NOTE: This post was originally posted on June 12 2015.
It can feel a bit overwhelming the first time you tackle a “real” mountain. There is a BIG difference between hikes around town and actually spending a few hours hiking up a few thousand feet. Here are some tips, all based on our personal experiences, to help you out!
Research the terrain. That doesn’t mean spending hours googling and stressing over what you might encounter but learn a bit about where you will be hiking. Will there be snow? Heavily forested? Steep rocks? This will help you determine what type of gear you will need and how you should dress.
Plan your pack. For your first few big hikes, what to bring will take some planning. You will most likely overpack and that’s OK. You will learn as you go what is a necessity for you. It’s different for everyone but some here are some of the basics:
Ample food and water. Food should be something that fuels your body and you should bring at least double the amount of food and water you think you will need.
Safety gear - Bear spray if you’re in bear country, a basic first aid kit and any personal medical needs(epipen, allergy pills, etc.), compass, and depending on the hike and your comfort level, a GPS locator can give you some peace of mind. Waterproof matches and flashlights, as well.
Extra pair of socks and, depending on the climate and terrain, possibly additional articles of clothing, especially rain gear. Sunglasses and hats always come in handy, too.
Wet wipes. These things are always useful. . .if nature calls, if you fall in the mud, if you need clean out a wound. . .
Sunscreen and bug spray
Knife or multi-tool
Speaking of packs, every extra pound is going to make your hike that much more difficult. Try not to overpack if you can help it and make sure your pack fits. If you can purchase your pack at a trusted outdoor retailer, they will be able to help you find one that fits your body type and will provide you with maximum comfort. If you hike with a partner, you often will only need one pack between the two of you for a day hike. That allows you to take turns with it and save some energy.
Train. Before you even get to the point of hiking a “real” mountain, train. You need to practice hills and practice hiking with a pack. Do some long training hikes to make sure your body can handle it.
If there is a visitor center stop and talk to someone. Is there anything you should know before heading out? This is key to making sure the trail is clear and safe that day or if there have been bear sightings, bad weather, or washouts. If they have a map available, take it. If there is just one posted, take a picture of it. If there is not a visitor center, talk to anyone else who is around and ask if they know anything about the trail. Trail conditions change daily and the only way to have accurate, up to date info is to talk to the people who are there.
Know the elevation change and if you should be concerned with the potential for altitude sickness. If it is your first time at higher elevations take the time for your body to adjust before tackling anything strenuous. Know the signs of altitude sickness and what to do about it should it strike.
Listen to your body during the hike. You will get tired and you will need to push yourself, but know your body well enough to know when to stop and turn around. Take breaks if you need breaks. The steeper and longer the hike the more times you’re going to need to take a short break. Mix short breaks with longer stops and remember to hydrate and fuel your body frequently.
Be aware of the time. Don’t focus on it, but know when it gets dark or if you have to be off the mountain by a certain time. It takes longer going up than down, but you don’t want to be halfway down when it gets dark and realize you still have a few miles to go. Just be aware of the time of day and plan appropriately.
Be aware of your surroundings. Animals, loose rock, melting snow, storm clouds. . these could all be dangerous but if you are aware of what is happening around you then you can have a plan should something happen instead of a knee jerk reaction.
Take in the experience. Don’t be so focused on making it to the top that you forget to look around you. Take your time, take pictures, talk to other hikers. Sit down for a few minutes and savor the experience. You will never be in this exact spot in this exact moment again so enjoy it. The goal is not to be the fastest person to make it to the top. There may be great views at the top but you’re going to miss some amazing things if that’s all you’re focused on.
Don’t forget to check out our gear for some great layering options on your hike!