If you’re looking for hiking tips from a random dude on the Internet, you’ve come to the right place!
It’s been a very long time since I’ve earned a merit badge, so my credentials may be a little out-of-date, but I have put many miles on my shoes while wandering the awesome trails in the Hudson Valley, and have learned a few lessons along the way.
Here’s a list of tips, thoughts, and tricks that will hopefully be helpful as you prepare for your next adventure, or at least serve as a nice review of all the smart things you’re already doing.
Please share your own tips in the comments below!
Hiking tips from a random dude on the Internet:
1. Carry more water than you think you need. Glug a bunch before you go, too. And leave a water bottle in the car, so you’ll have more to drink when you get back there (you won’t have to carry that one, either – it’s free!). Nothing’s worse than rationing water on a hike, except for running out. Bring a ton. Liters. Gallons. Even if you don’t drink it all, think of all that extra free exercise you’ll get from lugging it around!
2. Just before you start your descent, tie your shoelaces a little tighter. That’ll help keep your toes from banging into the front of your shoes the whole way down.
3. Use trekking poles, even though you think they look dorky. They make life SO much easier on your knees (especially on the way down), and they’re very handy for hopping across streams on rocks or logs without worrying about losing your balance. If you’re carrying a child on your back, trekking poles should be mandatory equipment. I fell on my face while hiking with a kid on my back once – just tripped over a root on an easy stretch of trail. When it happens, it happens FAST. Fortunately, except for my bloody nose, we were both fine. If I’d have been using trekking poles like an intelligent person, I probably wouldn’t have fallen at all. Use them. It’s dorky NOT to.
4. Collapsible bowls are handy for keeping your pooch hydrated. (Any old Tupperware would do the trick, too, you big cheapskate. But make sure you bring a bowl for your pooch, and plenty of water for her to drink.)
5. If you’re hiking solo (not recommended behavior, but I sure love doing it), make sure somebody knows where you’re going, what route you’re taking, and when you should be expected back in civilization. If you don’t do this, don’t blame me if you have to cut off your hand with a dull pocketknife to survive.
6. Don’t depend on having cell service out on the trail. It’s a bonus if your phone still works out there, but there are plenty of trails in the area where you’ll have no service (this is nature telling you to stop looking at your phone). Plan accordingly. (You could also bring along a handy-dandy hiking GPS, which is how I record the data I use when creating my trail guides.)
7. Did I mention to bring more water than you need?
8. A band-aid or a little piece of duct tape can make a new blister feel sooo much better, or stop a hot spot from turning into a blister. Keep a little piece of duct tape or some band-aids in your pack at all times. Also, bring a pack. You have a pack, right?
9. ALWAYS check the time when you hit the trail. This will help you to judge how long you’ve been hiking, so you have a good idea of how long it should take you to get back. This is especially important if you’re hiking close to sunset, so you can pace yourself to make sure you’re back before dark. (Also, know exactly when the sun is going to set.)
10. Keep a small flashlight or headlamp in your pack. Sure, you don’t plan on being out after dark. But delays happen, and having a light could be the difference between making it back to your car or spending the night with the raccoons.
11. Do you have a map? You need a map. “Dude, I have your trail guides!” you might say. “Fantastic! Also, you should have a map,” I will reply (and I will be referring to the awesome maps from the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference). I try to write trail instructions so that you won’t need to refer to the map, but if you take one wrong turn, my trail guides will be of little use to you. Know what would be very useful in that circumstance? A map! (This Avenza maps app comes highly recommended as well, as a nice companion to a good ol’ paper map.)
12. Most of the trail guides on this site have a Google Map embedded near the top of the guide, marked with the text: Google Terrain Map of hike route. If you’re looking at the guide on a mobile device, you can tap the [ ] icon in the top-right corner of the embedded Google Map to maximize it. When you do this, the Google Maps app (assuming you have it installed) will open, showing your location as a blue dot versus my GPS trace of the hike route. The blue dot even has a little headlight to show you which way you’re walking. Cool, right? Don’t depend on this feature out on the trails (cell service can be spotty), but it’s a cool feature when it works!
13. Sneakers work fine for most hikes, and I wore them hiking for many, many years. Then I switched to hard-soled hiking shoes (I’ve rolled through at least a dozen pairs of Merrells in the last twenty years), and they make a world of difference, especially on very rocky hikes. If it’s an option, I’d recommended paying the extra few bones for the Gore-Tex versions of the shoes, too. It’s fun to step in puddles with impunity.
14. If you’re even THINKING about littering, carving your name anywhere, or spray-painting something while you’re out on the trails, you’re not allowed to use my trail guides. Please close your browser right now. (If you’re still reading, thanks for being cool! Bonus points if you pick up some trash while you’re out there.) And if wouldn’t hurt the rest of us to bone up on Leave No Trace, too.
15. Jeans are fine for short hikes in the right conditions, but they take like four days to dry if they get wet. You’ll hear seasoned hikers saying “cotton kills” for this reason – it’s about the worst material to wear outdoors (this Gizmodo article: “Why Cotton Kills, A Technical Explanation,” will tell you more than you ever wanted to know on the topic). Wear synthetic, quick-drying clothing out there if you want to look like you know what you’re doing, and also if you want to not get killed by your fashion choices.
