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Plan a hike featured image - me on the cliffs with a sandy beach in the background,

How To Plan A Hike Like A Pro – 27 In-Depth Tips!

Updated January 2024

Hiking on the cliffs with a long sandy beach stretching out behind me.

Do You Want To Plan A Long Distance Hike but don’t know where to start? Well, You’ve just found the ultimate guide!

Whether you’re new to planning a hike or looking for ways to do it better next time, you’ll find everything you need to know right here.

There are 27 in-depth tips laid out in 5 easy-to-navigate sections that cover everything from choosing a trail and wild camping to budgeting and travel. Jump right in!

Contents

Section 1

  1. Which Trail Is The Right Trail For You? Find Your Inspiration
  2. How To Work Out How Long Your Hike Will Take. The Formula
  3. What’s Your Pace?
  4. Downtime
  5. Stay Flexible
  6. Decide When To Go
A grassy path leads through the heather to misty hills beyon

1. Which Is The Right Trail For You?

Find Your Inspiration

What excites you? Maybe it’s the mountains or the coast or history and culture, or perhaps, like me, you have a goal or challenge in mind. Finding inspiration is the first step to planning a backpacking trip, so if you don’t already have a trail in mind, get yourself a pinboard and put it somewhere you’ll see it every day, then have fun and cover it in photos and maps. (Download them online, photocopy books, rip them out of magazines – you could even use actual photos!)

Don’t forget to check out your local bookshop for backpacking inspiration too – they’re particularly good for local trails, which are also often marked on OS 1:25 000 maps (even though there may not be a specific guidebook). (Outdoor stores might be a better bet for guides that cover all of the UK.) Then there are these four websites that are top of my list for inspiration:

Once you’ve gathered together your inspiration you’re more likely to see themes emerging that will help you narrow down your choice, whether it’s big mountain views or epic distances – what does it for you?

You can choose from lowland trails (even ones with big mountain views like The West Highland Way) to the more rugged uplands in the north of England. There are plenty of distances to choose from too whether you’re looking for 100 miles that you can walk in a week or so, or trails like the South West Coast Path or Pennine Way that you can hike in a month or more.

Most national trails are well signposted with the iconic acorn symbol (or the thistle in Scotland), but there are more remote trails where you’ll need some good navigation skills. And if you want to hike from Land’s End to John O’Groats or put together your own hike, map reading skills are essential.

You Might Like

The Ridgeway
South Downs Way Guide 100 miles from Winchester to Eastbourne

These two shorter-distance trails are ideal for beginners as they offer lots of interest from prehistoric sites to spectacular views – without the challenge of navigation or difficult terrain.

Before you can make a firm decision on any particular trail though, you need to know how far you can walk (or want to walk) in the time you have available. Here’s how.

2. How To Work Out How Long Your Hike Will Take

The Formula

After decades of experience I’ve worked out a formula for planning a hike that removes a lot of the guesswork and it goes like this:

Pace + Downtime + Flexibility + Travel Time = how long you’ll need to be away

Pace is probably the most difficult variable to estimate but downtime can often be overlooked, which is why it’s important to add flexibility and not forget your travel time. First though, let’s have a look at how to estimate your pace – notebook at the ready!

3. What’s Your Pace?

Knowing your hiking pace is essential for planning a hike of any distance and for this, you need to know how long the actual walking will take – as in one step in front of the other. What’s your average pace – 3 miles an hour, 1.5 miles an hour, more or less? How might your pace change over different terrain – bogs, ascent, etc (check out Naismith’s Rule)? Your walking pace could also vary because of the weight of your backpack and how tired you are – even the weather can influence it.

Plan a hike - I'm walking through long grass towards the camera wearing a backpacking rucksack on the South West Coast Path in Cornwall

Try This If You Haven’t Worked Out Your Hiking Pace Before

If you’re new to hiking, you can get an idea of your average pace by carrying your full rucksack on some training walks and timing yourself. Do it on level, easy ground, and then adjust it according to what you expect to encounter on the trail. Alternatively, if you can do some training walks on similar terrain to the hike itself you’ll have an even better idea of your hiking pace. Either way, it’s far better to underestimate your pace than overestimate it.

4. Downtime

Eating strawberries at a picnic bench, with my rucksack on the seat beside me.

