Why Should I Research a Hike?

It’s so surprising to me how many people hike a trail they know nothing about. They just hear, “Oh, Fiery Gizzard is a great trail!” and they set out on a long and technically difficult trail with only a 12 oz water bottle and sandals. Without discouraging people from getting outdoors, I want to provide a better solution to unpreparedness or, perhaps, even a bit of ignorance.

Being unprepared feels terrifying, especially when you are out in nature, potentially without cell phone service. Even if I’ve done a hike multiple times thoughts like “Am I going the wrong way?” or “Did I lose the trail?” will go through my head and a bit of panic sets in. (Perhaps some of that is attributed to my ongoing anxiety issues…) But, then I’ll remember I saved an offline map, I have my GPS app going or I have an actual physical map and I immediately feel more at ease.

It’s pretty simple to calm these anxious thoughts by researching the hike before you go. It greatly decreases the chances of you getting lost or being unprepared (not enough food, water, etc.) when you are hiking. Also, it takes like 5-10 minutes total, so there’s really no excuse not to.

By researching a hike, you can discover things like:

  • Distances between different points on the trail (waypoints)
  • How well maintained the trails are
  • How well marked the trail is so you can pay attention more closely to trail blazes (or lack thereof)
  • Difficulty of the trail, which may change your mind if you feel unprepared to take on several miles of precariously places boulders
  • Directions to a trailhead
  • Trail maps

PRO TIP! When looking up info about a hike, you want to be sure to look at recent postings/comments, if available. You don’t necessarily want to be reading about the trail conditions last fall, because things could have changed.

Yes, you need a map.

One thing you want to make sure you have access to is some kind of map that you don’t need cell phone service to access.

The most reliable and trustworthy tool is, of course, a GPS app or device.

The only downside to these are that, most of the time, they cost money. But, it’s worth it to know exactly where you are, especially if you are on a trail that’s not well marked or in a completely unfamiliar place. There’s tons of GPS apps for your phone that are going to be much cheaper than buying a GPS device.

Other good options:

  • Google/Apple Maps – Download a map to use offline.
    • PRO TIP! Mark your starting location on your map before you begin hiking, so if you get lost, you at least know where your car is.
  • Screen shot a map from a state/national park website.
  • Stop by the visitor’s center, if available, and grab a physical copy of the map. (Yes, paper maps still exist!)

IMPORTANT! If you are planning to use your phone as your main navigation source, whether via a downloaded map or GPS app, make sure you have a fully charged phone and a back up power device. It’s always better to be completely prepared!

PRO TIP! You can bring a lightweight portable power bank and cord so you can recharge, if needed. I like Goal Zero’s Flip 24. It is small and lightweight and worth the extra 4 ounces in your pack.

Other Resources

  • AllTrails: One of the most popular hiking resources
  • Hiking Project
  • State and National Park Websites
  • State and National Park Visitor’s Centers
    • Get that paper map I mentioned above and talk to the park rangers about trail conditions.
  • Hiking Instagram/Twitter Feeds
    • I may be biased but @shehikestn has some pretty good info and photos…

To leave you with one final word, just be as prepared as you can be. It can be quite scary to realize you lost the trail or you are racing the daylight because you didn’t know how long or difficult a trail was. By researching your hike beforehand, you can take away some of this uncertainty and pick a hike that’s right for you in that moment.

Taken on a rainy, windy (and well-researched) hike in the White Mountains

Questions? Anything to add? Let me know!

Favorite Trail Food

I think that one of the biggest mistakes a novice hiker can make is not bringing any food on a hike no matter how short the distance. You may not end up eating anything, but it’s always better to throw something in your pack and have it just in case. If you are hiking more than 4-5 miles, I would recommend bringing a few snacks. I don’t want to sound too alarmist, but you never know what could happen, even on a short hike, and it’s always better to be as prepared as you can be.

(Note: You ALWAYS want to bring water. Always. Always. Always. Even if you think it is silly to bring water because the hike is so short, do it. You never know what may happen and you want to be able to hydrate yourself.)

