Prep for a hike really depends on the complexity of the hike. Here are the steps I take on two very different examples.
Choosing a Hike
Lots of factors go into choosing a hike. How much time do I have? How much distance do I think I can do? What time of year is it (expected weather/conditions)? Am I working on a badge/patch/list? Am I going solo? How far from home am I willing or able to go?
Example 1: I want to solo hike, I only have an afternoon in summer. I mostly want to get out for exercise and not worried about a list. I’ll likely end up at the State Park that’s about 40 minutes from my house. I can get there and back quickly (allowing more time for hiking). There are lots of shorter trails with easier elevation (since I only have half the day). Consequently, the rest of my prep will be much shorter/easier.
Example 2: I have three days in summer. I’d like to backpack and hit several 4000-footers. I’ll be hiking with friends who have similar experience, abilities, and goals. We’re looking at a Carter-Wildcat traverse. This hike is much more involved than example 1 and will have a LOT more prep.
Researching a hike
Continuing the examples above, clearly I’ll have less research to do on hike 1 than on hike 2. In fact, just choosing hike 2 required some research. I looked for recommended backpacking trips in the White Mountains. I read through some accounts, blog posts, AllTrails hikes to see which hike would fit our requirements. We’ll call that pre-research. Once the hike was chosen, then I did normal hike research.
Example 1 research is fairly minimal. I’ve hiked the state park before and know the gist of the trails. I’ll still do some research however. I’ll check out AllTrails and see if someone has “reviewed” the hike I am thinking about doing. Sometimes people put helpful comments, like on a loop they might suggest counterclockwise.
Example 2 research is more in depth. I’ll re-read the blog posts and other items that caused me to choose this hike. Since this hike includes 4000-footers and is in the White Mountains, I’ll read both the “White Mountain Guide” (detailed descriptions of the trails) and “The 4000-Footers of the White Mountains” for the appropriate trails. Like example 1, I’ll check AllTrails to see if anyone else has hiked this same traverse and if there are any tips or recommendations.
Because example 2 is a multi-day trip, I’ll also research where we will camp/stay. In this case, one tentsite and one AMC hut.
Nerd Alert! After doing my research, I create a “cheat sheet”. I take an index card (or more, usually one per hike or one per day) and give basic directions with landmarks. It isn’t meant at all to replace a map, but more to solidify the trail in my mind as well as give markers for “don’t miss” and “Hey, it’s been a while, wasn’t there supposed to be a junction” type of warnings.
This all may seem like overkill. First, it can save your life. Certain trails are not recommended in particular weather or are not recommended for descent, because IT’S DANGEROUS. A little bit of research can avoid you needing a search and rescue. Second, it’s just really, really helpful. If I just went off and hiked an 8-mile loop and I go “the hard way”, I’m miserable. A little bit of research and I would find that people recommend a different direction because it’s easier on the knees. Lastly, I LOVE this part. I love research, and hiking research is like travel planning. It’s part education, part imagining your trip.
Pre-Hike To Do List
- Check the weather. A regular weather app will not be enough. Weather at the summit is vastly different than the nearby town. Two great resources for the White Mountains:
- Check the trail conditions. Both of these sites have the most recent trail reports where users give details on the latest trail conditions for everything from bugs, to blowdowns, to the condition of the monorail:
- Pack – although WHAT I pack varies by the type of trip and season, and what I’m seeing for weather and trail conditions.
Seems like a lot to do before a “walk in the woods”, but I like to walk back out of the woods alive and having had a good time. So what if it rains and I wasn’t expecting it? I’d probably still make it out alive, but I’d have been miserable. Hiking is my happy place, I don’t want to be miserable when I don’t have to be. Remember the 7Ps, proper preparation prevents piss poor performance!