Hiking is an outdoor activity which consists of walking in natural environments, often on hiking trails. Hiking may be broadly grouped into two categories:
- Wilderness backpacking involves a multi-day hiking expedition where participants carry the required supplies for overnight stay and two or more days of survival in the wilderness, and camp en route.
- Day hiking involves distances of less than a mile up to longer distances that can be covered in a single day.
For a day hike along an easy trail little preparations are needed, and any moderately fit person can enjoy them. Families with small children may need more preparations, but a day outdoors is easily possible even with babies and pre-school children.
Hiking can often be done near home even if you live in a big city. If you or your family are not used to hiking near home is often the best way to start; getting away is easier and if something goes wrong or you simply do not enjoy your time, you can go home and do it differently the next time. For some, having a big experience the first time may feel important, but especially for children this is not a good option: they will be fascinated by the very small new experiences. If you do not have a wood behind your house, a picnic at some nearby destination with trails and a campfire site may be ideal until you know everybody will be comfortable with more demanding adventures.
At many hiking destinations there are easy-to-follow trails, such that knowing how to use a map and compass is not essential (although recommended), and there may be lodges with food and accommodation. Some such hikes offer the possibility to get to see the wilderness without too much skill and effort. The requirements vary though. If you are not used to walk a few kilometres, a ten kilometres mountain hike will certainly be very hard. And on some trails you may find that the trail is anything but easy to follow, or that the creek you have to cross has transformed into a fast-flowing river. Always check what to expect.
There are long and demanding trails in the wilderness with possibilities to comfortable lodging, but in this end of the scale there may instead be unmanned Spartan shelters or only a spot where to put your tent.
Wilderness backpacking often assume you will get along without any infrastructure, even trails, with what you carry and perhaps fish from the streams and berries you pick. And if you need help, you may have to go to fetch it. If you want to feel like returning to the days long past or truly immerse in the natural environment, this may be what you should aim for.
City folks are usually not accustomed to long walks with heavy packing. Even if you are fit, you should try long walks in hilly terrain before you go for any demanding hike. If aiming for real wilderness or long distance hiking, you should start with hikes you can interrupt more easily.
Ideally you build up your skills and endurance little by little, from year to year, from picnics to long wilderness hikes. If you have to train more quickly, remember to start gently anyway.
You should also get acquainted to your equipments: footwear, clothes, backpack, camping stove, food etcetera. You want to know how to handle your tent in storm and rain and – on demanding hikes – how to repair it with the tools you will have. Footwear also have to get acquainted to you. You need as versatile equipment as possible, to be able to leave as much as possible out, and a simple tool you know well is often more versatile than a complicated one. The backpack will be heavier than ideal in any case.
Plan your route so that mishaps do not ruin your trip, and so that you have time for enjoying it. On longer hikes it is usually advisable to have a resting day now and then.
Weather is one of the main factors in preparing for any hike; check weather forecasts, ensure you have a good weather window, with lots of time to spare. Be aware that weather in mountainous or coastal areas can change dramatically and adjust your equipment accordingly. Heavy rainfall can cause rapid flooding of rivers. River crossings are one of the main causes of death and injury when hiking. It is almost always best to be prepared to wait for river levels to go down rather than to cross a river in flood. Also be aware of day light hours. It is never a good idea to be caught out hiking at dusk or at night. Watch your time and don't underestimate the length of the trail.
Get advice from other hikers, talk to your local hiking clubs, visit local equipment retailers and outfitters. There are some excellent books availably on safety in the mountains as well as guides to weekend or day hikes. Start small and build up experience.
See also Appalachian Trail#Prepare, about a demanding long-distance trail.
Doing trail sections with two cars
Many well known hiking trails are of long distances, more than many people can tackle on a single trip. One method to do these is to walk in stages using two vehicles to get between start and finish points of a day hike. The method is simple once pointed out. You drive with two cars to the end of the trail, parking one of them there. Then everyone gets into the other car and drives to the start of the section you are walking. At the end of the hike you get back the first parked car and drive back to the start to get the other.
If you can use public transport (and perhaps a taxi for getting near the trailhead) you avoid the extra driving and the hassle of handling the cars.
Australia and New Zealand
- Tramping in New Zealand; New Zealand is a Mecca for hiking, both day hikes and multi-day hikes, with a network of trails and huts to cater for most abilities. The country has a number of Great Walks which offer both private and public accommodation as well as guided hiking. These include the following:
- Grande Randonnée, Long distance walking in Europe, pilgrimages
- United Kingdom