16. Speaking of things that could kill you, do you know what you’d do if you ran into a bear out there? A rattlesnake? They’re both fairly common in this area, but are much less dangerous for your health than sitting on your couch all day. You’ll most likely never need to use it, but you should have a game plan clearly in your mind for how you’ll react if the time ever comes. That way, you can calmly implement your plan if need be, then you can safely wet your pants about it from the comfort of your home afterwards. Check out this New York DEC page on handling Black Bear Encounters. CatskillMountaineer.com also has a very comprehensive page on Timber Rattlesnakes and Copperheads. For the snakes, you can take some solace in the fact that 98% of snake bites happen to people who are “messing with snakes they found in the wild.” Step carefully out there, don’t stick your hands or feet into small areas where a snake could be hanging out, don’t “mess with” any snakes you find in the wild, don’t run from bears, and you should have a perfectly pleasant time out there.
17. While we’re discussing the dangers of the natural world, let’s talk about Lyme Disease. I know several people who have contracted Lyme Disease in the Hudson Valley, and you probably do, too. My wife tends to douse our children and herself in a fog of bug spray whenever they step outside. I’m perhaps a little too cavalier on the subject, usually just spraying my shoes and ankles – that has worked fine for me so far, but I’d feel wicked guilty if you got Lyme Disease because you adopted that technique. Whatever your comfort level and risk tolerance, you should keep a can of bug spray in the car at all times, and douse yourself before you head into the woods. For your reference, the New York Health Department has a Lyme Disease page with tons of helpful information and resources.
18. Always, ALWAYS play a game of “Find the Next Trail Marker” while you’re hiking. That’s the #1 thing I see new hikers doing incorrectly – they’re just strolling along, not paying attention to the blazes as they inadvertently meander onto an unmarked trail into the wild green yonder. Keep your eyes up, always scanning for the next blaze.
19. Snacks. The whole point of hiking is snacks. “Let’s go for a hike!” I’ll say to my kids. “Let’s go eat snacks in the woods!” is all they hear. Your backpack should have a large compartment filled with snacks (bananas, granola bars, candy bars, apples, trail mix, Rice Krispie treats even though you’re a grown-up, etc.) so that it looks like the inside of a third-grader’s lunchbox. Hiking entitles you to put all food-related inhibitions aside for the day. If you burn more calories than you consume out there, you’re doing it incorrectly.
20. Super bonus tips from my dad! I asked my dad (the dude who taught me everything I know about walking around in the woods) to take a look at the above list and tell me what I missed.
Here’s what he said:
- When talking about hiking poles, I actually prefer a single stout hiking stick about 1″ in diameter. This leaves one hand free and they don’t bend.
- You just can’t overestimate the importance of good, comfortable footwear. I like high tops to protect your ankles. Also, don’t try to break in new shoes on a long hike.
- I pack an extra pair of dry socks. They felt really good when we had to ford a creek when we found that the bridge that was shown on our map had long washed away. Speaking of socks, I know some through hikers on the AT mark their socks as left and right. I do this and it does improve the fit of your socks. Did I say that good feeling footwear is important on a hike?
- I don’t think you talked about a windbreaker in your backpack in case the weather turns foul. I also carry a couple of foil emergency blankets. They are light and could be a life saver if the temp took a sharp turn down or one turned an ankle and had to wait for help.
- I also carry extra boot laces. A loose shoe could make a descent quite interesting.
- I also carry a purifying straw in case I had to extend my stay in the wilderness. Iodine tablets would also work. A way to purify water in the wilderness could be extremely important if one had to unexpectedly extend their stay in the woods. See emergency blankets above. Remember the Boy Scout saying…you can survive 3 minutes without air, 3 days without water and 3 weeks without food or something like that.
- You did put in a plug for bug spray. I use premethrin treated clothes and bug spray. I think the most annoying insect on the trails are the gnats circling your head. I douse on the DEET just for that reason.
There, now you have advice from TWO generations of Todd men. Thanks, Dad! And thanks for all the adventures! Looking forward to the next ones.
21. SUPER ULTRA MEGA-BONUS! I asked my kids for their hiking tips, too.
Here’s what they said:
- Wear sunscreen! [Editor’s note: Good job, buddy! Totally should have mentioned that already.]
- Wear thicker pants so it doesn’t hurt if you fall down.
- If there are a lot of mosquitoes, wear a long-sleeved shirt so they can’t bite you as much.
- Don’t wear slippers or high heels. [Editor’s note: Also excellent advice!]
- Bring as little as possible.
- If it’s hot, wear a tank top. It has even shorter sleeves than short sleeves.
- Bring extra shoes and socks.
- Don’t put too much in your pack or you might fall down.
- Don’t wear button-down shirts, ‘cause if the buttons come undone, you could lose your shirt. [Editor’s note: The kid is an expert on losing shirts. You should listen to him.]
THREE generations of advice from Todd men, all for the cost of one generation!
Also from the eight-year-old: “Why did you put OUR advice all the way at the bottom? Nobody’s going to read all the way down here!” We’ll see, buddy. We’ll see.
I’m fresh out of ideas, but will add to this list if new things come to mind. What helpful tips do YOU have? What have we missed? Please leave your thoughts and tips in the comments below!