Mountain hiking is one of the biggest challenges when it comes to outdoor activities. It has many different perks – you’ll get the chance to fill your lungs with lots of fresh air, the food tastes different at high altitude, your body will receive one of the best and healthiest workouts it can get, and all of that comes combined with a most often breathtaking view.
But, it also means you’ll have to prepare yourself and plan your mountain hiking trip properly to limit the chance of something going south. In this article, we’ll try to cover all the basic things about hiking in the mountains so you know what and how to do to stay safe and keep other hikers safe as well.
Preparation And Planning
Hiking in the mountains requires serious preparation and precise planning. Sometimes even the smallest error can lead to serious consequences, so this should be your main task before you find yourself on the location.
Check The Weather
This is one of the most important parts of basically any outdoor activity, but it becomes essential when you plan to go on a mountain hiking trip. Weather in the mountains can rapidly change which makes hiking in the mountains a bit more complicated because you’ll have to always be prepared for any possible outcome, no matter how sunny and clear the sky is at the moment. It doesn’t take much time for it to worsen up, so getting prepared for this kind of situation will save you a lot of nerves, energy, and resources. Once you reach your destination, check the weather forecast regularly.
The weather you should be prepared for:
- The temperature could go from 40°F to -20°F
- Wind speed could go even 50 mph
- Sunlight can vary and go from a clear sky to heavy clouds or fog
- Precipitation – blowing snow, freezing rain, fog
Know The Distance And Terrain
This has to be considered because it can affect a few factors – weather forecast, resource availability, and most importantly the overall condition of your crew members. You could start by calculating your miles per hour during your home walks, which will give you a good insight into what to expect. There are also a few other stuff you’ll have to think about, for instance how good is the trail itself. If it is in a good shape that means you’ll be able to walk at a regular pace, while if it is rocky or it goes through the woods as you move up, you’ll have to slow down. This is important because you’ll be able to know whether you’ll be able to get back to your campsite or reach the mark before the dark or possible weather change. If the forecast says there will be a thunderstorm and you can’t skip your trip, it is better to start your hike early in the morning.
Possible surface conditions:
- Deep snow
- Plain ground
- Bare rock
- Frozen bodies of water
Learn About Permissions And Dangers
It is important, before your trip, to learn about permitted and forbidden trails, and to inform yourself about possible dangers along the way. If you’ll be hiking during winter, make sure the area is not avalanche-prone, but just in case learn what to do if an avalanche does happen. Also, make sure you get the information about possible wild animals or anything else that could affect your safety during the trip.
Winter Mountain Hiking
Hiking on a trail surrounded by fresh snow, with a warm tea or coffee stored in a CamelBak bottle in your backpack sounds like a scene from a fairytale, but it can turn worse in a matter of moments, so if you haven’t done it earlier, it is better to skip it and wait for warmer weather. However, if you have decided to go at it no matter what, make sure you have proper winter hiking equipment and that you don’t go alone. It also requires a bit of physical preparation and workout because you’ll need a lot of strength to move through the snow. And it takes more time to cover the same distance during winter compared to other seasons.
Winter Mountain Hiking Gear Checklist
After planning and gathering all the information, it is time to create your checklist and make sure you have all the equipment for a safe and fun trip.
The most important thing, besides making sure your gear can withstand different and extreme temperatures, wind speeds, and overall weather and surface conditions, is to layer up. As you know, the temperature can drop significantly during mountain hiking, so you’ll have to make sure to stay warm, especially if you go on a winter mountain hiking, but even if you go hiking during spring or autumn, it is better to have additional layers you can take off if you feel hot than to risk getting hypothermia. Of course, clothes are directly connected to a season, so you probably won’t be needing a hardshell jacket from late spring to early autumn, but for all other time, here is what you should bring:
- Hard-shell or softshell jacket
- Hard-shell pants
- Warm socks
- Long underwear
- A fleece pullover
- Hiking boots
- Hiking gloves
- Hat or a cap
- High gaiters
- Middle layer
Additional advice – avoid bringing cotton and opt for synthetics or merino wool products. Cotton dries slowly and wet clothes can lead to hypothermia during cold weather. Also, add a pair of socks, shirts, and basically any part of clothes that could get wet easily.
Essential Gear For Hiking In Mountains
Here is a checklist of all the gear you’ll be needing for your mountain hiking adventure:
- Map of the area with trails. Visit a local souvenir shop or ranger office and they’ll tell you where to get it.
- Headlamp – bring an extra pair of batteries
- First aid kit – personal and group
- Multi-tool knife
- Toilet paper
- Survival gear
- Lightweight tent or bivy sack
- Gas stove, fuel, pot, and base
- Water bottle or hydration pack – here is a comparison guide
- Straps for additional gear
The above-described gear is intended for basically any hiking in the mountains, but if you plan to go to the top, here is what you’ll need, especially if you plan to go during winter:
- Face mask with balaclava included
- Snow goggles
- Ice ax
- Avalanche shovel and beacon
Hiking In Mountains – The Basics
You’ve gathered all the information, packed your stuff, and arrived at your destination, now it is time to learn what to do and how to start your hiking in the mountains.
Mountain hiking means you’ll be going uphill most of the time. It may sound funny, but considering this makes a great difference. Most hikers love to take as big steps as possible, but this way you’ll lose energy way quicker. Short, small steps are what you want. If it feels weird, just keep it going until you find your comfort and catch the rhythm, but at a slower speed. Take it easy and don’t rush anything
Don’t Skip Rest Time
Another key ingredient in safe hiking in the mountains is resting. After some time you’ll eventually get tired and you’ll need to rest for a bit. What makes mountain hiking great is the fact that you’ll be able to use trees as a place to lean on and let your legs rest a bit. You’ll know you’ll in a shape to continue once you’re able to speak without a problem or holding your breath. You can also use this time to eat and refill energy.
As you climb up the air gets thinner and it seems harder to catch a breath. Your body will need some time to get used to it, but there are a few tricks you can do to make it easier. First signs of altitude effect you’ll most likely feel at the height of about 8,000 feet, especially if you don’t live in the area with high altitude. To make it all easier, climb to a certain point, then drop for rest and sleep, and continue the next day.
For example, if you want to reach a 10,000 feet mark, on day one reach 7,000 feet, then head back to 5,000, rest, and hike the rest of the way tomorrow. Of course, you can change numbers and divide climbing on multiple days, but the general idea should be to head back a bit from the highest point you’ve reached and rest somewhere where the air is a bit thicker.
Know When To Stop – Altitude Sickness
Each body reacts differently to stress, some may feel symptoms earlier, some later, but if you ignore it altitude sickness can cause serious damage to your body and organism, which can eventually lead even to death.
If you or anyone in your group starts to have a sudden headache, feels dizzy, starts to vomit, behaves irrationally, loses balance, or acts in any way unusual, these are all signs that they have been struck by altitude sickness.
You’ll fight it by descending until feel better. Stay there until you start to feel completely fine and continue your journey afterward. If the symptoms are serious, don’t wait and head to the nearest medical center as quickly as possible.
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Hiking in the mountains is no easy pleasure and it should be, by every means, taken seriously. If you do, with the help of this article you’ll know the basics, which is more than enough to start your adventure as soon as possible.
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