Avoid Being the Idiot on Your Next Hike

Picture of Tatum Buckles

Tatum Buckles

I had been invited to go on a hike up Mt. Timpanogos in Utah Valley, and I happily agreed. I liked to do the hikes surrounding my home, and throughout other random parts of Utah. I was excited by the thought of hiking a new place instead of returning to one of my regulars. I quickly realized after our arrival at the base of the mountain that this would not be like the “hikes” I was accustomed to.

My date had picked me up long before the sun had even begun to rise, so that we could watch the sun rise from the summit. I brought a water bottle, a thin jacket, running shorts, and a tank top. I’d done sunrise hikes before and I knew at first I’d be a little cold but as we hiked longer I would feel warmer. Basically, I wasn’t worried about the hike. It should be fun and I had no doubt that we would have an excellent time.

Several hours into the hike, I was very aware of how wrong my assumptions had been. I was freezing because I didn’t know we were near a glacier, I was dehydrated and hungry, I hadn’t brought more water or any food, and I was tired because I didn’t know that the hike was 14 miles long. How was I supposed to know any of that beforehand, and why hadn’t my date told me anything?! My date walked ahead of me with his brother in the lead and Sister-in-Law following closely behind. All were dressed appropriately and had a backpack full of supplies on their shoulders. Rather embarrassed about my lack of “hiking knowledge”, I trudged behind them.

The view at the top was miraculous, you could see what felt like all of Utah. It was well worth the exhausting hike. I’d gone through my water bottle and one of my date’s water bottles. I wasn’t aware that we’d need the amount of supplies that they’d had but I was embarrassed that I hadn’t been more prepared. From then on I’d vowed to always prepare before a hike-no matter the length of the hike or time the hike would need. After I got home I logged onto my laptop and did some research about the hike. How helpful it would have been to know that the hike in and out was 14 miles long and that it would take 9 hours. It would have been nice to know that it was going to be pretty cold, although you could still get really hot, so you’d have to wear clothes that would help with that. I would never make the mistake of not looking up the hike again.

The truth is that often you’ll go on a hike excited for the destination, the exercise, or the mountain air and don’t realize how unprepared you are until you get there. You’ll hop out of the car with a water bottle, the clothes on your back and maybe, MAYBE a granola bar in your pocket. Only to be told “alright gang! 14 miles in and out!” it’s a horrifying moment really. As cliche as it sounds you can feel and hear your heartbeat so clearly in the moments after those words are spoken. So how can you be prepared for that moment? How can you know that you’ll be able to survive the hike and avoid the embarrassment of looking like a fool that said “I love to hike!” only to realize that you like to take nature walks?

Know Your Route

You could start by knowing your route. Always look the trail up online, and I mean always (and this website is a great resource to find your route!). This simple 30 minutes of looking up your hike online will save you hours of pain from not being prepared. Look at the length of the hike and know your abilities! Had I known this hike would change the elevation drastically I would have taken an inhaler with me (asthma for the win). If you see that the hike you want to go on is over 10 miles and you’ve never gone on a hike longer than 4 miles long, maybe train for it with other hikes, or at least alert whoever you’re going with that you guys will have to take the hike slow. Knowing your route isn’t just good for knowing the length, it also keeps you and your group safe. By knowing which way you’ll have to go each step of the way, you could avoid getting lost and taking major detours. One of the best things you can do is to know your landmarks! People are really good about putting lots of helpful information about the hike you are looking forward to online. Landmarks can be anything from a sign, to stacked rocks, to unique things about the trail you need to take. These landmarks can give you a rough idea of how far you have gone into the hike. Take special note of those landmarks beforehand, so you can be alert as you hike.

Know How Long it Will Take

Knowing how long the hike will take you is probably the second most important thing you can do when getting ready for a hike. I was expecting a nice, easy breezy 2 hour hike, and instead it ended up taking about 9 hours. Because of this lack of preparation on my part, I didn’t know I would need more water, sunscreen, or food! If I had known I would be on the mountainside for 9 hours, I would have brought something to eat. Hooray for the extra goldfish my date had. Knowing that the hike will take an extended amount of time is most helpful for knowing what you will need to bring with you.

Be Prepared

So you like to hike, and on your basic hikes you’ve needed the bare minimum of a water bottle and comfortable shoes. However, while researching your new hike you discover it’s going to take you 9 hours and is 14 miles long. No biggie, you’re not worried. But what do you pack? There is said to be 10 essentials to hiking in order to be really prepared. You should have something to navigate with like screenshots on your phone, or better yet a paper map. Next, a light: A flashlight, a headlamp, your phone, something in case the sun goes down or you’re up before the sun is. After that you’re going to want sun protection like sunglasses, a ballcap, and sunscreen. Not only did I end that hike with a little bit of heat exhaustion, but I also had a wicked burn. Next you’ll want basic first aid equipment. Bandages are always a good idea to have in your pack. You may also want a knife, something to use for shelter (an emergency blanket could help), food, water, and maybe an extra jacket or clothes. Almost all of these items could have been of some use in my case. I wouldn’t have tripped, fallen into my date, and also made him fall over if I’d had a flashlight and seen the rock in my path. If I’d worn appropriate clothing I wouldn’t have been freezing for the majority of the hike. To sum up, I could have enjoyed the journey just as much as the destination had I been prepared.

If I’m being honest, I don’t usually bring all of those things because I usually do shorter hikes. I have always been a “pack light” person. However most online sources will tell you, you need all of those things. At the very least, I bring something to eat, something to drink, my watch with a compass inside of it, an extra jacket, and a first aid kit. I also always have some kind of weapon on me like pepper spray, or a knife. If I’m going on a long hike I also print out the route before because I don’t trust using my cellphone. I also never hike alone.

Think it Through

The last thing I would suggest can be summed up with a simple phrase… “THINK IT THROUGH STUPID!”. If you get caught in a rough spot on your hike because you or someone else gets hurt, lost, or something else you will be much more comfortable if you know your route, and have the essentials. If you think through beforehand what you will do when a difficult situation arises you can make a scary situation one that you can remain calm in.

Don’t head out on an adventure and suffer the consequences of being an unprepared deadweight on the hike. Everyone, including you, will have much more fun if you don’t have to constantly ask “how much longer?” or “can I have a granola bar?”. It’s more fun to be the one guiding the hike. Happy hiking!

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