Calculating some downtime is the next step in working out how long you’ll need for your hike and here are a few things you need to estimate time for:

  • navigation
  • photography
  • meals
  • breaks
  • zero-days (no hiking at all)
  • time in towns
  • finding somewhere to wild camp
  • pitching your tent at the end of the day
  • breaking camp in the morning
  • How many daylight hours there are

Remember that if you’re planning to stay in accommodation or campsites you’ll have a lot less flexibility than if you’re wild camping. If this is the case you’ll need to make sure you can walk the distances between them in plenty of time.

Once you’ve got an idea of your pace and downtime you’ll have a good idea of how many miles you can cover in a day, but there are still a couple more things to consider that’ll help your hike go smoothly.

5. Stay Flexible

There are things you can never plan for, like trains being late or cancelled, bad weather, injury, etc, so make sure you add in some overall flexibility for your hike. This could be anything from a couple of hours to several days depending on the length of your backpacking trip or how far away from home it is.

Here’s An Example Of How I Use The Formula When I Plan A Hike

(It can be a bit convoluted!)

Let’s assume I’m planning a hike on varied terrain in summer (16 hours of daylight each day), maybe somewhere in southern England like the 100-mile South Downs Way.

In theory, I can easily walk this in 4 days – but is that realistic, and do I want to?

My pace on this sort of terrain would be around 3 mph (4.8 kmph). But, for the sake of maths (‘cos I’m rubbish at it!) let’s say 2.5 mph: 100 miles/2.5 mph (4 km per hour) = 40 hours of actual walking.

Say I walk for 10 hours each day (as in physically moving at 2.5 mph), that’s 25 miles a day = a 4-day hike. But what about downtime – time for photography, time for cafes, time for the odd 10-minute break to admire the view, finding somewhere to camp, etc? I reckon I’d like at least a couple of hours a day for that.

Plan a hike - setting up a wild camp in Dartmoor national park (I'm oputting my tent up and my rucksack is on the ground nearby

In the summer months, 10 hours of walking plus 2 hours of downtime is easily doable but it’s a pretty long day (I quite enjoy chilling in my tent at the end of the day!). Maybe I could walk for 8 hours (ie 20 miles) instead and have 2 hours of downtime, or maybe I could hike for 7 hours (17.5 miles) plus downtime?

By this point my calculations would look something like this:

  1. 7 hours walking a day (2.5 mph = approx 18 miles) + downtime of 2 hours a day = 9 hour days
  2. 100 miles divided by 18 miles a day = 5.5 days hiking
  3. Add some overall flexibility and round up to 6 days hiking
  4. Add travel time of 2 days = 8-day trip

You can do this calculation several times and change the variables like walking pace and downtime – this is especially useful if you know you’ve only got 7 days available for example. In this case you might be looking at longer days or doing some miles on travel days too. Conversely, if you’ve got 10 days free you might prefer to see if there’s a longer-distance trail you can tackle instead.

The Benefit Of Experience

It’s much easier and quicker to plan your hike once you’ve got some experience. Until then stay on the safe side: plan for fewer daily miles and add in more flexibility. If a 100-mile hike is completely new to you but you’ve done some training with a full rucksack, I’d say plan your backpacking trip for a maximum of 15 miles a day and add in another 1/2 day’s flexibility so that you can take a proper rest if you need it. If you finish the hike with plenty of time in the bag, no worries – you’ll have more time to relax and explore the place at the end of the trail!

6. Decide When To Go

Marbled white butterfly on a blade of grass

When you plan to go on your adventure depends on things like time off work, school holidays and other practicalities of course. But you also need to consider things like weather and seasons.

Maybe you want to avoid midge season on the West Highland Way or colder, earlier winters in the north. Busy trails can make or break a hike too, depending on your expectations. Some trails, like The South West Coast Path, are much busier during school holidays for example. This means accommodation is difficult to book, so you’ll need to plan your hike well in advance if you want to stay in b&bs.

Finally, don’t forget about things you’d like to see – it could be anything from wildlife to bluebell woods. Think broadly and not just about the practicalities.

Plan a hike around seasons - I'm smiling at the camera standing in a bluebell wood
Page Contents

Section 2

  1. How To Calculate A Hiking Budget
  2. Travel
  3. Wild Camping Or Places To Stay?

7. How To Calculate A Hiking Budget

I’m not going to lie, I find this an absolute nightmare on a tight budget because it inevitably means compromises – and overspending! It always costs more than you think and if there’s one thing experience has taught me it’s that a contingency is essential.

