In the United States alone, there are loads of different environments to hike in. Your options range from desert terrain to glacial traverses and include everything in between. As such, it can sometimes feel overwhelming when you think about all the gear you’d need to fell well equipped to hike in all of those environments at a moment’s notice.
Fortunately, many of the most important parts of hiking preparation have absolutely nothing to do with gear or equipment. Instead, they have everything to do with your fitness level and mental approach. In this article, we’ll teach you how to be prepared for any hike!
It Starts With Your Body
Being truly prepared for any hike starts with taking proper care of your body. This means regular exercise but also includes nutrition and hydration. Maintaining flexibility is also an underrated aspect of staying ready for any hike. Regular stretching is essential to keep your muscles loose and ready to adapt to any external circumstances your brain throws at them.
When it comes to hydration, The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine recommends that men consume at least 15.5 cups (3.7 liters of fluids every day. For women, the recommendation is 11.5 cups (2.7 liters) per day. Thinking about your fluid intake is easiest in liters, especially if you carry a Nalgene or HydroFlask with you at all times.
These bottles come in many sizes, but the most common size holds a single liter of water. In other words, if you drink and refill a standard one-liter bottle at least four times a day, you’re doing pretty well. But it’s important to keep in mind that these recommendations are for individuals with an average activity level. Adding a hike to your daily routine usually falls in the realm of “above average,” so it’s important for you to consume even more water to keep your body prepared for any hike.
As for nutrition, there is obviously a wide range of “recommended diets” out there. For our purposes here, we want to stress the importance of tracking your dietary intake just like you track your fluid intake. If you haven’t eaten much more than a couple pieces of fruit all day, for example, accepting an invitation for a last-minute sunset hike might not be the wisest choice. Electrolytes, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, and proteins are just a few examples of the many dietary elements that your body needs to be prepared for any hike.
Regular Exercises to Stay in Hiking Shape
When it comes to exercise, there are a few recommended staples that you can work into your daily routine. These exercises will keep your body in shape and ready to tackle any hike when the invite arrives. For starters, squats, lunges, and step ups are great for building the lower body muscles your body needs to hike for miles at a time.
Step-ups are particularly useful because they mimic the action you’ll be taking when climbing steeper grades on the trail. As your body gets stronger, you can take another step forward to further replicate the experience you’ll have on the trail. Starting with around 20 pounds in your backpack, sling it on and perform step-ups with this extra weight. As your strength grows, add somewhere around 5 pounds per week until you reach the weight you plan to hike with most.
To improve your conditioning, running is actually a great routine to get into. If you can’t run, walking is a suitable alternative. At first, try to add running or walking to your fitness routine 2 to 3 times per week. If you live in a city, a stationary bike or treadmill can be a great substitute for running or walking outside. As your conditioning improves, you can either extend the length of time for which you run or walk or extend the total mileage you shoot for each time you head out.
Finally, your core is an underestimated area of importance for almost any athletic endeavor. Because hiking usually involves carrying a backpack with weight, building and maintaining core strength is even more important. Crunches, planks, push-ups, and cherry pickers are all great exercises for building and maintaining your core strength. And they can easily be working into your daily fitness routine.
Your Mentality is Key
Your mental approach to hiking is just as important (if not more so) as staying in physical shape. The old “mind over matter” adage certainly can be applied to many grueling hikes. Reminding ourselves that our physical efforts (and sometimes pain) are worth it because of the benefits we get from hiking, is the key to mastering your mind to be prepared for any hike.
Furthermore, hiking often takes us far away from civilization and into remote wilderness areas. Because of this, it’s even more important for us to be mentally prepared for circumstances that are out of our control. To truly be prepared for any hike, you have to be mentally prepared and learn how to control your survival emotions.
Tips for Mental Preparation
The first tip for mental preparation is to teach your mind how to remain calm at all times. Whether you achieve this through meditation, yoga, Qi Gong, breath work, or by regularly reminding yourself what is it you CAN control, your brain is your most important tool in life (and in your hiking preparation!). Staying calm when hiking will decrease your overall energy expenditure, open your eyes to the beauty of the nature around you, and maintain your ability to make smart decisions when you body does begin to fatigue.
The second tip mental preparation for hiking preparation is to make a good plan for what your hike is going to look like. This is even possible if you have ZERO experience in the particular wilderness you’re heading for. Research is key. Understanding mileages, elevation gain and loss, topography, and weather will help you adequately prepare for any hike.
An added tip is to stop at the Ranger Station nearest to your desired trailhead on your way. There’s really no substitute for the kind of up-to-date information you can get from the people that spend their lives hiking in, and caring for, a particular wilderness area. Stop in and pick their brains on current trail conditions, fire restrictions, wildlife activity, and any other information they’re willing to provide.
As outdoor enthusiasts, we know too well the FOMO that happens when you have too many awesome “adventure invites” to choose from. With these tips, we hope you can say yes to more of those invites and create new adventures daily!