How to Prepare for Your First Overnight Hike
Whether it’s Instagrams of the great outdoors, a desire to escape hectic city life, or the memoir-turned-film “Wild,” there's plenty of inspiration to explore the world on foot.
If you're feeling motivated to take a serious hiking trip, here's what you need to know.
There are beautiful parts of the world that you can often only see by foot, and there’s nothing quite as special as the feeling of accomplishment after a day’s hike — but among the many benefits that make hiking wonderful, there are also the challenges.
From thunderstorms to blisters, the best way to enjoy an overnight hiking adventure is to be prepared.
“The first thing I always think about are the elements and the equations that I can't control,” said Mark Chase, one of Columbia Sportswear’s new “Directors of Toughness.”
He suggests looking at trail conditions and calling the park rangers' office, who can advise best about the weather: “You don't want to be attempting a mountain climb of any sort of there's a storm due within the next 48 to 72 hours because it can roll in a lot quicker than you expect it, too.”
Another good question to ask when you're contacting a local is if there is cellular service on the trail. You may want to get away, but you should also know if you'll be able to call for help should you need it.
If there won’t be — and even if there will be — let people know where you will be and for how long. You might also want to plan and pack to be out longer than you expect.
“[Even] if I’m planning to go out for a four-hour hike, I’ll always take equipment with me,” said Chase. “Although very basic, it essentially means that if I got lost or got in trouble, I would be able to survive a lot longer than I initially intended to be out.”
For first time overnight hikers, Chase suggests going with friends who have done the route before, and to begin small.
“Starting small is definitely the way to go,” he said. “For your first time going out, plan to do a one night hike. In the Pacific Northwest you can feel like you’re in the middle of nowhere and actually be close to civilization and help should you need it.”
If all goes well, you can build up to longer hikes.
And a multi-day hike should never be your very first outing: Practice for the overnight trip with a two- or three-hour hike the fully packed backpack to get used to the weight. If you wait to put on the backpack on the journey, no matter what shape you're in, you could be setting yourself up for a world of hurt.
What to Pack
Finding your preferred gear requires trial and error. One important requirement of a hiking backpack, however, is that it's waterproof, with a waterproof shell. “It's slightly heavier, but the tradeoff is better to avoid getting all your things wet,” said Chase.
For hiking shoes, also go with waterproof. And when it comes to clothing, go for layers.
“I pack a lot of light layers for different purposes,” said Chase. “I will always have a compacted down with me, which is a warm down jacket that is not waterproof but is extremely light.”
“When looking for a tent, something that is waterproof and keeps you dry,” said Chase. “When I’m out, I will always look for protection for the tent as well, such as rock wall or something that is protected from the elements, but be careful when looking where to pitch your tent. Don’t want to be beneath any snow, rocks, or things like that.”