Planning a hike - I'm smiling at the camera holding up a guide book and map

Here are a few things to think about before you finalise your hiking budget:

  • Maps and Guides
    These can be costly, especially if you need several maps for one trail. If this is the case look for alternative cheaper options, like the National Trail booklets, or Harvey’s National trail maps (links are on the resources page)
  • Travel
    Take into account not only the cost of getting to and from the trail but also travel to accommodation or places to re-supply (and don’t forget ferry crossings on trails like the South West Coast Path). You can find links to the main transport companies on the resources page that I’ve linked above.
  • Accommodation
    Wild camping is the cheapest option if you have the gear (which isn’t cheap, although it could be cheaper than a few weeks in b&s). Camping and hostels are a good budget choice, and then of course there are b&bs and hotels. Whichever you choose, it’s likely you’ll need a mix of accommodation types. (That’s unless you’re prepared to travel off-trail, but even campsites can be several miles walk.)
  • Baggage Transfer
    There are baggage transfer services available on some trails (like the West Highland Way), but they can be costly and may only transfer between b&bs (not campsites)
  • Meals
    Will you eat out every day? Will you plan for a mix of cafes, takeaways, pubs, restaurants, etc?  Do you want to treat yourself every day, now and again, or maybe just at the end of the trail?
  • Food
    If you’re planning to cook your own meals you might find it costs more than a meal at home, especially if you’re going to use dried backpacking meals. Resupplying at small local stores might cost more than larger supermarkets too. Also, you may find you need to pay for water.
  • Visits
    Are there any places along the way you’d like to visit that incur a cost?
  • Insurance
    I’ve never taken out insurance myself, but it might be important to you. This could be especially important if you’re staying in accommodation or want to cover the cost of damage to things like cameras
  • Incidentals
    Don’t forget things you might need along the way like more plasters, socks (me!), gas, etc
  • Gear
    Do you need to buy any new kit before you go? Is this part of your budget?
  • Contingency
    Things go wrong and you may have to go over budget. You might lose or break something that you have to replace, or get off trail if you injure yourself, for example. Make sure you have a contingency and hope (and plan!) you don’t need it

Some things on this list are fixed costs like travel, maps and guides, a contingency, plus accommodation (including campsites), insurance and baggage transfer if you’re using them. I like to make a separate list of these and use the variable items (mostly food and cafes in my case) to estimate a daily budget, which makes it easy to keep track of when I’m on trail. Once I’ve got these worked out I can figure out if I’ve got enough for anything else I’d like to do – a visit to Skomer Island off the Pembrokeshire Coast Path to see the puffins for example!

It’s a massive headache working out all this stuff and it’s times like this I wish I had bottomless pockets! Alas though, I don’t, so it’s a necessary evil but it does at least mean I can hike the trail without worrying about money. I hope it helps you do the same.

8. Travel

Most long-distance trails are linear (point-to-point) which means getting to and from the start by car isn’t an option unless someone can give you a lift. This means you’ll have to plan your hike using the dreaded public transport system, which in turn means you’ll be tearing your hair out for days on end trying to find connecting services. This is especially true if your hike happens to begin or end in the middle of nowhere where there are quite likely no services at all. And don’t be fooled into thinking that if there is a service running in August (ie holiday season) it’ll still be running come November…

Luckily for you (not for me!) I haven’t had a car for 10 years so I’ve written a separate travel guide full of the resources I use to get me to and from the trails.

It includes how to

  • Find the nearest railway stations
  • Find connecting bus services (and what to do if there aren’t any)
  • Get the best price rail tickets
  • Use ‘split ticketing’

And much more. You can find the article here:

Travel

How to get to a hiking trail on public transport

9. Wild Camping Or Places To Stay?

Options usually range from wild camping and campsites to hostels and b&bs – which one you choose depends on your budget and the experience you want. It’s easier to plan for a mix of accommodation on some trails – wild camping and the occasional campsite for eg, or a night in a b&b before you travel home. But for me hiking isn’t hiking if there isn’t wild camping involved, but I can’t deny an occasional shower to wash my matted hair feels pretty good!

Wild camping beside a river on a rainy day. You can see my cooking stove just outside my tent

My individual trail guides give you details of my itineries and where I stayed, how easy it is to wild camp or find campsites, including reviews of any I stayed at. In some cases, where I stayed at more campsites than usual, there are separate articles like this one Campsites On The South Downs Way: Tried and Tested that you might find useful.

You can also read my indepth guide to wild camping which includes plenty of tips, including how to find a pitch. There’s also a page of hiking resources with links to help you find campsites, hostels and b&bs:

Useful Guides

Wild Camping guide
links to UK hiking resources
Page Contents

Section 3

  1. What Hiking Gear Do You Need?
  2. Are You Plugged Into Your Electronics?
  3. Which Clothes Do You Need?
  4. Pack A Little Luxury
  5. How To Pack Your Rucksack
  6. Look After Your Feet
  7. Are You Fit Enough For The Challenge?

