Beginner’s Guide on How to Plan a Hiking Trip

How to plan a hiking trip
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Congratulations on deciding to go on your first hiking trip. They often say the hardest part of any adventure is getting your foot out of the door. But knowing where to start can seem like a daunting task. In this guide on how to plan a hiking trip, I hope to offer some direction, as well as a sense of what steps to actually take.

Deciding Where to Go

To me, this is the best part. But it can also be one of the hardest. There are just so many options to choose from. We almost need a system to help us narrow down our searches.

When planning your first hiking trip, try and take the following into consideration.

  • Length of trip. A good trip length for your fist hike is about 3-5 days.
  • Distance of trail. How far you can hike in a day really depends on your level of fitness. If you have never hiked long distances before, I would try and start with 10-20km per day.
  • How popular is the trail. Depending on if you are looking for some peace and quiet. If you are new then you might want a more popular trail. Sometimes it is more comforting knowing there are people who can help you if something goes wrong.

The more popular trail usually have well established campsites, with facilities like food storage bins so you don’t have to worry about hanging up your food in a bear bag each night. They usually require a reservation, so make sure you check the trails website for reservation details.

Share some of your trip ideas, or places you are planning to hike down in the comments section.

Planning Your Route

Maps! I love maps. I don’t know why but I have always enjoyed reading maps, trying to figure out where everything is. As a result, I always get a map of the trail I am hiking. The more detailed the better. When planning a hiking trip, there are two main things I like to plan out on a map.

Where am I going to sleep? This is also where I decide how far I am going to hike each day.

Where can I resupply? This includes water sources. It will give me an idea of how much water to bring each day. For longer trips I also want to look at places where I can stock up on food and other supplies.


Getting Your Gear Organized

This is a huge topic in the hiking community. If you have read any other hiking blogs you would know that there is a huge focus on weight.

Carrying less on your back means that you will be able to hike further, and you will enjoy it more. So when you are selecting your gear, try and avoid taking too much.

Common extra items people bring include: Too many clothes, Huge digital camera, books. I saw some bring an outdoor ice cream maker once, and a live crab for dinner. Mugs, Do you really need coffee in the morning?

When packing your gear, make a pile of everything, and go through each and ask if you actually need it. Can it serve more than one function? A pot to cook a meal in can also be used to eat out of.

What to Take

Now lets get to what to take when planning a hiking trip. When deciding what gear to bring, I like to break things up into different systems.

Backpack

Before we investigate what we will need to bring, we will need something to put it all in. When buying a backpack, try and test it out at the store. Most outdoor gear suppliers will have weights you can put in the bag, so you can try and walk around the store.

The size of the pack will probably be your biggest concern. It way be difficult to judge what size you will need if you have never been on a hiking trip before. The first pack I used was 48L. Initially I could fit all my gear in, but would struggle to get more than a few days worth of food. After upgrading most of my gear, I can now pack it up comfortably.

I would aim to get a pack between 50L and 65L. Try and avoid getting one that is too large, as humans have a tenancy to fill empty spaces with things they do not need.

Hiking Boots

After finding something to carry all your stuff in, you will also need some wheels to get around in. Any adventure involves significant use of your feet, so it makes sense to take care of them. A decent set of boots can make or break a hiking trip.

When purchasing a new set of boots, look for something with ankle support, as well as being waterproof. When you try them on, try and walk up hill and down hill. Pay attention to how your feet fit in the boot. If they move around a lot and rub against the boot it is likely you are going to get some blisters while out on the trail.

Make sure you break them in before your hiking trip. This will minimise the amount of blisters you will get on the trail.

Sleep system

This includes a sleeping bag and mat. There are so many options to choose from I could dedicate an entire post to this. But for now I am going to lay down the basics.

For sleeping bags there are two main types to consider. Down bags and synthetic bags.

Down bags provide the best warmth to weight ratio and are perfect for those trying to cut back on weight. There are some limitations though. First of all they are very expensive, so they may not seem appealing if your are just starting out. The second major concern is that they will not work when wet. So if you plan on hiking in heavy rain and don’t have an adequate way to keep it dry, this may not be the best option.

