Hiking can be as easy as a walk in the park but as soon as you are going on a hike that will take place on trails unfamiliar to you, some planning is required. By planning a trip you will acquire information about the technical complexity of the trail, expected weather conditions and get an idea of the area where the hike will take place. This information will help you to pack the right equipment as well as avoid problems with the navigation later. In the following, we have described the nine steps to go through before going on a hiking trip.
You should go through these nine steps at least 1 day before the hiking trip takes place.
Planning the route
After selecting the area where you want to hike, you should plan the route. If you are having problems selecting the area, it’s a good idea to check Google Maps (terrain view) and look for mountains nearby. Only rarely are there no hiking trails in proximity to mountains.
Then check if there are any known hiking trails in the area that you have selected. Search for information online (forums and blogs for example) and check on Wikiloc and Movescount for GPS trails. GPS trails come in especially handy as they do not only show detailed information such as ascent, descent and distance but can also be downloaded and imported to a handheld GPS device, GPS watch or simply a Smartphone. This makes navigation super easy as the trail and your location can be seen at any time. However, it’s always a good to have a printed map (especially on long and not well-marked hiking trails) as electronic devices are not 100% reliable – a battery can run out, there might be no GPS signal etc. It is also possible that the trail has changed due to natural phenomena such as landslides, flash rivers etc. In most cases you can buy printed maps of the area online or at any tourist office. Another good (but paid) option is to use National Geographic Mapping Software which allows you to export maps for printing. Additionally it allows you to plan the route and measure distance.
When you have the route planned, it’s very important that you calculate the approximate time that you will need to conduct it. When determining the required time, take distance, total ascent and your physical preparedness into consideration. If you are not going on a hike alone, keep in mind that the required time has to be based on the least fit person in the group.
Planning the journey to the starting point
When the route is selected, it’s time to plan the journey to its starting point. Starting points are often remote and thus difficult to reach. Search for information online (forums, blogs), check bus/train schedules or if this doesn’t work check if you can reach the starting point by car. If you decide to go by car, keep in mind that some roads might require a 4×4 vehicle.
Check what temperatures to expect
If you are planning the hike shortly before it will take place, you can simply check the weather forecast. Sometimes it’s hard to get temperature data for remote locations and if this is the case check the temperature data from the nearest weather station. Then calculate the altitude difference between the weather station and area where the hike will take place. The temperature decreases with the altitude; approximately 6.5° C (11.7° F) for every 1000 meters (3280 ft). If you are planning the hike long before it will take place, search for temperature averages online. Pack your gear according to the expected temperatures.
Check what precipitation to expect
You can get an idea of how much precipitation to expect from the weather forecast or historical precipitation data. Pack you gear according to expected precipitation; if high precipitation is expected, take more pieces of clothing (in addition to waterproof gear) with you so that you don’t have to run around wearing wet clothes.
Check how long the day will be
In many cases daylight is not a problem – you can easily hike 8 or more hours without using any light. However, if you are hiking far away from the equator (Iceland for example) in winter, you should expect that the daylight period will be significantly shorter. Therefore, you will need a powerful light so that you can efficiently hike in darkness. Sunrise/sunset times for every major city can be found on TimeAndDate website.
Check what vegetation and ground cover to expect
Information about vegetation and ground cover can be acquired from maps, satellite imagery and by searching forums and blogs online. Finding information about the ground cover is especially important when there is a chance that the trail is covered with snow. If so, you will need appropriate footwear and equipment like for example gaiters, crampons and ice axe.
Check if there is water available
Check online if there are any sources of drinkable water along the trail. If there are, you can eliminate some of the load that you’ll be carrying by refilling your bottles/hydrations system along the trail.
Check if there are any dangerous animals
In case that there are dangerous animals like bears, snakes and spiders in the area where you’ll be hiking, some additional caution is required. Information about dangerous wildlife can be accessed online – check government websites, blogs and forums.
Check if there are any other natural hazards
Most common natural hazards include avalanches, floods and falling rocks. Information about these hazards can be in most cases accessed on government websites, forums and blogs.