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Note: All travel is subject to frequently changing governmental restrictions—please check federal, state and local advisories before scheduling trips. This post was updated July 1, 2020.

These days, it seems everyone is headed to a National Park, State Park or other corner of the great outdoors to spend some time away from it all in nature. If you feel like you could use an escape to recharge your soul, too, but don’t have much experience hiking long trails, look to these tips that can help leisure hikers enjoy those hard to reach gems, just like the pros.

RELATED: 10 amazing National Parks photos to inspire your next trip

Always research the hike you want to take

Think of choosing your hike sort of like online dating—do your best to know what you’ve signed up for to avoid any unpleasant surprises. Most national and state park trails, in most countries, will have a webpage dedicated to explaining conditions of the trail and what to expect.

Before committing to a hike research the trail’s length, level of difficulty, and any possible “deal breakers” you might come across if you choose to take it. For example, if you are scared of heights, you might not want to take a trail that includes mandatory free climbing in order to reach the lookout point.

Research, Jotunheimen Bessegen Ridge, Norway

Jotunheimen Bessegen Ridge, Norway. Photo: Alexandra Olsen

Know the seasonal conditions of the trail

Simply knowing what season it is does not mean you will be familiar with your trail’s seasonal weather conditions. Also, depending on the elevation of your hike, you might run into some surprising road-bumps…like snow in the summer. Remember that if weather is looking less than favorable on the morning you planned to hike, you should definitely consider an alternative activity for the day. Rain can make even the most experienced hikers nervous about an unfamiliar trail. Besides, you won’t be able to see what you came there for: the views.

Seasonal, Norway

Photo: Alexandra Olsen

Train for your hike

Even if you live in the flattest place on earth, you can still prepare your body for a hike. Begin with some long distance walking. If the hike you are preparing for is very long, try walking half its distance once a day for a week or two before the day you have it planned for. You can also do some leg-strengthening exercises after your walks, but don’t go too hard the day before the hike. You do not want to have sore legs during your hike, which will not only make for an unpleasant day, but will compound the soreness you’ll feel after your trek.

Wear and bring the right gear

After you’ve done all of your research, make sure you have the right gear for your specific hike. Some hikes do not require much, but all hikes do at least require proper footwear, a sturdy water bottle and comfortable clothing. It’s also always a good idea to wear shoes with ankle support and to wear thick socks. Pro tip: Ankle socks are likely to give you blisters on long hikes. Keep them far away from your hiking attire.

If the weather is unpredictable, do not be afraid to wear layers. Remember that you can always take layers off, but if you don’t bring them, you can’t put them on later. Also remember that many hiking trails do not have bathrooms… so make sure you bring whatever you’ll need to make thatwork.

Gear, Norway

Photo: Alexandra Olsen

Bring a buddy

There is something about hiking alone that can cause you to have some of your most reflective and personal thoughts. But if you’re hiking an advanced trail alone as a beginner, all you’ll likely be thinking about is giving up and going back to a warm, cozy bed. Bringing a hiking buddy can help you finish what you started. 

But choose your buddy carefully. If you have a friend who is an avid, advanced and experienced hiker, do not bring them. Try instead to find a buddy who is at the same level that you are. You’ll need someone to encourage and inspire you… and someone who will not be annoyed if you need to complain a little bit, or fall behind, because they’ll be complaining too.

Buddy, Jotunheimen Bessegen Ridge, Norway

Photo: Alexandra Oslen

Don’t forget to put fuel in the tank

Humans need fuel too. Especially humans who plan to spend a day walking up the side of a mountain. Before leaving for your hike, eat a big healthy meal with plenty of natural sugars and carbs. This will help you get the energy needed to scale a mountain. Avoid fatty and fried foods at all costs, nothing weighs you down for a long hike like a doughnut. You are sure to feel that in your stomach, weighing you down, all day. And even though the adrenaline that comes along with a new and exciting hike can make you forget to eat, remember to take several small snack breaks while on the trail. This will keep your body working efficiently throughout your hike.

And perhaps most importantly, hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. Drink plenty of water the day before your hike and during your hike. Water is a hiker’s best friend.

Pace yourself

Pace, Norway

Photo: Alexandra Olsen

When planning your hike, plan to add around two extra hours to however long you think it will take. Remember that you are doing this hike for the experience and that, like any good experience, it should not be rushed. Also that you may get tired. Or want to stop for a while and soak in those views. And on that note, while hiking, take as many breaks as you need to keep your body temperature and your breathing at a steady and comfortable level. Enjoy the views and take the time to savor where you are.

One final thing to keep in mind here: What goes up must come down. However you arrived at your peak destination, you must also be prepared to descend. If you find yourself grumbling about it, remember that going back down is half the fun, half the work, and half the trip.

Tagged: Family, Tips & advice

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