10. What Hiking Gear Do You Need?

Day Hiking (If you’re staying in hostels And B&Bs)

Are you looking for a little luxury on your hike? Think cosy, clean bed; a relaxing bath; a daily shower; somewhere to dry your wet clothes; a t ifilling breakfast… a more comfortable, lighter weight day’s hike – then bnb’s and hostels are the way to go, though you’ll need much deeper pockets!

If you choose this route (ie no camping at all) your biggest headache will undoubtedly be finding accommodation that suits the daily miles you want to hike – and planning your hiking trip well in advance to ensure you get a bed. The good thing of course is that you get to carry a lighter-weight rucksack, although it could be more than you think (but a luxury hike might include baggage transfer too!); things to consider packing include:

  • Clothing – you’ll have the advantage of being able to dry off wet gear and maybe even wash it out, which means you won’t need to carry so much (don’t forget to include your waterproofs). Conversely, your lighter load might mean you can carry a few more items than campers. Beginners might find the following article useful The Beginner Hiker’s Guide To Day Hiking And Walking Gear
  • Sleeping bag – hostels might offer bedding for hire, but you could save money (not weight!) by carrying your own
  • Wash kit – potentially you could carry more than a camper, but b&b’s may well supply soap and hair products, so you possibly save weight there. Don’t forget a towel if you’re staying in a hostel – or find out if you can hire one
  • Food – you’ll obviously have a good breakfast but what do you plan to do during the day or for an evening meal? Will you eat at cafes and pubs, or perhaps the b&b can provide a packed lunch or an evening meal for an extra cost? You might choose to carry a cooking stove for lunch and evening meals, but if you’re staying in hostels you’ll have the opportunity to cook a meal (and prepare lunch) and only need to carry the ingredients – there’s often a cafe on site too
  • Water – it’s heavy! Lighten the load with a water filter if it’s possible to fill up along the way, but take into account the weight of a bladder and/or water bottles too
  • Electronics – there’s the obvious advantage of being able to charge up regularly so you could save weight and only carry a charger and cable and forget the battery bank
  • Head torch – essential in case you get caught out
  • First aid is also essential! (here’s what to pack in your outdoor first aid kit)
  • Walking poles – carry the lightest you can afford
  • Maps and guides
  • Rucksack – volume, weight, rain cover. I recommend about 30L

Camping (Including Wild Camping)

Camping, especially wild camping, gives you a connection to the trail that you can’t get any other way: it’s life at its simplest. And for me, it’s life at its best.

Camping gear doesn’t need to cost an arm and a leg (look for good quality second-hand kit – this links to a fantastic Facebook Group), and it certainly costs less than b&bs. Invest in the lightest weight ‘big three’ (below) that you can afford and upgrade your kit over the coming years.

A layout of hiking gear

The big three include shelter, sleep, and cooking, but as a good night’s sleep makes for a much better hike I’d invest well here to begin with and upgrade the rest as and when I could:

  • Shelter: tent or bivvy, plus footprint (ie a ground sheet)
  • Sleep: sleeping bag, sleeping bag liner, sleeping mat, a reflective mat or silver blanket for insulation under your sleeping mat
  • Cooking: stove, fuel, pots, mug, spork

Once you’ve got these essentials sorted out, you can consider things like clothes, electronics, walking poles, water bladder, filter, trowel (lightweight plastic is good), first aid kit, maps, guides etc – some of which the following tips will cover.

As for my own hiking gear, you can check out my full hiking kit list on Google Sheets (no sign-in required). I’ve accumulated it over several decades and I’m gradually replacing things with light(er!) weight alternatives as the old stuff finally wears out and falls apart. What I hope it shows (especially beginners) is that you don’t need the fanciest kit to get started – my sleeping bag is 20 years old! Yes, you’ll be carrying more weight which might mean you walk fewer miles per day, but it’s not a race. Buy (or borrow) the lightest weight basics (the big three) within your budget and get out there and get hiking!

Test Your Kit Before You Leave

Never forget to test your hiking gear before you leave, including tent poles, waterproofness, zips, leaks (sleeping mat), stove fuel, batteries, and so on.