To give you a few ideas of what to bring along on your hikes, I’ll share some of my favorite things to snack on while hiking. I usually like to pack both sweet and salty snacks.

EAT Ultra Bars: For when you want an updated granola bar

Say farewell to those dry and cardboard-y Quaker Oat chocolate chip granola bars that your mom gave you when you were a kid. These cherry chocolate bars from Everyday Adventure Treats are a serious upgrade from your run-of-the-mill bar. Made with local and sustainable fruits and nuts, these bars are chewy and perfectly balanced. I love that there’s just a hint of salt to complement the natural sweetness. Plus, they are filling for a small snack. There’s five different flavors, so I’m sure you’ll find your favorite! You can get them via the Everyday Adventure Treats website.

Noka Superfood Smoothie: For when it’s so hot out, you can’t imagine eating solid food

These are one of my favorite snacks when hiking in hot weather. It’s like grown-up applesauce in a pouch. It’s made with all organic ingredients and also has some protein and other superfoods. They taste really great and aren’t full of sugar. My favorite flavors are Blueberry Beet and Mango Coconut, but I haven’t tried a flavor I didn’t like. You can get them via Amazon or their online store.

Honey Stinger Cracker Bar: For when you need the perfect balance of salty, sweet and crunchy

I love pretty much all of Honey Stinger’s products, but this cracker bar is lights-out good for a grab-and-go bar. It’s two multigrain crackers filled with a nut butter then dipped in chocolate. Sometimes, when I’m hiking, I just get so focused on the trail that I forget to take a break and eat. But, when you have a snack that you are excited about like this cracker bar, you make yourself take a seat and enjoy the view (and the treat). There’s three different varieties: Peanut Butter Milk Chocolate, Almond Butter Dark Chocolate and Cashew Butter Milk Chocolate. You can get them online from the Honey Stinger website or from REI.

PlayHard GiveBack Trail Mix: For when you want to mix up your trail mix

I’m not the biggest fan of trail mix overall. I mean, it’s fine, but it’s not something I normally go for. BUT! PlayHard GiveBack trail mix is so different and unique and great. Also, they are part of 1% For the Planet. (Members donate 1% of their revenue each year to organizations that give back to the environment.) Each flavor has their own type of little energy bites, almonds, and cranberries. The rest of the ingredients are dependent upon the flavor. My favorite is the chocolate banana goji which has banana chips, mini peanut butter cups, and goji berries. Check out their website for more!

Nick’s Sticks: the perfect salty snack

What’s a hike without jerky? These grass-fed, perfectly-spiced beef sticks leave those dry, tasteless meat flakes in the dust. These meat sticks have all the good stuff and none of the bad. Because there’s two sticks in each pack, it’s the perfect amount of saltiness for your day hike. I love the spicy beef, but there’s also turkey and chicken varieties. You can order via Amazon or their website.

Rip Van Wafels: For when you need a trail dessert

These stroopwafel-esque snacks aren’t the most nutritionally complete snack for hiking, but packing it alongside other snacks makes it feel like a trail dessert. If you aren’t familiar with stroopwafels, it’s like a very thin waffle with a filling. (They are even better if they are warmed up over a cup of coffee or tea when the filling becomes gooey.) This brand, Rip Van Wafel, uses quality ingredients with no artificial flavors or preservatives. My favorite kind is the dutch caramel and vanilla, but they have a handful of other fun flavors like cookies and cream and snickerdoodle.

Of course there’s hundreds of things to eat while hiking, but I’m hoping this will spark some new ideas for eating on the trail.

What’s your favorite thing to eat while hiking?

Day Hiking Essentials

Most of the hikes that are featured on this site are day hikes, meaning you can complete them within the daylight hours. Day hiking can be anything from a 2 mile stroll through Radnor Lake State Natural Area or an all day 12-miler in Savage Gulf. Either way, I think it’s important to be prepared with the right gear and supplies. (I almost always over pack for my day hikes but much of my hiking has been solo, so I tend to over prepare.) There’s a few essentials I take on almost every hike and I thought I’d share them for those of you who are new to hiking and want to start building your gear collection.

