If you love to hike, planning travel around great views can be fairly simple. Timing your hikes to avoid the hottest part of the day in the desert, the most mosquito-intensive time in the north country or the slippery part of the morning in the mountains will require that you know how to time your hike.
If you’re hiking alone, make sure someone knows what time you’re supposed to be back and check in with them. Ask them to check in with you and be ready to call for help if you’re not communicating within your expected time window.
Most hikers can cover 2 to 2.5 miles in an hour, so a 5 mile hike should be manageable within 3 hours at the most. Of course, there are many factors that can speed up or slow down your hiking time. Depending on your level of physical fitness and your tolerance of the altitude, you may take more time.
While planning for your hike, carefully review the total elevation gain. A long, steady hike up can be fairly simple and you’ll make up time on the descent.
However, if you need to do any scrambling up rocks or if you note any particularly steep points, you will need to allow more time so you can climb slowly and safely. You’ll also want to take even more care on your way back down.
On a first time hike when you’re getting to know an area, take a break before you start climbing. Slip off your shoes, air your feet and study the terrain.
When you gear up to start your climb, make sure that your pack is strapped close to your torso and your shoes are snug enough to prevent sliding back and forth.
A nice wide hiking can keep your foot more stable in loose dirt, but if your foot has room to slide on an angle you can easily roll an ankle and take a tumble.
When you get to the top of a climb, air your feet again and grab a snack.
Don’t Forget Breaks
In addition to getting your feet fully supported, protect your brain with quality snacks at the right intervals. Being hungry and thirsty will make your hike a chore.
Carry 1.5 liters per person for a two hour hike if you’re hiking in full sun. Water is heavy; about 8 pounds per gallon, so don’t overload yourself with water, but consider carrying a thermal container loaded with cold water on a hot hike.
When you stop at watering stations, load up even if you’re not thirsty.
Pack snacks that won’t easily melt. Make sure you bring in a trash bag that you can easily seal up. A large Ziploc bag can easily be stashed in the bottom of a daypack; load up your outside pack pockets with simple high-energy snacks and carefully pack up all trash, including micro-trash from wrappers, before you leave your break site.
While breaking, sit down and air your feet. Take off your socks if necessary to get plenty of air around those toes and check out any hot spots on your skin.
Additional Hiking Gear
A 5 mile hike will take you far from help if you need it. In addition to water and snacks, you will need
- a hat to keep the sun offer your face
- eye protection to prevent a squint-ache
- a fully charged cellphone in case you need to call for help
Even the simplest hike will require these basic tools to keep you safe and protect you for your next hike.
If you are headed into rough country, extreme cold or high heat, you will need more gear. For those headed into cold country, breathable boots are key.
Breathable fabric against your skin, fleece fabric to capture heat and some kind of windbreaker on top will protect you from becoming dangerously cold. A hat, gloves and windproof pants can offer you even more protection.
Desert hikers need sunblock, lip balm with sunscreen, and shoes that will breathe and keep out sand. On any hike your feet are going to sweat, but keeping your feet breathing will protect you from painful blisters and an altered gait that could lead to a fall.
If you’re headed into rocky terrain, carefully check the clock. A rough country hike when the rocks are dry can be a fun challenge and lead to some great views.
If you’re headed out early in the day, you could risk slipping and falling on wet, dewy rocks and dirt.
Your Return Hike
Finally, carefully watch your speed on any descent. When you’re tired after a good long incline, it can be tempting to put on some speed on the way down.
No matter the terrain, it only takes one twisted ankle, slide on pebbles or skid on sand to either end up flat on your bottom or hands and face first on the trail.
One hard bottom hit can damage your tailbone and alter your stride. Hikers with an altered stride can end up hurting a knee or an ankle because they strike the ground at a different angle than their body is ready for.
A faceplant will hurt if you skin up your face and knees, but often the biggest loser in a forward fall is your hands. It’s instinctive to catch yourself with your hands, which can result in busted fingers, scraped forearms and palms full of gravel. Give yourself time to get down safely.