Take a small repair kit with some duct tape, adhesive patches for sleeping mats and tents, a needle and thread, a safety pin, etc

11. Are You Plugged In To Your Electronics?

A slim battery bank and cables

Your phone, your headtorch, your watch, your PLB, your camera… Whatever you take you’ll need spare batteries and/or a battery bank plus all the right cables and a charger. (It’s best to charge up at any opportunity you get so ensure your electronics are fast charging.)

Solar panels are useful for trickle charging…but only really in summer in the UK, and even then you can’t guarantee sun. (Great if you know there’s a heatwave though!) They can be handy if you’re going to be away from civilization for a few days, but weigh up the weight versus usefulness.

12. Which Clothes Do You Need?

I prefer to take as little clothing as possible to reduce weight. When I plan a longer hike this usually means one set to wear, one change of clothes plus clothes to sleep in (never wear your sleep clothes for walking in – they need to be kept dry at all times).

I'm wearing autumn hiking in this photo - cap, gloves, jacket, fleece...and I look toasty and warm on a sunny day

I always make sure I have something for warm days, cool days and wet days, as well as sleep, which might look something like this in the summer months (depending on the forecast):

  • warm days (wearing): shorts; quick dry t-shirt; underwear (including sports bra) and hiking socks; cap/hat; sunglasses
  • cool days (carrying): lightweight leggings (sometimes just spare shorts if the weather’s particularly good); long-sleeve t-shirt; underwear (including sports bra) and hiking socks; padded gilet and/or lightweight fleece (a long-sleeve padded jacket with a hood is great in spring and autumn); lightweight gloves; buff
  • wet days: waterproof jacket and overtrousers, and sometimes gaitors (for hiking on boggy moorland for eg). As an aside, if you’re looking to buy waterproofs for warmer weather I highly recommend Gore-Tex Paclite fabric construction (or similar), because when the weather’s great day after day you’ll hardly notice carrying the extra weight
  • sleep: merino tights and a long-sleeve top – and if it feels a bit chillier and my gilet/fleece is dry then I’ve got an extra layer
  • extra underwear and socks
  • Occasionally, at the end of a long hike, I buy a partial change of clothes (eg a tee-shirt and socks) for the journey home (so I don’t have to carry them – or stink out the train carriage!)

When you plan your hike it’s worth thinking about the terrain as well as the weather – leggings will help protect you from ticks and other biting insects and coupled with a long-sleeve tee shirt will help protect keep the sun off too. Check out companies like Craghoppers that sell clothing with SPF and insect protection too.

Check my Trail Guides for lists of the clothes I took on each hike and The Beginner Hiker’s Guide To Day Hiking And Walking Gear for a more detailed guide to choosing what you need, including footwear.

13. Pack a little Luxury

Little luxuries make life worth living so why not take something you love? Keep it light and restrict yourself to one or two things and you’ll be glad you did – here are a few ideas:

  • Earphones (download some podcasts or Audible before you leave so you don’t have to rely on getting a signal)
  • Book
  • Kindle on longer journeys
  • Journal or sketchbook
  • Tent slippers, socks, crocs or flip flops
  • Foot massage ball
  • A bag or case that turns your headtorch into a lantern (Petzl offers several options)
  • AeroPress Go for your morning coffee (seems crazy to me, but probably weighs no more than a book!)

As for me, I take:

  • Small tube of lavender foot massage cream because a foot massage is a great way to end the day!
  • A Petzl case that turns my headtorch into a lantern – a sentimental luxury that was a gift from my son
  • An A5 paperback journal/sketchbook and pencils
  • A trekking umbrella (85g) – I burn to a crisp in minutes so an umbrella means I can hike comfortably during the midday sun in a heatwave, and it’s quite good in the rain too – but not wind!

What would you take? I’d love to hear your recommendations in the comments.

I planned my hike well - I'm using a trekking umbrella in a heatwave!

14. How To Pack Your Rucksack

Packing your rucksack is an art in itself that you’ll undoubtedly perfect over time, but one of the most important things is to make sure your rucksack is the right volume. Ensure it’s large enough that you can pack everything inside it, or you risk abrasion when you put your sack down (of your tent hanging on the outside for eg), and of course, it’s much easier to lose things strapped to the outside. (I once lost an expensive waterproof coat this way – and spent the rest of the hike crying! ). That said, hanging loops on the outside can be really useful for a soaking wet tent – just be mindful when you put it down.

Keep the heavier stuff close to your back for balance (centre of gravity); things you don’t use during the day go at the bottom with more useful things towards the top; the stuff you might need access to throughout the day go at the top and things you’ll definitely need during the day go in the ‘brain’ and side pockets.

