Hiking is an enjoyable pastime partaken of by millions and millions of people around the globe, but it is more than a hobby and a good source of exercise; it is a fundamental skill for preppers! See, hiking is in essence what you’ll be doing if the time ever comes to bug-out on foot.
Just like a pleasure hike, you’ll have a pack on your back (a big one!) and will be moving overland by foot. Only instead of going on a hike to reconnect with nature you’ll be doing it to get somewhere safe, or safer, after disaster has struck.
Preppers should make it a point to partake in hiking regularly, if only as a way to get some exercise in and keep their bug out bags packed correctly, and their chosen routes scouted. Just one issue though: an increasing number of serious preppers I have talked to have never gone on a hike! They don’t know where to start.
We’ll fix that in this article.
Table of Contents
Hiking is ultimately as simple as anything gets. You pick up your feet and set them down. Just a walk through the country, really. The only difference is you’ll be carrying what supplies you need on your back within your pack. Food, water, first-aid kit, the works.
A pleasure hiker is usually carrying a much lighter load than a prepper will carry in their BOB, since they are typically hiking for pleasure, not survival (even though they might wind up in a survival situation in a wrong turn).
Nonetheless, the basic skills and procedures for hiking are part and parcel of what you need to know for actually bugging out. Below you’ll find a list of steps that will get you ready to set out on the trail all by your lonesome if you desire and really get you reconnected with the great outdoors.
But before we get to that part, we need to discuss a few ground floor concepts.
Hiking does not have to be a grueling mountaineering expedition, but it is never as easy as walking across a flat parking lot either.
The most fluffy-bunny-easy hour-long hike on flat, gently rolling terrain will be a far sight harder than trotting around the mall a couple of times. Do not forget that you will be a carrying a load, also, no matter how light it is.
Assess your level of fitness, and be honest. You’ll plan your initial hike around that. Unless you are so obese you are sessile, there is a great chance you can find a hike that will suit your current level of fitness.
You don’t want to go gung-ho, head out on a trail that is way too hard for you only to run out of gas with nightfall closing in, and then end up hurt, lost or both from fatigue and stress.
That is the stuff tragedies are made of. Even with that minimal risk, though, I will tell you what to do to give yourself an insurance policy against that grim outcome.
Think Nibbles, Not Bites
A common affliction that strikes burgeoning hikers is going too hard too soon.
They’ll complete their first hike of a couple of miles one weekend, and the next they are heading out on a 13.2 mile uphill-both-ways death slog with a 50 lb. pack clanking full of cast iron cookware. In minimalist trail shoes. People. Take a chill pill and give yourself time to acclimatize.
It is easy to overdo it hiking. Your first hike of four miles went swell, and you are ready for greater things. So your next hike out you have your sights set on a seven mile hike that winds up a short hill and back down. Can do!
Trust me, that little increase in distance combined with the ascent and descent will add an entirely new realm of pain and suffering to the experience if you are not in good shape, or are just unaccustomed to this type of exertion.
If you are not already an athletic specimen, make yourself work up the difficulty ladder in nibbles – if you went five miles last week, you do six this week, of comparable difficulty.
Don’t Take Stupid Risks
Because it is not “for real” hikers seem to switch off the self preservation parts of their brains sometimes.
Here’s a newsflash: it is “for real” you are really out in the middle of nowhere with potentially few or no other people around, and you’ll be on the side of a mountain far, far from help. Don’t be dumb.
Dumb Stuff to Do encompasses screwing around near the edges of cliffs, screwing around near or over water, screwing around with mammals, reptiles and insects, screwing around off the trail or blazing a new one, and screwing around with the weather among many, many other things.
Again, an accident or doing something stupid (which is negligent) is a great way to turn a fun hike and bug-out test into a real emergency if you get hurt, lost or accosted. Have fun, lighten up, but understand that Nature will never suffer fools to live.
Now that I have bawled everyone out sufficiently, on to the fun stuff!
Prepping for Your Hike in 7 Easy Steps
The following items, done in order, will get you ready for your hike in no time flat. You can start today and hike tomorrow if you want!
