5 Things you should do before hiking

I have been hiking for a very long time, but after a recent trip I’m reminded that it doesn’t matter how long you have been hiking, you can still make mistakes? I have literally done this a hundred times, I figured hiking with a family can’t be too much different. Oh was I wrong. I recently took my family out of state to go hiking, we stayed at a campground, woke up early the next morning and hit the trail head. That day was a huge wake up call for me, let’s just say that things did not go exactly as planned. I had to be to work the following day and we were 4 hours away from home so naturally we showed up to the park right when it opened, planned on hiking for about 3-4 hours and would be back home by 6pm that evening. I got some advice from the information desk, where they informed me that our intended route was a 3 hour hike, I took my map and we hit the dusty trail; 8 hours later we trudged out of the park and slumped into the car for a greuling 4 hour ride home. So what happened? We have no freaking clue. We have since poured over the map, recited the conversation with the park employee and we still cannot figure out where things went wrong. We stayed on the intended trail and yet somehow a 3 hour hike turned into an 8 hour trip that left us tired and confused. However, even though things went wrong, they could have been much worse. Here are a few tips to consider before you take your family hiking

  1. Know the Area You are Hiking
The first lesson I took away from this trip was to never wait until last minute to get route information. There is a lot of information out there to better discover the area you are headed, admittedly I was a little lazy about this and I should have taken a little more time to do the research, however the trip was planned on a whim and we left on very short notice. I know, I know, that’s no excuse so here is what I do now.

www.alltrails.com- this website is amazing! You can search by location, difficulty, and activity. Information shows up in a map based platform and displays all of the hiking trails in an area selected. You’ll trail details such as distances, routes, trail pictures posted by other users, and even user reviews.

If you don’t like this site there are a few others out there such as: www.traillink.com,   www.americantrails.org, www.railstotrails.org, and www.americanhiking.org, these are just a few of the many sites out there. The American Hiking Society has a lot of great references for any hiking related topic, you should definitely check it out!  

If you are old school and like to have a map in hand National Geographic makes a lot of great maps that can be bought at your local REI, or on amazon. They seem to only make maps for the more popular hiking trails, but if you are headed to Grand Teton National Park or Banff National Park in Alberta, these maps are a must! You should also check your local library, they often have maps available or hiking and camping guides.
2.  Have the proper gear
One of the most important things I learned in boy scouts was to be prepared. Now I can’t claim that I am perfect at this, I won’t say that I left a whole bag at home, but somehow it didn’t make it to Ohio with us. So, first things first, you need a gear list. If you try to go off of your memory you are doomed to forget something, like a bag *cough*. You can find a great gear list here, and another one here. I prefer the boy scout check list because it’s what I grew up with, but both are great!

Use your checklist every single time you go, especially if you are leaving town. I like to set all of my gear out and mentally check it off as I set it out, then I will go down the list while everything is laid out and double check it against the list, and finally I check it off as it goes into my bag. You should also have a checklist of all your bags that are going. Unfortunately I left the one with the baby carrier in it and ended up having to carry my 2 year old for 2 miles without it, and that’s lucky. If you don’t believe me just ask Aron Ralston.

3. Take enough water
This is probably to most important point. We took 2 25oz bottles of water with us when we left for the day. Now, a rule of thumb is 3 quarts of water an hour, per person. We were hiking for 8 hours, theoretically we should have had about 3-4 liters of water for each of us and even more for Silas. I can guarantee that we were dehydrated when we got back and I cringe to think about what might have happened if we had got stuck out on the trail over night due to an injury or some other unforeseen event. I suppose we could have sucked up some of the muddy water out of the river to survive, but I really like not have giardia! So if you don’t want to pack a ton of water you can always use a water filter or purifier. If you dont know the difference check out this article on MSR’s website! But if you really want to know exactly how much water you should take here is a cool hydration calculator I found that helps you calculate how much water your body does through.

4. Take enough food
This one might seem silly but we went out expecting to only be out for a couple hours and I can tell you that 3 hours is wildly different than 8 hours. We each had almost a box of granola bars for each of us, and a bag of oranges. Truthfully, we had plenty of food to get through the day, but I was so freaking tired of eating granola, it’s been 4 months and I still haven’t touched another one.

Everyone is different and the amount that I eat is different than what you will eat, but if you have to room in your pack, I would say for a couple hours of hiking take enough for a meal and a few snacks for in between. You might not even eat it, but better safe than sorry. Just a few weeks ago a kid’s hiking group left him behind in a cave for three days, he had no water and one granola bar. Could you imagine if it was you and your family out, and making your kid lick rocks to survive?
“I know you’re hungry Lukas, take a lick of that cliff bar wrapper and then go get a drink off of the cave wall. BTW, watch out for guano!” You can read that crazy story here.
The moral of the story is, don’t end up like Lukas.

5. Make a plan and stick to it
This one is pretty simple. If you have heard the name Aron Raltson, then you know that he went out hiking by himself and the reason he had to cut his own arm off with a dull knife was because he didn’t tell anyone where he was going. Aron took off without telling anyone his plan and he paid the price for it. Always let someone know where you are going, and when you plan on returning and don’t deviate from the plan. If you stick to this rule and something goes wrong, being late will be an indicator to your family/friends that something isn’t right and that they should start looking for you, and since you told them where you were going, thet will know exactly where to look and hopefully you and little Chet won’t get stuck out in the woods drinking pee and chewing on pine needles for dinner.

This is not a comprehensive list of all the things you need to do before hiking, nor is everything on this list necessarily the most important. We set out for a 3 or 4 hour hike and things did not go exactly as planned. Thing is, we were prepared in a lot of ways, and in a lot of ways we weren’t. At the end of it all we still had a great time, and came home with some amazing pictures and wonderful memories. But once we had got home I thanked God that we were as fortunate as we were and then I wrote this list of things that I would have done differently. I hope this list helps you as you take your family hiking and just remember, don’t be like Lukas!


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