How to Pick and Prepare for a Hiking Trip

Hiker walking along coastal path
Dougal Waters/Getty Images

Hiking trips, walking tours, and extended treks can make from some of the most interesting and enjoyable escapes, giving us a chance to truly immerse ourselves in a culture or location. But, they can also be quite daunting too. From planning your trek, to getting ready for the physical challenges that await, we have some tips that can help you be more prepared for the trail.

Define Your Trip Style

Does hiking in the Adirondacks or the Rockies sound like fun? Do you want to camp out at night, bunk in a rustic hut, or overnight in a luxurious lodge? Would you rather walk from one European town to the next, stopping at small cafes where you can chat with locals while eating lunch? Does trekking on rough trails in third-world countries push your "gotta do it" button? Deciding exactly what type of trekking most appeals to you is an important step in defining what you want to do on your adventure.

Choose Your Trip

Now that you've dialed in on the type of hiking, trekking or walking trip that most appeals to you it’s time to find a trip. Many companies offer walking and hiking trips to destinations all over the world. Talk to each company that has a trip of interest to you and ask what kind of shape you must be in to enjoy the experience.On some European walking trips, cars will pick you if you decide not to walk all the way to the next town, making physical fitness less of a concern. Other trekking itineraries require a high level of fitness and offer no escape plans if you start to tire out. It is important that you know and acknowledge those expectations before you commit your time and money.

Honestly Assess Your Fitness Level

You may walk a mile or two on pavement comfortably, but can you walk four or five miles a day – or more – on varied terrain without collapsing on the couch for the rest of the afternoon? Once you've chosen a trip, ask the tour company what level of physical fitness you should be at in order to join that tour. Then, create a plan to ensure you are ready physically. committing yourself to improving your conditioning before you set out.

When assessing just how good of shape you're in, be honest with yourself. You may think you're in great shape, but is that honestly the case? Be sure you know your limits, as well as your strengths and weaknesses, ahead of time.

Train for Your Trip

For many hiking trips, it's okay to start your training a month or two before you leave for your destination. Spending time at the gym using weights to strength your core muscles and a treadmill or stationary bike to increase your cardio efficiency are all good places to start. Supplement that training with long walks or hikes on weekends, preferably on dirt trails instead of pavement. Jogging or running outdoors will also help to increase your agility and stamina.

If you're hiking to Mt. Everest Base Camp or following the Inca Trail in Peru you'll need to start prepping months before unless you're already in good shape. Developing a fitness plan that can help get you ready for the trip will ensure that you enjoy it more once you get underway. Don't hesitate to reach out to the company you're booking with for specific recommendations on how to prepare either.

Get Used to Carrying Gear

Get used to wearing a loaded backpack while you are walking. The size and weight depend on the type of trip you are taking, so ask your tour operator for input. Wear the boots you're going to take on the trip during your training walks as well, as it will help your body to adapt to the conditions you can expect on the trail. Carrying a pack can make difference in how fast you move and how good you feel while hiking, so give yourself plenty of time to acclimate to carrying at least a portion of your own gear.

Bring Well-Fitting Boots

Bring hiking boots with good ankle support. Make sure they fit properly and are throughly broken-in long before you get on the plane for your destination. The last thing you want to do is develop blisters or hotspots due to poor-fitting boots. Be sure to bring several pairs of high-quality hiking socks as well, as proper socks will help to keep your feet comfortable. Socks made from merino wool are perfect, as they can control moisture, are breathable, and have natural antimicrobial properties to help keep odor to a minimum.

Decide What Clothing to Pack

Your tour operator will give you a list of specific clothing that you should bring along for the trek. That list is likely to include comfortable waterproof items to protect from the elements and breathable clothing to keep you comfortable on the trail. Convertible pants with zip-off bottoms are a high priority item as they can serve double-duty as a pair of shorts too. R.E.I. has clothing and gear for every adventure imaginable. TravelSmith sells high-tech and travel-smart clothing as well, and Magellans is a treasure trove of gear and travel gadgets.

Bring the Right Bag

Bring a pack that fits your body comfortably, whether that's a daypack to hold your water bottle, snacks, sunscreen lotion, and jacket or a pack designed to hold enough gear for a multi-day hike through the mountains. Which bag you bring will be greatly influenced by the kind of trip you'll be doing, how much gear you'll be carrying, and where you'll be going. Just be sure to pick one that feels comfortable on your body and test it out for an extended period of time on a local trail first. Much like your hiking boots, it's important that your backpack fits properly and feels good too.

Don't Forget Personal First Aid and Emergency Gear 

You may be trying to conserve space in your bag, but the following items can come in handy on the trail if unexpected circumstances arise: sunblock, energy snacks, a flashlight, binoculars, a knife, bug repellant, a first aid kit (with blister bandages), and an emergency kit with a whistle; compass; matches, and a space blanket. 

Was this page helpful?