In practice, this means I organise my rucksack something like this:

  • Water bladder close to my back
  • tent (with footprint packed inside) to one side of it
  • balance the other side of it with food, gas and stove
  • sleeping bag at the bottom (mine’s pretty heavy and bulky)
  • Clothes on top of my sleeping bag (these can often be relatively heavy)
  • Sleeping pad and sleeping bag liner tucked in away from my back
  • microfibre towel squidged open out and in at the front of the pack
  • toiletries/meds/first aid kit (including a reflective blanket) right at the top along with a spares bag that includes a repair kit
  • In the brain I pack waterproofs, headtorch, notebook, battery pack and cables
  • I have 2 large mesh side pockets where I stow water bottles, a trowel, a large bottle of sunscreen (so I can easily decant to the small bottle in my side pocket), trekking umbrella, maps, water filter (if needed), extra snacks, a sit mat, walking poles, and a selfie-stick
  • In the hip pockets (which are also quite large on my rucksack) I pack snacks, a small bottle of sunscreen (so I don’t have to take the sack off), a rubbish bag/foldable shopping bag, toilet paper/dog poo bags, vaseline (for my feet/lips), wallet, rubber tips for my trekking poles, a couple of plasters and a pack of painkillers, plus any other small bits and pieces that might get lost in the main sack
  • I also wear a waistbelt where I keep my phone (camera), a bit of cash and debit card, train tickets, home key – basically everything I couldn’t do without if I just happen to mislay my rucksack!

Keep Dry and Organised

Dry bags are great for organisation as well as keeping your gear dry, but you might prefer just one rucksack liner instead. This can be as cheap as a rubble bag or as expensive as a large dry bag. I use several dry bags but have a waterproof rucksack cover with a high-viz logo as well. I like this because it kills two birds with one stone: when I’m walking in the rain it add somes extra waterproofness and when I’m on a road I’ve got some hi-viz.

When you’re planning your hike don’t forget to include strong waterproof cases for items you’ll need outside your rucksack, including your phone and maps.

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15. Look After Your Feet

Looking after your feet on a long distance trail is a priority! Break in new shoes well before you leave and make sure you have the right sort for the terrain you’re on. Consider whether you want ankle support, trail runners, GoreTex, etc – a good retailer will measure your feet and give you all the advice you need. Never forget to pack some blister plasters or tape and clean socks as a bare minimum – and check out the article below!

Look After Your Feet

My legs stretched out on a cliff top

16. Are You Fit Enough For The Challenge?

I'm out running on a trail with a hedgerow behind me

You’ll undoubtedly have heard the maxim “You’ll get fit as you walk”, and that’s true enough for long trails. It’s a different story for shorter trips though.

There’s nothing worse than hiking a relatively short trail and spending half the week straining under a heavy rucksack. You can imagine the exhaustion, pulled muscles and stiffness, but you’ll be slower too. All of this will make you feel pretty damn miserable, and ultimately you’ll be off schedule because of it: it’s better to build up fitness before you leave.

Hiking is an endurance event that requires good cardio fitness as well as a strong core and legs. Running and cycling are obvious ways to increase your cardio fitness in short, regular workouts; head to the gym to build strength, or do what I do and try weight-bearing exercises at home. My top 3 favourites are squats, planks and sit-ups (I actually love them haha!).

The best training is long-distance hikes that gradually increase the distance and weight of your rucksack over time until you can comfortably hike several days back to back. And if you can hike on similar terrain to your planned trip so much the better. There are more fitness tips in this article: Tips For Older Hikers (I Think I’ve Joined The Club!)

Page Contents

Section 4

  1. Stay Safe
  2. Navigation
  3. Leave No Trace
  4. A Loo Break In The Wild
  5. Calories: You’ll Need More Than You Think
  6. Water
  7. Resupply
  8. Plan Your Hike For The Rough As Well As The Smooth

17. Stay Safe

A first aid kit in a red bag. The bag is unzipped and you can see first aid items like bandages, vinyl gloves and scissors

