5 Ways to Prepare for a Long Hike

By: John Perritano
Person hiking outdoors with backpack up mountain.
Whether you're hiking the Appalachian Trail or in the backcountry of Oregon, having the right clothes, food and gear could be a lifesaver. See pictures of national parks.

When the rains came, the winds howled and the temperature dipped, Aaron Licudine, 24, of West Linn, Ore., scrambled to find shelter. With no food, water, cell phone, compass or the proper clothes, Licudine, who was hiking the Oregon Badlands Wilderness Area near Bend, finally hunkered down in a cave [source: Lerten and Burns].

When Licudine failed to return to the campsite, his friend dialed 911. Nearly 40 members of the Deschutes County Sheriff's Search and Rescue team bounded into action, riding horses and ATVs in search of the missing hiker. A helicopter took to the air as ground searchers scoured the countryside. The next day, rescue workers found Licudine cold, wet and hungry, but otherwise OK [source: Lerten and Burns].


Experts say Licudine did most everything wrong when he went for his jaunt in the 30,000 acre wilderness area that contains harsh terrain, lava flows, ancient junipers and rock formations. He wasn't properly prepared. He didn't have a map, nor did he have a compass or cell phone, all of which are essential when hiking. He even didn't have the right clothes [source: Lerten and Burns].

Whether walking across the Appalachian Trail or the backcountry of Oregon, proper preparation is crucial on a long hike. Having the right clothes, enough food, and the correct gear will not only make the experience more enjoyable, but it could save your life.

5: Safety First

The first thing to do before starting out on a long hike is to remember that not all hikes are created equal. Preparing for an extended hike on the Appalachian Trail in summer is much different from hiking across Alaska's Denali National Park in March. Hiking the High Peaks of the Adirondacks in June is much different from hiking the region in December. No matter the location, or the time of year, you should always bring these items on your trip:

  • map and compass
  • first aid kit
  • water filter
  • water purification tablets
  • multipurpose tool
  • space blanket for insulation or shelter
  • nylon cord
  • flashlight
  • sunglasses
  • matches
  • extra food
  • clothing

Duct tape is also important. Duct tape can mend clothing, repair holes in tents and sleeping bags. Hikers can even use it to bind up a blistered foot [source: Hiking Reports].


Also, make sure a compass and map are easily accessible. It's also important to know how to use them, even if a GPS is available. A map won't break if you drop it, a GPS might. A compass and map, moreover, don't need power to work. What will happen if the battery on the GPS runs out of juice? Although a hiker doesn't have to be an explorer like Roald Amundsen, having good navigation skills ensures a quick way out in case of emergency. It's always good to know where you are at all times [source: Smuts].

Important safety tip: Always let someone know where you're going and what time you expect to be back. If you don't show up at the prescribed time, make sure your friend calls for help. If you lose your way, keep a cool head. Stay in one place and conserve energy. If you can, find a water source. You can survive a long time just on water. And remember those matches that we said were essential? A fire will not only warm you, it can also act as signal for rescuers [source: Smuts].

4: Food and Water

If you're backpacking for a day or a weekend, you can take whatever food you like and enough fresh water to keep you sated. But if your hike is going to last several days, you need to pack the right type of foods and be prepared to find natural sources of water.

Hiking and backpacking burns a lot of energy. According to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, hikers should pack between 1.5 to 2 pounds (.68 to .91 kilograms) of high-calorie food for every day on the trail. Don't bring any cans, or foods, such as vegetables and fruits. Fruits and vegetables are high in water and heavy to carry. If you're hiking in cold weather, it takes more calories to stay warm. As such, the ATC advises hikers to bring 2.5 pounds (1.13 kilograms) of food per day [source: Appalachian Trail Conservancy].


Snacking on the trail is encouraged. Snacks, such as chocolate, energy bars, dried fruit and nuts are good for a quick nibble and can easily be transported. In fact, it's better to constantly snack instead of eat large meals. Snacking gives you more energy [source: Appalachian Trail Conservancy].

Chances of finding a water cooler on any trail are nil. Before heading out, know where natural springs and other fresh water sources are located. Plan carefully, because these sources can dry up in the summer [source: Appalachian Trail Conservancy].

Boiling is one way to purify water. Another is to treat it with iodine or chlorine tablets. Although boiling is time consuming, it's the best way to destroy bacteria and other organisms that can cause illness. Let the water boil fiercely for at least one minute.

Water filters are also handy. If you're going to be using a portable water filter, make sure it's from a reliable manufacturer. Although some water filters claim to remove certain types of bacteria and organisms, they may not [source: Appalachian Trail Conservancy].

3: Foot Care

hiking boots
Never underestimate the importance of a good pair of hiking boots.
Giorgio Majno/Getty Images

Never underestimate the importance of good foot care. You don't want your dogs barking on the trail. A good-fitting pair of boots can keep you and your pups smiling. The boots should have enough room for your toes, although the heels should be snug. In choosing a pair, make sure your feet are not sliding inside the boot when walking uphill [source: Vonhof].

