passion. Nothing can compare to being properly prepared to tackle the elements of nature.

Whether you are going to climb rock faces and hike mountainous trails or just hiking through your local forest planning that trip could end up saving more than just time.

Taking the proper outerwear can prevent hypothermia or heat exhaustion, being physically fit can prevent physical injuries or fatigue, having all the proper gear for the hike can save hours of your time and possibly save your life in the process.

There are serious factors when planning that perfect hiking trip even if it is just a day trip, and I have just covered the tip of the iceberg here so I suggest that you do a lot of research and plan accordingly for your next trip.

How to Prepare for a Hike by Learning From the Military

I will leave you with a story of one of my military units.

We had prepared for a week long range exercise in the Italian alps. It was late Summer, early Fall when we left Vicenza for the mountains.  The temperature was in the 80’s and it was sunny outside.

After a few hours of driving, we started to ascend to the range which was tucked away high in elevation. We spent the first few days enjoying the great mountainous views and hard physical training that the Alps had to offer.

Two days before our scheduled time to leave the weather took turn for the worse overnight. We awoke to over a foot of snow and blizzard type conditions.

hiking preparationThe temps were down below freezing and our supplies were running thin. Our first instinct is to get out of the mountains I mean we have all these great military trucks to get out of the mountains with.

For those of you who know a thing or two about military vehicles and mechanics, they are diesel fuel powered. Diesel fuel has a tendency to gel in the tank if it does not have a heater applied to it.

Needless to say not a single one of our 5-ton trucks would start and the smaller trucks couldn’t transport all the troops out. In one night we had gone from finishing out our time in the Alps to a serious situation.

Our ration of bottled water frozen and busted, everything seemed to be falling apart around us. We stayed in the Alps for another week before we could get everything out of there.

The hardest part of this trip was staying warm and dry plus finding enough food to stop the hunger. Thankfully we packed cold weather gear for instances like these, we had enough socks, and layers of clothes to prevent us from getting hypothermia.  Clearly the army knows how to prepare for a hike and any other mission it goes on.

The purpose of this story is to show you how unforgiving nature can be at times and the importance of researching, planning, and packing the right gear.  Now that you know how to prepare for a hike, make sure you plan accordingly before your next hiking adventure.

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