7 Tips You Need to Know Before You Go Hiking in the Woods

Hiker admiring the Tetons by Allyson McCarthy.

There’s nothing like a bracing summer hike to get our blood pumping and our senses filled with the sights and sounds of nature. Fortunately, there’s plenty to choose from: with a network of nearly 60,000 miles, America’s National Trails System is longer than the Interstate Highway System!

Alas, no outdoor activity is 100 percent risk free, and hiking is no exception. But by following a few simple tips, you can ensure that your hikes – wherever they take you – are fun, stimulating, and most of all, safe. Here are some of the most important things to keep in mind.

1. Make a Gear List

Don’t you hate it when you get home from the grocery store and realize that you forgot a few things because you didn’t make a list? Well, it’s the same thing with hiking: even if you’re only planning on going a short distance, there are certain essentials that no hiker should be without – and getting caught out in inclement weather can be extremely dangerous. Our partners at the REI Coop have prepared a great checklist of the ten essentials here.

2. Get the Lay of the Land

We know, we know, part of the joy of hiking is the spontaneity, but it’s important to know what kind of flora and fauna you’ll be running into. Are there wild animals and poisonous plants you should be aware of? Is it hunting season where you’ll be going? Are any trails blocked or closed due to weather or maintenance? Check the park or trail’s website before you head out, or the relevant regional or governmental site.

3. File a Trip Plan

Sounds so official, doesn’t it? What this really means is letting someone trustworthy know A) where you’ll be, B) what time you plan on being home, C) and who to contact if you’re not. But that’s what cell phones are for, you may be saying. Not exactly. Which brings us to point #4 below…

4. Prepare For Lack of Cell Coverage

While cell coverage is expanding in America’s national parks, it is still more the exception than the rule, especially away from highly visited areas. In addition to equipping yourself with a good, old-fashioned map and compass, there are a few other pieces of equipment which you should consider if you’re heading into the backcountry: a personal locator beacon and a satellite messenger. Oh, and how about a portable charger to keep your phone fully juiced?

5. Beware the Ticks (and Other Insects)

Who knew something so little could do so much harm? Deer ticks are carriers of Lyme Disease, the most commonly reported vector-borne disease in the nation. And, as Scientific American reports, both the range of these ticks and the amount of time they can feed are increasing due to climate change. While it’s true that not all ticks cause the disease, there are a host of other nasty infections that ticks can carry besides Lyme, so prevention remains essential. The Washington Trails Association has prepared a good guide for how to hike in tick country, and a general guide to insect prevention – including mosquitos, spiders, and bees – can be found here.

6. Know How To Take Action In a Storm

Even if you checked and double-checked the weather forecast, there’s always a chance that a summer storm could surprise you. Some general guidelines to avoid being caught include planning your hike for the morning (most thunderstorms take place in the afternoon) and, in the event of a storm, moving down quickly from high, exposed places to take shelter. For more detailed recommendations, click here.

7. Don’t Overdo It

You know when you go to a buffet and you load your plate with more food than you can eat? Well, the same thing frequently happens with hiking: once the endorphins kick in and you’re out in nature, you feel like you can go on for miles and miles – and that’s when people get hurt. At the risk of sounding like your parents, could we suggest an extra dose of caution? The secret, as the song goes, is to know when to fold ‘em… and know when to walk away.


Now that you’re ready to hike safely and securely, the only question that remains is where to go. Want to get off the beaten path? We’ve prepared a list of ten lesser-known parks to visit this summer that will blow you away. See you on the trails!