Breaking in boots before a lengthy hike makes them less stiff and more comfortable. To loosen the boots up, wear them on short hikes and walks or around the house. A good-fitting boot will mold around the foot. Socks are important, too. Stay away from cotton socks, as cotton absorbs moisture. Wool or synthetic socks are preferable. Wash your socks every day on the trail [source: Vonhof].


Personal hygiene is another aspect of foot care. Clip your nails. Long toenails can snag on a sock and create pressure if the toe of the boot is too short or low. Learn how to prevent and treat blisters, too. If you feel a blister starting to form on the trail, snip off a piece of duct tape and bind it up [source: Vonhof].

2: Gear

What you carry on your journey depends on how far you're going, when you're going and where you're going. When stuffing your backpack, think about weather, terrain, altitude and the general environment. For example, if you're hiking the Arizona Trail in Utah, you'll need less protection from insects than if you were hiking in the Oregon backcountry in July.

Hiking in the winter means dressing in layers instead of bulky coats and sweaters. You want to keep the moisture from your body to reduce your chances of hypothermia. As such, stay away from cotton shirts and pants and go with wool or synthetic fabrics such as polypropylene. Synthetic fleece and nylon will help your body "breathe" and keep you dry [source: Appalachian Trail Conservancy]. A waterproof outer shell is also essential. Summertime hiking means T-shirts, sun hat, insect repellant, sun block and shorts. Don't forget your raingear and some warm clothes for the night [source: backpacking.net].


It's a good idea to keep your backpack as light as possible for a long hike, although it's easier said than done. One way is to keep track and weigh every piece of equipment. When possible, replace a heavy piece of equipment with something that is lighter yet works just as well [source: GloboTreks].

In addition, take what you need, but nothing more. Keep the books and personal electronics to a minimum. Do you really need a laptop or an iPad in the wilderness? You certainly don't need jewelry, extra toiletries, more than one jacket or bulky towels. Reduce your load by sharing it with your hiking buddy. Pack juices that you can mix from powder [source: GloboTreks].

1: Get Fit Before You Go

hiker training
Hiking is a sport, so you need to be in shape. Before you go you can get your body ready by taking short hikes with an overweight pack.
VisitBritain/Daniel Bosworth/Getty Images

Hiking is a sport, and all athletes need to be in shape. A pulled muscle or a sore back can ruin a hiking trip. So before you go, get your body ready. If you're a beginner, see the doctor and get a check up just so you know how your body, especially your heart, is doing. If you're in sad physical shape, set up a routine exercise program. You can start by biking, swimming or walking. Remember, there are no ambulances in the backcountry.

If you're already in shape, continue with your workouts and exercise routine but begin your hiking regime slowly. Start with easy day hikes. After a few days, put on a backpack and load it with five more pounds than you'll actually carry on the trial. Walk around the neighborhood to get used to it. When you're ready, take a short hike with the overweight pack. Gradually increase the distance and difficulty of the terrain. If you're not in shape, you'll not only put yourself at risk, but your fellow hikers as well [source: Backcountry Essentials].


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More Great Links

  • Appalachian Trail Conservancy. "Food & Water." (Jan. 26, 2012) http://www.appalachiantrail.org/hiking/hiking-basics/food-water
  • Backpacking.net. (Jan. 26, 2012). http://www.backpacking.net/inventry.html#spring-fall-day
  • Backpacking.net. "The Beginning Backpacker." (Jan. 26, 2012) http://www.backpacking.net/beginner.html
  • GloboTreks.com. "12 Tips to Pack Light for Long Hikes." (Jan. 26, 2012) http://www.globotreks.com/backpacking/12-tips-to-pack-light-for-long-hikes/
  • Hiking Trip Reports. "Duct Tape: The Hiker's Friend." (Jan. 26, 2012) http://www.hikingtripreports.com/2010/03/13/duct-tape-hiking/
  • Lerten, Barney; Burns, Joe. "Badlands Hiker's Rescue Prompts Safety Reminders." KTVZ.com. March 5, 2011. (Jan. 26, 2012) http://www.ktvz.com/news/27094334/detail.html
  • Personal Security Products Online. "Personal Protection While Hiking and Camping." (Jan. 26, 2012) http://www.personalsecurityproductsonline.com/self-defense/hiking-camping.shtml
  • Smuts, Dan. "Backcountry Hiking Safety." Great Outdoors.com. June 12, 2003. (Jan. 26, 2012) http://www.greatoutdoors.com/published/backcountry-hiking-safety
  • Vonhof, John. "Ten Easy Steps to Happy Hiking Feet." (Jan. 26, 2012) http://www.gorp.com/hiking-guide/travel-ta-hiking-sidwcmdev_058908.html