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Preparing for Your First One-Day Hike: Fitness, Food, and Clothing

Updated on September 7, 2017
Virginia Matteo profile image

Viriginia is an experienced hiker. She goes to the Tatra Mountains in Poland every summer.

When I went for my first hike I was ill-prepared. I didn’t have a backpack or enough water. My physical condition was poor. As a result, my first hiking experience was more of a pain than enjoyment.

But hiking can and should be a pleasure. All you need is adequate preparation.

Physical Preparation

If your trail is a 2-hour, almost flat family path, you may do without prior physical preparation. But exercising beforehand is a good idea if the trail is strenuous, and you’re normally a couch potato.

Any kind of workout will do. Running, cycling, the gym, long walks. If you get used to activity, you’ll be less tired on the trail and avoid sore muscles.

Your hiking buddy should be someone with a similar level of fitness to avoid unnecessary frustration when waiting for one another or trying to catch up.

On the trail, take small steps rather than long strides. The latter will get you more tired in a shorter span of time. Listen to your body. Take brief breaks whenever you need to and recharge with a sip of water, some chocolate, or fruit. Hungry or dehydrated people get tired quicker.

What to Take on the Trail

Here are the absolute essentials every hiker should have:

  • Backpack. Handbags are extremely uncomfortable for long walks.
  • Water. A small bottle of water for the whole day won’t cut it!
  • Food
  • Waterproof coat
  • Extra sweatshirt. The temperature goes down with altitude plus summits tend to be windy.
  • Comfortable clothes and shoes
  • Map

During the summer take also:

  • Sunscreen. At higher altitudes, you might not feel the heat and yet the sun may be burning your skin.
  • Sunglasses. Also essential during the winter to avoid snow blindness
  • Head protection

And some extra stuff:

  • Torch. Especially if the hike is going to be long.
  • Trekking poles
  • First aid kit for more difficult and/or deserted trails
  • Sports drinks
  • Hydration bladder
  • Camera

Some things take priority over others. The right quantity of water is essential but you could survive without a camera. As a rule of thumb, you need at least 0.5 l of water per hour of exercise. If there is a safe place to fill up your bottle on the trail (for instance, a mountain shelter, restaurant, or a fountain with potable water), you may take slightly less water.

Trekking poles enable you to move quicker in easy terrain and take much of the strain off your knees during steep descents. You will also burn more calories due to increased arms activity. In short, a good choice for people with delicate knees or wanting to lose weight. Choose trekking poles that can be folded and a backpack with attachment points. This way, you could attach the poles to your backpack if you need your hands free.

As to the hydration bladder, it’s a marvellous invention. Although you look silly sucking at the drinking tube, you won’t need to stop and comb through your backpack every time you’re thirsty. You don’t even need to take your backpack off! The hydration bladder beats the side backpack pocket for bottles – I witnessed once as a bottle fell off such a pocket on a crowded trail, avoiding other hikers only by a miracle.

How to Choose the Right Hiking Boots

The right type of shoes depends on the difficulty of the trail, the kind of ground, and whether you’re going to use them more than once.

Don’t spend a fortune on mountaineering boots to use them once on a 2-hour family trail.

First-time hikers shouldn’t attempt exposed trails with technical difficulties. My advice is go on an easy trail in comfortable, old sneakers and see if you like hiking at all. If you catch the hiking bug, you can think of more fanciful hiking boots for later.

That said, research your trail to make sure that sneakers will cut it. Exposed, slippery, and craggy terrain is best tackled in proper hiking boots.

Hiking boots are offered in many shapes and colours: low-cut, middle-cut, high-cut, made from kinds of leather or synthetics. This can be confusing for inexperienced hikers.

Low-cut hiking boots are made for one-day hikes. They offer the least support but are also the lightest. Choose them if you are planning on easy trails. Mid-cut boots offer more support and are used either for day hikes of short backpacking trips. High-cut boots offer the most support and are designed for long backpacking trips.

I’ve got mid-cut boots, which are the best choice if you want to increase the difficulty of hikes in future. They are perfect for rugged terrain and steep descents. Buying low-cut boots makes sense only if you want to stick to gentle, green slopes forever – otherwise, you’ll probably have to change them later on.

The material of your boots should be waterproof. Natural leather ticks this box, although it’s expensive and has low breathability. You can imagine the smell after an all-day hike. On the other hand, having dry feet during a sudden downpour is worth it.

The harder the sole, the more protection it gives you in rocky terrain. If the sole bends only slightly in your hands, you won’t most rocks on the trail. The sole should be also anti-skidding and have a discernible lug pattern with the heel being separated off from the forefoot. The heel brake will give you extra protection when descending.

Feet swell during walking, so put your prospective hiking boots on after a day of walking or move your foot to the front and squeeze in your finger on the heel side. If it fits, the boots are fine. Take your time walking around the shop to make sure the boots are comfortable.

For those completely lost in the world of hiking boots, here are some of the most reputable brands: Hi-Tec, Keen, Merrell, Salomon Group, Vasque.

Middle-cut hiking boots
Middle-cut hiking boots

What Food Should You Take?

The sky and the capacity of your backpack are your limits. Here are some suggestions:

  • Sandwiches
  • Seeds and nuts
  • Fresh fruit
  • Chocolate and chocolate bars
  • Dried fruit
  • Hard-boiled eggs
  • Canned tuna
  • Cold meats

Seeds and nuts have lots of healthy fats and minerals. Pumpkin seeds will provide you with magnesium, needed for good muscle functioning. They’re also handy to carry and rich in calories.

Chocolate and fruit will give you a quick energy boost. But remember that fruit can get disfigured in your backpack. Opt for something durable, like an apple.

With your physical condition up to scratch and hiking essentials packed, you’re all set to enjoy your first ever hike!

Bon Appetit!
Bon Appetit!

© 2017 Virginia Matteo

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