12 Hiking Tips and Tricks for Every Trail

Do

  • Hydrate and eat
  • Pack a first aid kit
  • Wear shoes with tread
  • People hiking uphill have the right-of-way
  • Bring a friend
  • Research trail conditions, weather, and parking
  • Take your time, listen to your body

Don’t

  • Walk off-trail
  • Disturb wildlife
  • Listen to music on the trail
  • Wear new shoes
  • Rely on your cellphone

Over the past decade, I have stumbled (literally and figuratively) over some obstacles when hiking. One hiking injury awarded me a birthday in the emergency room. Similar to rules on the road, there are rules on the trail. Now that the national and state parks are opening back up I hope these tips will help you enjoy your hikes more, stay safe and have fun on your next trek!

Sky Pond Trail at the Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado
Sky Pond Trail End at the Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado

Hydrate and eat. Dehydration starts the moment you think you are thirsty. Bring enough water and meal bars to last a couple of days if you are doing a moderate or remote hike. Start hydrating the day before your hike. Some trails have reliable water sources along the trail, but most do not. Research your trail beforehand and be prepared. I recommend bringing a hydration pack.

Winter Snow at Devil's Bridge in Sedona, AZ
Winter at Devil’s Bridge in Sedona, Arizona

Pack a first aid kit. I’ve made this mistake too many times thinking that an easy, four-hour hike doesn’t require a first aid kit. Whether you slip and gash your arm on a sharp rock (true story) or have blisters on your feet (another true story), it’s always smart to carry a first aid kit.

Wear shoes with tread. Your four-year-old gym shoes aren’t going to cut it. Remember the gash in my arm? Bad traction when hiking any level of trail can lead to serious injury. Don’t make the same mistake I did. I recommend these hiking shoes.

People hiking uphill have the right-of-way. Uphill hikers have the right-of-way 99% of the time unless it is safer to allow downhill hikers through first. Whenever possible, downhill hikers should safely step to the side allowing uphill hikers to pass throughout the trail.

Bring a friend. Hiking alone is peaceful but can quickly turn into a dangerous situation. Hike with a partner and have an emergency plan if someone is injured or stuck on a trail. Let the slowest hiker set the pace and don’t leave anyone behind. If you hike alone, let someone know the trail you are taking and when you plan to check-in so they can sound the alarm if needed.

Hiking in Eldorado State Park, CO
Hiking in Colorado at Eldorado State Park

Research trail conditions, weather, and parking. Weather conditions can change overnight and over a couple of hours. What may look like a small rain shower at the trailhead can quickly turn into a blizzard leaving an unsafe trail behind. It’s always a good idea to pack layers. An insulated jacket has saved me more than once. Arrive early to insure you are able to find parking at the park. Check with your state or national park association if you have questions and check weather alerts before starting your hike.

Take your time and listen to your body. If you feel dehydrated, take a break and drink some water. If your muscles start to cramp or you too tired to continue, turn around. Altitude sickness setting in? Slow down and hydrate. Trust your body and intuition.

Dog-Friendly Hike in Breakneck Ridge, NY
Breakneck Ridge in New York

Don’t walk off-trail. Hiking and exploring naturally encroaches on fragile habitats. We can help sustain these trails and ecosystems for future generations by staying on the marked trail.

Don’t disturb wildlife. This includes picking plants and taking any parts of nature home. The seemingly simple act of bringing a rock home can disturb the habitat and animals who live there for years to come. It took millions of years for the minerals, rock formations and plants to form, leave them in peace.

Don’t listen to music on the trail. Okay, this is a personal pet-peeve of mine. I love music just as much as the next person, but when hiking I like to listen to the music of nature. Try tuning into your senses one at a time if you find yourself getting bored on a hike. What do you see? Smell? Hear? Feel?

Hang En Cave in Phong Nha, Cambodia
Hang En Cave in Phong Nha, Cambodia

Don’t wear new shoes. Breaking in new shoes or hiking boots on a trail is never a good idea. To avoid blisters, break in your shoes by wearing them walking around your house and neighborhood in short increments. Or better yet, buy used hiking boots online. I found my hiking boots on Poshmark for less than $30 and they were already broken in.

Don’t rely on your cellphone. Your cellphone is not a flashlight, map or emergency plan. You will not always have service on the mountain. Be prepared to not have service and follow the trail.

The good thing is, the do’s and don’ts of hiking are universal throughout the world. National and state parks feel like a great alternative to international travel right now. There are endless tips and tricks to hike safely. I hope this advice keeps you safe as the parks begin to open and you begin to venture outside your neighborhood for the first time in months.

Image from iOS (4)
Valley of Fire State Park in Nevada

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