The second option are synthetic bags. They are heavier for the same warmth rating compared to down, but will also work when wet. Another advantage is that they are considerably cheaper. If you are just starting out this may be the best option for you.

Sleeping mats to look at, that are suitable for backpacking. Air mattresses and closed cell foam pads (ccf pads).

Air mattresses are lightweight, but can be prone to punctures. Be sure to carry a repair kit.

CCF pads are lightweight, but they take up a lot of space. They are also a lot cheaper than air mattresses.

Clothing

I like to have 3 sets of clothing options. One that I will hike in, one that I will sleep in, and outerwear that I will use for various weather like rain, and just generally being cold.

I always dress using a layering system.

My first layer is called the base layer. Its main function is to wick moisture away from the skin. This allows me to keep cool by letting the heat move away with the sweat. It also helps prevent my clothes from getting soaked, which will help me stay warm in colder weather.

The second layer is called the mid layer. This is the main layer that will provide insulation. I usually take a down jacket or a sweater. Depending on how cold it is I can add more or less layers as necessary.

The third layer is the outer layer. This is the layer that will protect me from the elements. It should be water and windproof as well as durable.

When selecting your clothing, you should always avoid cotton.

Camp Kitchen

If you plan on cooking some food, then you are going to need something to cook it with. There are plenty options for lightweight stoves. The 2 main types of stoves used are gas stoves and alcohol stoves. It is fairly inexpensive to get a light weight cooking set.

A basic camp kitchen will include, a stove, fuel source, pot, spork, and matches. Depending on the stove you might also need a wind shield.

Shelter

There are 3 main schools of thought for this. There are the classical tent users. Hammocks are becoming a lot more popular. Then there are those you just make a shelter using a tarp.

What ever you choose, try and go for something lightweight.

Hydration

When you are hiking for several days, it can be unfeasible to carry enough water for the entire trip. As a result, you will have to bring a method to treat water so it is safe for drinking. I always bring water purification tablets as they are lightweight and take up no space in your pack.  

Food

Dehydrated backpacking meals work best for these types of trips. They weigh less and are full of energy.

When you hike, you are burning a lot of energy. So your food has to give you lots of energy. So bringing fruit and veggies, while they are healthy, do not provide enough energy, and are also very heavy.

There are three sources people can get their energy from. Carbohydrates, fats and proteins. Fats and Proteins are the best types of food for these trips.

Image courtesy of Lisa Redford

What are some of your favourite meals to have when you are hiking or camping?

Miscellaneous

This is mainly items that would only have one item in them, like headlamps, sunscreen, bug spray, first aid kit,ropes, bear bags, towels, knife and anything else you might need.

This is just a brief overview of what you should be considering to take. You should also read about the 10 essentials as it goes into a bit more detail of what you should bring.

What is something you consider essential to your hike?

Planning for Emergencies

It is always advisable to prepare for the worst. Emergencies can be mitigated several ways.

Always tell someone where you are going and how long you are going to be. The sooner someone realises you need help, the sooner you can get help.

Packing the 10 essentials will allow you to be prepared for emergencies on the trail.

Having a reliable communication device that will work in remote area, like a personal locator beacon, or satellite phone, will allow you to get in contact with civilization and tell them you are in trouble. These are more important if you are going into remote areas.

Good Luck on Your Hiking Adventure

I hope this guide was helpful and will make it easier to get started on your first hiking trip. This was meant to be a general guide that is applicable to any hike, but there might be some extra considerations depending on your own personal situation.

You will also have to consider the season you are hiking in, If you are hiking in bear country then you will need to bring a something to deal with bear encounters as well as a way to store food away from bears.

Wherever you decide to hike, I know you are going to love it.

I hope you enjoyed my guide on How to Plan a Hiking Trip. If you are unsure of anything, or would like some more advice, feel free to leave a comment.