Preparing for a Hike

Before you head out on the wilderness trail, you'll need to prepare yourself for the greater intensity of hiking. Once you've completed the Starter and Basic Walking Programs, you should be able to walk comfortably on level ground for four or five miles at a time.

Rarely will you find a hiking path that's smooth and level. So you'll need to condition your body for tackling hilly terrain. To do this, choose a four- or five-mile route near your home that has plenty of inclines. Since walking up and down inclines takes more energy than walking on level ground, you may have to begin at a pace that's slightly slower than your usual walking speed. Walk the entire length of this route three or four times a week for several weeks, until you can manage it comfortably at a moderate pace.

Your next step is to practice walking on hilly terrain with weight on your back. Even if you'll be sticking to short day hikes, you'll probably need to carry a few things with you. So fill your hiking pack with items you're likely to take, including a filled water bottle or two, a small first-aid kit, insect repellent and/or sunscreen, a raincoat or poncho, a sweatshirt, and some snacks. Then walk that four- or five-mile hilly stretch a few times a week for several weeks while carrying your filled pack.

Once you've completed this round of conditioning, you should be ready for a day hike. You'll need to successfully complete a few day hikes -- and practice walking with a heavier pack -- before you'll be ready for an overnight trip. For your first hike, choose a well-marked trail that you can cover at a moderate pace in less than a day.

As you hike, choose a comfortable pace. You'll be walking for several hours, so don't race through the first mile. Be sure to give yourself rest stops, too. You may want to try stopping for about ten minutes each hour. More frequent breaks may cause you to lose momentum. If you absolutely need to rest a little more often, however, by all means do.

Take advantage of the information in the next section to make sure you dress appropriately for your hike.

To learn more about walking, see: