If you are relatively new to hiking or a beginner hiker you are going to find this guide super helpful. This is our ultimate hiking checklist that covers the most important hiking safety tips and the best hiking tips for beginners to understand.
Whether you are day hiking, doing an overnight hike, a weekend hike or going into the backcountry for several days this checklist will definitely help you prepare for challenges you may encounter.
The Ultimate Hiking Checklist
1. Wear quality hiking shoes or hiking boots.
A very important part of hiking is footwear. You want high quality, durable and comfortable hiking shoes or hiking boots. Good footwear is essential to protect your feet while you hike and to ensure maximum pleasure. Make sure that you have a good amount of tread. Avoid wearing worn out shoes, sandals or soft/bendy (rubber) soled shoes. Examples include skate shoes or squishy running shoes that lack support. Most trails in Colorado and around Boulder are rocky. If you wear soft, squishy or bendy shoes your feet are going to get bruised and sore. Stiffer soles that absorb the pressure of rocks or roots are going to make your hiking day way more fun and comfortable.
If you think that you do not have adequate hiking footwear I recommend a trip to your closest REI or local outdoors store. Another great place that I find both hiking boots and hiking shoes (in Boulder) is Nordstrom Rack.
2. Bring extra water on your hike.
This is especially important if you are hiking in a hotter climate. It is best to have too much water. Take one more water bottle than you think you need. You will not regret it. Totally worth the extra weight. In Boulder, the air temperature is often warm to hot and due to the elevation the sun intensity is also very strong. I typically bring one bottle of water (one liter) for every hour of hiking that I intend to do. This amount of H2O seems to work perfectly with every hike.
3. Take extra snacks and food to refuel
Another hugely important to do in preparation for your hikes. My go-to snacks are mixed nuts and dried fruits. Clif/Builders/Luna bars are also great for quick energy boosts. Take more than you think you will need.
4. Choose your hiking route or hiking trail
Keep in mind that hiking is almost always harder than regular walking that you do. I find that more difficult hikes take at least twice as long to cover distance compared to on flat ground. Hiking can be even slower going if you are carrying more on your back. Make sure that you pick hikes that match your current energy and fitness levels. If you are hiking at higher elevations be aware that you will tire more quickly and you will find movement harder in general compared to lower elevations. Start with easier hikes and work your way up to greater challenges.
Important things to consider when choosing your route:
- Time available (start early if you can)
- Your fitness level
- Total distance
- Base elevation and total elevation gain
- Time of year and weather conditions
- Hours of daylight
5. Familiarize yourself with trails in advance
Study a trail map before you head out. Make note of intersecting trails where you could make a wrong turn.
Be informed. Read books or online. Talk to locals or friends that have experience.
6. Bring navigation tools
If you are going somewhere that does not have mobile reception take a topographical map and a compass. It is easy to get disoriented, especially in dense forest. If you are hiking within mobile reception download and use popular apps (AllTrails or REI Hiking Project) that you may navigate trails via GPS.
7. Check the weather report before you leave
Check the weather report before you head out on your hike. Avoid surprises and understand how to dress appropriately.
8. Hike with a buddy OR…
Try to find a hiking buddy if you can. Safety comes in numbers. Another option is to join a local hiking club or try Meetup.
If not, be sure to tell someone where you are going and stick to the plan. If you happen to get lost or injured help will arrive sooner than later if you tell someone your intended route.
9. Sun Protection
Protecting yourself from the sun on hikes is essential. The sun will drain your energy. When you go hiking make sure that you bring/apply sunscreen, and bring/wear both a hat and sunglasses.
10. Extra clothing and layers
Weather can change quickly in Colorado and most popular hiking destinations. Be prepared. If there is a threat of rain or snow bring a waterproof/windproof shell. A long sleeve shirt and a lightweight but warm (wool) layer is also highly recommended. Extra socks are also an essential. Avoid cotton (gets and stays wet) and opt for synthetic materials that are intended to stay dry or dry very quickly.
11. Other key tools/supplies
We mentioned the importance of extra clothing, food and water, sun protection and navigation tools.
- Fire – matches, lighter, candle, flint, magnesium fire tool
- First-aid supplies (bandaids, bandages, tape, scissors, antiseptic wipes, antibiotic ointment, pain killers, bandana) or small first-aid kit for hiking
- Biodegradable flagging tape for emergencies (like when you are feeling really lost)
- Loud whistle
- Lightweight waterproof bag
- Emergency blanket
- Emergency shelter – lightweight tent, garbage bag
- Camera and batteries
12. Pack light
Yes, you need quite a few items for a successful and safe hike. However, limit your gear to one backpack (or bag of your choice) and keep it as light as possible. Hiking is way more fun when you are not held back by unnecessary drag. Plus, you can move more sturdily and quickly. 15-20 liter hiking backpacks are good for day hikes and close to home hikes. If you are venturing further out and camping a 30 liter pack should do the trick.
13. Pace yourself and take breaks
Take breaks when you need to and conserve your energy. Know your limits. Consider how changes in elevation will impact your endurance. I find that taking many short breaks works really well to maintain a good pace and to cover decent ground. Especially on steep terrain. One way that I conserve my energy is to take quick photography breaks whenever the opportunity presents itself. Yes, multi-tasking! You will be amazed at how quickly your body can recover and regain energy. Taking in an amazing vista and snapping some photos will be rewarding in more ways than one. Be sure to eat small snacks and take small sips of water frequently. This will also help maintain a steady pace and avoid sudden exhaustion.
In hot temperatures seek shade for your breaks. I find sun can steal your energy quickly and make hikes more difficult than they have to be.
14. Be aware
Your eyes and ears are your best tools to maintain a level of awareness in your immediate surroundings.
Keep your eyes on the trails. Concentrate on your footing at all times. This will help avoid accidents or injuries.
Also, remind yourself to look ahead and around you. You are sharing the outdoors with wild animals. If you encounter a large animal or predator you will want to know sooner than later. That’s one thing. The other is to stop and enjoy the beauty of the great outdoors!
Also, be aware of overlapping trails and turns in your route. It is easy to miss a turnoff if you are not paying attention.
While you are out hiking use your ears and listen. You will hear animals around you. You will also become aware of any other people that may need your help.
15. Trail Etiquette
- Hikers going uphill have the right of way
- Hikers have the right of way vs. mountain bikers
- Horses and equestrians have right of way over hikers and bikers
16. Hiking with kids
- Choose an appropriate trail for the ability of your child
- Go at their pace to keep them interested and happy
- Keep kids fed, hydrated, sun protected, and warm
17. Hiking with dogs
- Make sure that your dog is allowed on the trails
- Get a pack so your dog can carry its own water and food
- Stop often for water and snacks
- Carry out your poop bags
Lightning is a destructive hazard. Take shelter in a forest (not directly adjacent to trees) or low points such as ravines, valleys and gullies. If you can avoid lightning outright and do not hike in stormy weather.
19. Respect wildlife
Watch wildlife from a distance. Do not feed or approach wild animals. Be very careful around animals that are mating, nesting, or have their young nearby.
20. Leave no trace
The wilderness is beautiful and something that future generations must enjoy. Carry out your garbage/trash. Be extremely cautious with campfires. Keep fires small and fully extinguish your fires. Do not destroy any nature or animals. Leave everything as you found it aka leave no trace.
So, there you have it…our Ultimate Hiking Checklist for 2017.