How to Pick and Prepare for a Hiking Trip

Hiker walking along coastal path
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Hiking, walking and trekking vacations are a lot of fun if you enjoy moving step by step through colorful locales on the way to interesting destinations. Here's how to choose and prepare for a hiking (or walking) trip. 

1. 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? Once you've defined your wish list it's time to find a trip.

2. 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. Talk to each company that has a trip of interest 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.)

3. 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 to take the trip. Then, create a plan to ensure you are ready physically.

4. Train for Your Trip

For many trips, it's okay to start your training a month or two before you leave for vacation. Spending time at the gym working with weights and on a treadmill, StairMaster or stationary bike is one route. Supplement the training with long walks or hikes on weekends, preferably on dirt trails instead of pavement.

Jogging on toughens you up and increase your agility and stamina. 

If you're hiking to the Mt. Everest Base Camp or following the Inca Trail in Peru you'll need to start prepping months before unless you've already spent lots of time hiking on rough terrain and at high altitudes. Companies running these types of trips will have specific recommendations.

5. 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.

6. Bring Well-Fitting Boots

Bring hiking boots with good ankle support. Make sure they fit properly and are broken-in enough to ensure they are comfortable because well-fitting boots can make the difference between an entertaining or a painful trip. Take several pairs of good-quality hiking socks. (The synthetic high-tech materials that wick away moisture are much better than cotton.)

7. Decide What Clothing to Pack

Your tour operator will give you a list of specific clothing. It will include comfortable waterproof and breathable clothing. Check out the new gear that has a sun-protection factor.

Pants with zip-off bottoms are a high priority item. R.E.I. has clothing and gear for every adventure imaginable. TravelSmith sells high-tech and travel-smart clothing. Magellans is a treasure trove of gear and travel gadgets.

8. Bring the Right Bag

Bring a pack that fits your body comfortably – whether it'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.

9. 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.