Summer will be here soon, and that means warm-weather activities. While many people prefer the beach, pool, and water sports, other folks use their weekend and vacation time to visit state and national parks, many of which offer hiking trails. These trails range in difficulty level from beginner to expert. Hiking is a great way to get some exercise while reconnecting with the natural beauty of the world around us. No matter your skill level, though, you’ll need to plan ahead before you set off to commune with nature. Read on for some tips that will help keep your summer hikes safe as well as enjoyable.
We’re all accustomed to using our cell phone’s GPS for directions, but don’t assume where you’ll be hiking has cell phone service. While you can certainly use your phone’s compass feature (remember a portable charger!), always have a map of the area you’ll be hiking in case you make a wrong turn. Of course, water is essential, as are high-energy snacks. Avoid chocolate, which melts easily in the heat. Sunscreen is another must, as is insect repellant, depending on your locale. A mini first-aid kit is also helpful. Throw all your hiking necessities in a backpack to keep your hands free during your hike.
In some areas of the country, sudden afternoon rain showers are common. Nothing puts a damper on enjoying your hike quicker than having to move around in soaking wet clothing. Bring a packable jacket to stay dry during those unexpected downpours. The extra layer will also come in handy should the weather cool off while you’re outdoors.
Comfortable but functional clothing is key when planning what to wear on your hike. Your garb should be appropriate to the terrain. If you’re hiking in an area known to be inhabited by rattlesnakes or copperheads, for example, you’ll want to wear closed-toe shoes and women's jeans or other sturdy pants. (Safety tip: Never step over a log or large rock directly to the other side. Always climb onto the object, then look down and check that a snake is not resting where you were about to plant your foot.)
Leggings are super comfy, but they will also tear easily should you slip while climbing over rocks. They’re great for a casual, light hike. Otherwise, save them for your yoga or cycling class. Shorts are always an option. For the best of both worlds, invest in a pair of convertible pants, which allow you to zip off the bottom part of the legs should you get too warm, leaving you with shorts.
Your top should also be appropriate for the hike. T-shirts are great for most hikes, but if you’re expecting to make your way through brambles, a long-sleeve rash guard will protect your arms while keeping you cool. As an added bonus, most rash guards offer additional sun protection, so you won’t have to keep reapplying sunscreen to your arms.
Choose tops that wick moisture away and dry quickly. Nothing says uncomfortable like sticky, sweaty garb. And if you’re planning to pause your hike at a swimming hole, remember to throw on a swimsuit under your clothing. Remember, though—never dive headfirst or jump into water when you don’t know how deep it is!
Sun protection is a must when hiking, but sunscreen alone isn’t enough. Women’s hats prevent your scalp from burning and help stave off heatstroke, especially on hot, sunny days. The brim will also shade your eyes and help keep pesky insects off your face. If you’re not a fan of hats, bring along a bandana. Rolled up and tied around your head, it will keep sweat from dripping into your eyes. And, in an emergency, a bandana can double as a makeshift sling or bandage.
Choose your footwear carefully. If you’re planning an easy hike on (mostly) level ground, you’ll likely be fine with sneakers. For rugged terrain, you may want to invest in a pair of hiking boots. If you’re going to be hiking along a riverbank or to a waterfall, closed-toe sandals are a great option. They’ll protect your feet from rocks and twigs on dry land, but will quickly drain and dry should you find yourself walking through water or the surprise puddle. For extra protection, add a pair of socks—just remove them before getting your feet wet!
A final note: always hike with a partner and make sure others know where you intend to hike and about how long you expect to be gone. With some careful planning, you’ll be able to relax and enjoy the natural beauty while getting in some fresh air and healthy exercise.