Safety is a primary consideration so give some thought to

  • First aid (here’s a guide to outdoor first aid items you should take)
  • Regularly checking in with someone and what to do in an emergency
  • Wild camping There are plenty of tips in this guide, including solo hiking for women.
  • Tides (local tide tables are usually available in newsagents along coastal routes, or you can use the Tides Near Me phone app or buy a tide table booklet)
  • Terrain – cliffs, bogs, ascents, mountains, bodies of water (do you have to cross any?)
  • Remoteness (carry enough food and water, have an exit strategy)
  • Wildlife (like snakes if you’re planning to hike with your dog, for example) and livestock (cows!)
  • Weather – check the Met Office local forecasts (as well as their specialist forecasts) and the Mountain Weather Information Service
  • Solo hiking and personal safety (eg not telling people you meet where you’re staying or headed, carrying a personal alarm…)
  • Navigation (see tip 18 below)
  • Battery life for phones and electronics
  • High viz for road walking
  • An emergency bivvy bag or blanket

18. Navigation

A group of three people are on a very misty moor looking at a map

Most national trails are well-signposted so you shouldn’t go too far off track. However there are trails in remote areas or pathless terrain, so when you plan your hike make absolutely sure you know what level of skill you’ll need. Always take a paper map and compass (don’t rely on your phone – what happens if there’s no signal, your battery runs out or your phone gets soaked or lost?). Consider an accredited navigation course, and/or a PLB (personal location beacon).

19. Leave No Trace

From disposing your rubbish to disturbing the ground, planning your hike with Leave No Trace (LNT) at the forefront of your mind is vitally important.

The LNT movement began in America as a means to help hikers to hike responsibly in national parks, but it quickly gained traction here with certified training courses for outdoor leaders now available. The main tenet is to leave a place as you found it, which encompasses protecting habitats and water systems, building fires safely (where permitted) and knowing how to go to the loo in the wild amongst others. Find out more in this article: 12 tips to put the principles of Leave No Trace into practice.

A backpacking tent set up beside the sea

20. A Loo Break In The Wild

Following on from Leave No Trace, going to the toilet outdoors worries lots of people, but if you do it properly it’s not an issue.

Always make sure you carry a lightweight trowel to bury your waste and find a spot at least 30 metres away from water and paths. Don’t bury toilet paper, wet wipes, or sanitary products. Burning them may get rid of them but it does cause a risk of fire on dry ground so carry them out instead – dog poo bags are really handy for this. Best of all though, try and use public toilets along the way.

Read these tips before you leave.

21. Hiking Food: Calories – You’ll Need More Than You Think

If you’re planning to carry your home on your back take dried food rather than fresh, simply because it’s so much lighter. If you’re staying at youth hostels and b&bs you won’t need to worry about carrying breakfast and main meals, but you’ll still need plenty of high-calorie snacks and probably lunch.

Sitting outside my tent eating a camp meal from a pot

Plan for the usual 3 meals a day plus enough snacks to sink a battleship!

  • Breakfast: porridge seems to be the hiker’s staple. I find it difficult to eat anything first thing (or get up early enough tbh), so often have a few oat ‘breakfast biscuits’ and a plan to stop and have something more filling after a few miles of walking. You can add extra calories to porridge with seeds (ground flax seeds are brilliant), nuts and dried fruit.
  • Lunch: Lunchtime can be a bit time-consuming if you’re planning on something hot. Instead try wraps, oatcakes, or crispbreads with spreads that might last a few days (in cooler weather) – peanut butter, marmite, Nutella, cream cheese/Babybel, vegan cheese (comes in tubes), etc. If you have the time and inclination to use your stove though, packet soups (with pasta especially) are really good. Then there are cafes and pubs – if you’re passing one on your route, go for it!
  • Main meal: Ensure it’s high in calories and includes plenty of carbs and protein. Dried backpacking meals are high in calories and comparatively light-weight so you might want to carry these if you’re planning to camp – but they’re not cheap.
  • Snacks: Carry way more snacks than you think you’ll need and have them permanently to hand (I constantly graze). High-calorie snacks include nuts and dried fruit, flapjacks, cereal or protein bars, etc (they’re not the lightest though). Then there’s sugar…I like to have a packet of sugary sweets or sports drinks to hand for a quick boost, but whether that’s for calories or morale I couldn’t say haha!

A day or two on the trail will give you an idea of how many calories you’re expending, which can depend on the terrain and your fitness. I overestimate the amount I’ll need for the first few days and then adjust it as I go along.

22. Water

Water isn’t readily available on some trails, so you need to think about how much to carry. On some national trails you can carry less and use a water filter instead. (You can also boil it for at least a minute to kill most pathogens or carry some water treatment tablets just in case).

Plenty of trails will pass through towns and villages though, where you can top up at cafes or buy it if necessary. Some towns have public drinking water fountains, so keep an eye out. Don’t be afraid to knock on doors either, people are usually generous.