Step 1.) Research Easy Hikes in Your Area
As I said above, your average prepper will fall into a gung-ho fever, and pick a hike that is way too tough for them based on their current skill and experience level. Prevent this by making yourself look for easy beginner-level hikes in your area. Trust me, you’ll still get in a good workout and have a blast.
Google and other search engines are your friends here. Lookup hiker-centric websites, reviews and park service guides to help you settle on one that will work for you. Your ideal trail will be one no more than 6 miles long and featuring gentle elevation changes if it has any significant ones at all.
Then take the time to read reviews from people who have hiked the trail. Look at pictures (there should be plenty), download or order the trail guidebook if it has one and get cozy with it as best you can.
Study the map intently: know about what path the trail takes, where the turns are, and where any potential spots are that might mix you up.
With this done, it is time to grab your gear!
Step 2.) Dress for the Occasion
You’ll want to dress properly for your hike. Hiking clothing selection will fill up forums worth of debate all on its own, and I am not deep-deep diving into all of that here, but I will offer you some can’t lose advice.
Don’t wear clothes that get heavy when wet. Aside from being really heavy, sapping your strength and willpower, they will chafe the daylights out of you, making you miserable.
Avoid jeans, avoid BDUs and similar items. You don’t need to invest in top-tier hiking clothing to have an enjoyable hike. All the big box stores sell budget priced “outdoor” clothing that will work fine.
Choose something lighter that will dry fast and won’t weigh you down. Long sleeves and pants will help protect you from minor scrapes and sticks as well as bugs. You can roll up your sleeves, but it does not work well for pants.
Footwear is essential, so you have to know what to look for. Avoid heavy, mudhole-stomper boots, and any fashion footwear. For your first hike, the most important thing about your shoes is certainty: the certainty they won’t give you blisters!
A well-worn pair of sneakers or boots will work fine. Specialty outdoor “trail” shoes are ideal for a reason, offering an unbeatable combination of ruggedness, grip, and light weight.
They also dry quickly. Remember, your first hike should not require specialty footwear to negotiate. Don’t even consider wearing a brand-new pair of shoes or boots out on the trail- that way lies Blister City.
When getting a new pair of hiking boots, you have to decide between a mid-cut, a high-cut, or just a plain hiking boot (depending on the season), pay special attention to foot support, and pay attention to things like waterproofing, breathability, and, most of all, proper fit.
You’ll also need to bring some additional layers suitable for bad weather and falling temperatures in your pack. This is non-negotiable! I’ll talk more about that in the next step.
Step 3.) Grab Your Gear
You don’t ever hit the trail with a single bottle of water and a smile. I don’t care if the thing is only a mile and a quarter long. You’ll bring a backpack with the water you’ll definitely need, the food you’ll be glad you have, and some emergency “life support” items in case things take a bad turn from accident or misadventure.
All of the following items are lightweight, take up little room, and are priceless in an emergency out of doors. First, get a backpack if you don’t already have one.
After your pack, start with a map and compass. If you know how to read one, you can find your way to and from almost anywhere. You can use the trail guide’s map or print out your own at home. Place it in a gallon size freezer bag to keep it safe from rain and your sweaty body.
Next, bring a GPS if you have it. A GPS loaded with your waypoints will be a lifesaver if you get lost. Many models also feature SOS capability that can summon help if you really get in a jam.
Just to play it safe, make sure you have a GPS app on your phone, and that you download any necessary maps in advance. This way, if your GPS decides to fail you, you’ll have a back-up.
You’ll need water, of course, and more than you think. Bring a good bottle or a bladder. Plenty of people use both to have flexibility and extra capacity. Also bring a compact, lightweight water filter to allow you to drink safely from any found sources you happen upon.
Food is also mandatory, though you, like me, probably have plenty of stored fuel around your middle. High-calorie, tasty food is mandatory not for life-support per se, but it does provide a ready supply of calories you’ll be rapidly burning off. A few bites of beef jerky and some nuts or honey will give you fast energy and keep your morale up.
Bring a basic first-aid kit of sunblock, insect repellent and some antiseptic, bandages, gauze rolls, a splint, duct tape, blister relief and a variety of meds.
Make sure you bring a fire starting kit consisting of at least two of the following: flint and steel, ferro rod and striker, storm matches, lighter, magnifying glass. When you are wet and the temperature drops you will be in danger of exposure. The ability to make a fire will keep you alive and help get you rescued.
