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Beginner Tip: Go on Practice Hikes

Practice Hiking

It doesn’t matter if you are a day hiker or a backpacker, it’s really important to go on a lot of practice hikes to test new gear and to understand how your body reacts to different trail conditions, before you get into the backcountry. I still go on one or two practice hikes a week between major trips to keep up my conditioning and to practice with new or existing gear.

For day hikers,  I think the most important things to learn on practice hikes are:

  1. How to regulate body temperature by layering or adjusting walking speed.
  2. Understanding what it feels like to be too hot or too cold.
  3. Having the confidence to stop a hiking partner so that you can remove or add a layer.
  4. How to adjust the straps of your backpack as the weight or bulk of your load changes.
  5. Getting into the habit of drinking and snacking frequently to keep your energy level up.
  6. Understanding how to thermoregulate when it starts to rain.
  7. Learning how to deal with and prevent wet glasses in a rain shower.
  8. Learning to feel hot spots in your boots and take care of them before they turn into blisters.
  9. Understanding how your feet react to wet boots and how to prevent blisters anyway.
  10. Finding the right undergarments that prevent thigh chafing and how to cure it if it occurs.
  11. How to pack a backpack so that it’s comfortable for you to carry.

For backpackers, you need to know everything listed above, plus the following which you can practice on a day hike.

  1. How to set up your shelter, be it a tent, tarp, or hammock, in good weather or in the rain.
  2. How to pick a good camping spot.
  3. Understanding how to walk in very rugged terrain with a heavier load.
  4. How to get warm when you are cold in your sleeping bag.
  5. How to light your stove reliably.
  6. Getting good at hanging a bear bag.
  7. Learning how to find where you are with a map and how to navigate using it and a compass.

For winter backpackers and climbers, the list is even longer.

Becoming efficient at all of these skills takes a lot of practice, and it’s a good way to get your outdoor “fix” in between your longer expeditions. So don’t be embarrassed to use your gear near home before you go on a trip. You’ll be glad you did when the time comes to use it.


  1. Earlylite, another good post! Every point you made is important, but I believe that #s 4 & 8 are commonly overlooked by many. If people don't know how to use their gear on a day hike properly, then it just means disaster on an overnight or long trip.


    The Pilgrim.

  2. That last one–how to navigate with a map and compass–really made me nod. And I certainly think it applies to day hikers as well. In Search & Rescue, we get called out all the time to locate lost day hikers who had no map, no compass, no GPS. OR they did have one or more of these things but didn't know how to use them or read them properly. To me, this gear and skill is so important. It may seem like overkill when it comes to a relatively short, well-marked and/or known trail, but why not just keep the gear in your pack anyway, so it's there when you do need it. I always have the area trail map and topographic map with me, and my compass always go with them. A compass is of limited use without the maps anyway. So I say beginner hikers on "practice hikes" should get in the habit of carrying and using this gear before going backpacking. I've included navigational gear in the pre-equipped packs I sell because I've seen the serious difference it can make to folks who've set out for "just a day hike."

  3. Deb – you know, I'm always amazed when even experienced hikers don't bring a map or compass when they're on a trail, even if it's well blazed. It's crazy. You just never know when you may have to improvise and then these skills can become life saving to you or someone else.

  4. Some good, solid advice here.

  5. Sound advice and thinking. Outdoors is the best classroom. Go learn and come home to plan to learn some more.

    I see the Pinnacle pack is out and about. Great pack. Will use mine sometime this year – just smitten with a new pack at the moment.

  6. Thanks Sam. BTW, I really like your latest post on trip planning. I think it complements this current post very well. Martin Rye (previous comment above) has said (I'm paraphrasing) "Plan or plan to fail."

  7. Martin – I have been using the Golite Pinnacle for about a month. I said I would be re-reviewing it based in the fact that you like it so much. I'm hoping to get to that this weekend. I like it better than I did before.

  8. Perfect timing. We are taking a couple of folks on a 'practice' backpacking trek this weekend…to be sure they have the gear, know what to do, etc, for our big one next weekend. We also benefit, with regards to our gear…haven't backpacked since last summer!

  9. Is there a post that goes through and answers the need to know items…? I NEED to know!!! Thanks so much for all your expertise!

  10. That's a good question. I have written a lot of posts about these topics, but let me pull them together for you and fill in some of the gaps. I won't be able to answer all of these questions for you, but I hope to at least give you a clue about what to do to find the answers. Thanks for the comment.

  11. Thanks I'm a bit of a 'newbie', as far as getting serious. Mom and I are looking to do Isle Royale next year….gearing up and practicing this year!!!

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