(Public taps have been installed along The South Downs Way because water’s hard to come by so download my pdf Water Taps on the South Downs Way (with the OS grid references) to take with you.)

A blackboard outside an open barn reads 'if you need water just ask'

23. Resupply

You’re unlikely to need more than 3 days’ worth of meals on a long-distance national trail (plus plenty of snacks), but you need to make sure you have enough calories and fluids.

Try and find places for resupply when you’re planning your hike rather than when you’re on the trail.

Old buildings, including a bakery, on a street in the Cotswolds

Use a map to find towns and villages along the route, then do a Google search for convenience stores and supermarkets, even petrol stations.

The type of food you want might dictate where you can resupply too. If you want backpacker meals for eg, you’ll have to find an outdoor store (not always easy) and bear in mind that some places are closed on Sundays (even during the week sometimes), or have limited opening hours. If you know which trail you want to hike check the guide in the menu above for details of where I stocked up, plus any cafes and pubs that I visited – and what I thought of them!

24. Plan Your Hike For The Rough As Well As The Smooth

Looking down at my badly sunburnt legs - lobster red!

No hike is ever plain sailing and I guarantee there’ll be periods of pain and boredom, bad weather (and good weather when you’ve forgotten your suncream) and bad decisions… Not all bad decisions are life-threatening, some just make life on the trail uncomfortable – have you ever left something at home you wish you had (suncream!) or hiked on when you’re over-tired and had to pitch your tent in heavy rain in the dark? When you plan your backpacking trip give some thought to the little things that can make a big difference to your comfort and enjoyment.

For example:

  • Boredom  – try music, podcasts, a trail journal, etc.
  • Weather – don’t forget suncream or midge repellent! How about a couple of hand warmers for unexpectedly cold mornings?
  • Niggles – elasticated supports for your knees and ankles, or painkillers like paracetamol and ibuprofen…
  • Treats – your favourite snacks, a little luxury (see above)…

What would you add?

Page Contents

Section 5

  1. Don’t Forget To Celebrate
  2. The Adventure Blues
  3. Final Thoughts – Plan Your Hike And Do It Your Way

25. Don’t Forget To Celebrate

You may have walked a hundred miles, even a thousand, but when you get to the end of a hike, be warned: it can be deflating. The finish line is an incredible motivator and your excitement builds and builds, and finally, you make it! The elation and sense of achievement are amazing…but then what?

Celebrate!

This can be completely overlooked when you’re planning a hike, but it’s well worth thinking about.

Chip, panini and a cup of coffee

Here are a couple of simple ideas:

  • Arrange for friends or family to cheer you over the finish line
  • Stay somewhere luxurious before your journey home
  • A slap-up meal or ‘pub grub’ at the end of the trail
  • Champagne! (lots of people do!)
  • A celebration when you get home

26. The Adventure Blues

It’s surprisingly easy to fall into a low mood in the days and weeks after an exciting backpacking trip, often because there’s nothing to look forward to. You can try and mitigate this with a plan for what comes next. It doesn’t have to be grand – maybe a few long-distance walks or a weekend of wild camping will keep you motivated? Or maybe plan your next big adventure?

A shelf of guide books and maps

Where’s your next trip going to be? Why not get a few resources together before you leave for the current trip so that you can dive straight in when you get back? Go back to tip 1 for ideas – use a pin board for inspiration that includes your bucket list (this is mine), photos of where you’d like to go, maps, lists of podcasts, YouTube videos, etc…Whatever you do, plan something that looks ahead or keeps you moving. I often find it’s the standing still that gets me down.

27. Final Thoughts

Plan Your Hike And Do It Your Way

Any seasoned hiker will tell you that doing it your way is really important for an enjoyable, successful hike. A long-distance walk isn’t a race (unless you want it to be), so when you plan your hike remember to

  • Walk at your own pace
  • Stop where and when you want to, whether it’s to rest or enjoy the views or the natural world
  • Decide whether you want to talk to other hikers along the trail
  • It’s your decision when to start and end your day
  • It’s up to you whether you want to skip boring or more difficult sections
  • And it’s your decision whether you use a baggage transfer service or take on a section hike

However you choose to hike your hike, I wish you the best backpacking trip ever!

***

Thanks for reading Plan A Hike Like A Pro – 27 In-Depth Tips! Don’t forget to bookmark it or save it to your Pinterest board to come back to again – and if you’ve got any questions or tips to share drop them in the comments, I’d love to help.

Finally…

Don’t Forget To Bookmark Me And Pin Me For Later!

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Happy hiking!

Stephie x

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