1. Water, preferably in a hydration reservoir

If you only bring one thing on a hike, let that one thing be water. Never leave for a hike of any length without water.

To figure out how much water to take along on your hike, follow the general rules below:

  • “Normal” weather: 1 liter for every 2 hours of hiking.
  • Hot and/or humid weather: 1 liter for every 1 hour of hiking.

Hydration reservoirs, also known as water bladders, may seem like an unnecessary item to take along on a day hike if you already have a water bottle. But, water bottles are often heavy and a pain to take out of your pack every time you want a drink of water. (Plus, I seem to never drink enough water if I take a water bottle.) Enter the hydration reservoir: a hand-free water delivery system. I will be going over reservoirs in detail in a future post.

2. Day Pack

‘Day pack’ is just another word for a type of backpack. I always recommend carrying a day pack or backpack, even for short, easy hikes. Typically day packs are crafted with features specifically for hiking/outdoor activities, but feel free to break out that old Jansport from high school if you aren’t looking to purchase one. Be looking out for a post about day packs in the future.

3. Snacks

Another thing I never leave home without is trail snacks. I will always throw at least a granola bar in my pack, even if I’m just going for a quick and easy stroll through the woods. You never know when hunger may strike and you don’t want to feel light-headed on the hike. If I am going on multi-hour hike, I will bring a handful of snacks, both sweet and salty. I’ve taken things like bananas, jerky, Clif and Lara bars, smoothie packs, and nut mixes. Of course, you can get fancy and bring the ever-popular “sweaty lunch” – crackers, cheese and pepperoni – deemed that because the meat and cheese gets “sweaty” when its in your pack. (Not a recommend snack on hot days.) 

4. Hiking Shoes/Boots

Sure, your Nikes may be cutting it, but having proper hiking shoes/boots can make all the difference, especially on tricky terrain or in wet conditions. Depending on your preference and type of hiking you do, you can find a wide variety of hiking boots to match.

5. First Aid Kit

Some may say this is overkill, but you never know when you’ll get a blister or a headache or a super itchy bug bite. You can craft your own little kit with bandaids, salve/ointment, NSAIDs (Tylenol, ibuprofen, etc.), anti-itch cream, etc. You can also buy pre-made kits specifically tailored to day hiking, like the HART Health Day Hike Kit or the Adventure Medical’s Day Tripper Lite. However, if you only bring one thing medical related on a hike, make it the Green Goo First Aid salve. It’s like a first aid kit packed into one little tin.

6. Trekking Poles

While not absolutely necessary, especially on short, flat hikes, I am in pro trekking poles. I would venture to say they are necessary if you are hiking over very uneven terrain and/or are gaining or losing elevation. They provide four points of contact on the ground instead of just two (your feet). I’ve used them for stability as I have delicately crossed streams on boulders and for security when descending a steep incline. Also, if you have knee problems, hiking poles can help take some of stress off of your knees, especially on declines. Yes, I’ll be posting more about trekking poles in the upcoming days/weeks as well.

7. Trail Map

While this may seem unnecessary, I always recommend having some type of map with you. To me, there’s no worse feeling on a hike than that sharp drop in your stomach when you think you are lost. (‘Always be prepared’ say the Boy Scouts.) Sometimes the trail will be marked in Google or Apple maps on your phone. Sometimes, you’ll have cell service and you will be able to pull up a trail map, if needed. And sometimes, you’ll be completely out of cell phone service and have to resort to a paper map. At most trailheads, there will be a large trail map that you can at least take a photo of with your phone. Sometimes, there will be paper maps at the trail as well. One of the biggest mistakes a novice hiker can make is being unprepared, thinking ‘Oh, it’s just a 3-mile hike.’

Bonus item: A dog

Hiking with a pup is highly recommended; dogs make everything better. I’ll just leave it at that.

Is there anything that you never hike without? Let me know. Let’s learn from each other!