Bring a good knife, even your trusty folding pocket knife. Bring two flashlights of some type, handheld or headlamp, and include at least one pair of spare batteries for each. Remember, two is one and one is none.
Lastly, bring shelter items to help you stay warm. At the minimum an emergency blanket (those foil ones that make you look like a baked potato), but an emergency bivy is better. Also bring outer garments to help you cheat wind and rain while keeping you warm and a hat.
There have been too many hikers out on easy, there-and-back hikes who, for whatever reason, got lost or hurt and were then facing a long, cold night outdoors with hardly anything since they didn’t “think they’d need it.”
Don’t be like them. If this seems like a lot of stuff, it probably is. Aside from an abundance of caution this small kit will give you a little practice for carrying a much larger and heavier pack; your BOB!
Step 4.) Get the Forecast
Going on a hike in bad weather will put you on an entirely new plane of suck. Don’t do it. Make sure you check the weather forecast the day before and morning of to make sure (or at least as sure as you can) that you aren’t walking out facing bad weather in the form of rain, storms, winds, etc.
You don’t need that kind of negativity, trust me. Save the He-Man Hiker stuff for when you want to embrace the suck.
Keep in mind the forecast at the base of the summit won’t apply to the rest of the immediate region where the trail is – you can expect things to get chilly – even more so if you expect to come back later in the day (something you typically don’t want to do, and avoid things getting dark).
Also pay close attention to weather changes as you ascend or descend. You might be hiking up into seriously cold or windy weather, or coming down into wet, balmy conditions.
Take your time; ask the people who know and do it right. Also, never, ever neglect to call then park’s customer service line and ask them if all trials are open and what the conditions are like.
Step 5.) File a Flight Plan
I know you aren’t blasting off into the wild blue yonder. I mean, you need to tell someone who cares about you where you are going, what trail you’ll be traveling and then when you are expected to be back.
Leave yourself a buffer of several hours worth of time in case you just take a little longer or get delayed; it isn’t a race. Leave detailed notes of all specifics of your hike with them.
Make sure they know whom to call and how to reach them if you are overdue. Should anything at all happen that causes you to be overdue, you should be assured of getting rescued that way.
Now, this little backup plan only works if you stick to it: do not deviate from your filed path. If you are beset by delays early into your hike, turn back accordingly so you don’t go overdue and get a rescue team scrambled for nothing.
This more than anything else will be your best hedge against disaster.
Step 6.) Watch Where You Step and Grab
There will be all kinds of natural hazards out on the trails, from loose gravel that will twist your ankle to slime covered rocks that will topple you ass over teakettle. Aside from path obstacles you’ll have to contend with sometimes cantankerous flora and fauna.
Biting and stinging insects abound on trails in nature and many of them like to hang on the ground and on branches. Bees, wasps, ants, caterpillars, snakes; all of those and more await the unwary. Poison ivies, oaks and sumacs, nettles, thorns and briars of all kinds wait to embrace the heedless.
If you are lucky, you get a sharp jab or some rash-like irritation and sent on with a story. If you really screw up or are unlucky you might get severely popped: a venomous snake bite or swarm of hornets will make short work of anyone.
Yes, there are dangers out there. There are more in your very own home! Simply slow down, watch where you step and always make sure you can see where you are grabbing before you do.
Oh, by the way, it is worthwhile bringing along sting relief ointment, but skip the snake bite kits: they cause more harm, not less.
Step 7.) Slow Down
People get hurt on trails when they hurry. Rushing leads to missed turns, slips, trips, falls and so on. If you take your time and keep your head on straight it is far less likely that you’ll have a mishap.
People start rushing when they want to go home, when the light starts getting low or when they get nervous. Just relax, and take the trail as it comes. You’ll be there and back again in no time.
That’s it! By following these seven simple steps you will have completed your first and no doubt first of many hikes.
Hiking is an excellent endeavor and hobby for preppers of all stripes: it will get you fit, develop needed skills and help you learn your local area in advance of needing to bug-out for real. It is time to stop putting it off and get out on the trail! I’ll see you out there!
updated 10/28/2020 by Dan F. Sullivan