Plan A Hike Like A Pro – 27 In-Depth Tips!
Planning a multi-day hike? You’ve Just Found The Ultimate Guide!
Whether you’re new to planning a long-distance hike on a national trail or looking for ways to do it better next time, you’ll find everything you need to know right here.
27 in-depth tips are laid out in 5 easy-to-navigate sections and cover everything from choosing a trail and wild camping to budgeting and travel
Plan A Hike Like A Pro: Contents
- How To Choose A Trail – Tips 1 – 6: which trail, how long for, when to go
- Planning The Basics – Tips 7 – 9: Budget, travel, and accommodation (from wild camping to b&bs)
- Plan Your Kit And Get Fit – Tips 10 – 16: Clothing, gear, electronics, luxuries, packing, feet, and fitness
- Prepare For Life Outdoors: Tips 17 – 24: Safety, navigation, Leave No Trace, loo breaks, food, water, and resupply
- Celebrate: Tips 25 – 27: Don’t forget to celebrate, adventure blues, do it your way
Section 1 – How To Choose A Trail
Tips 1 – 6
There are 15 long-distance national trails in England and Wales, and even more in Scotland, plus local trails and ‘do-it-yourself’ trails waiting to be explored
This means you’re guaranteed some of the best landscapes in the UK, wherever you fancy going.
Choose from easy trails 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 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 iconic 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.
1. Which Is The Right Trail For You?
There are lots of sources of inspiration to help you choose a trail from guidebooks to national trail websites – I’ve linked my favourite resources on my UK Hiking Resources page. However,
As well as inspiring landscapes there are other factors you need to plan your hike:
- Distance How much time have you got? Can you head off for a few months or just a few days? (If you have limited time why not hike the trail in sections?)
- Experience and challenge Do you want to stay in your comfort zone or push yourself out of it? Pushing yourself is always more fun (yes it is!), but what does that mean for you? (It could be distance, terrain, hiking solo, etc.)
- Travel How much time you have available might affect how far away from home you can go (your budget might affect this too)
- Restrictions Sometimes there are restrictions outside your control like occasional train strikes or trail closures and diversions (usually small sections, and they’re generally listed on the national trail website). And, of course, Covid has scuppered many a plan in the last few years with restrictions left, right and centre. Do you need a contingency plan?
This guide to planning a hike will help you work these out – keep reading to find out how.
A Couple Of National Trails To Consider
2. How Long Will Your Hike Take?
This is essential to work out when you plan your hike. Luckily there’s a straightforward equation to use. It goes like this:
Pace + downtime + flexibility + travel time = how long you’ll need to be away
It’s a simple equation, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy to work out, especially if you’re inexperienced. The following steps go into more detail.
3. What’s Your Pace?
Pace means how long will the actual walking 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 you’re carrying and how tired you are – even the weather can influence it.
It’s far better to underestimate your walking pace than overestimate it when you plan a hike
Try This If You Haven’t Worked Out Your 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 in similar terrain to the hike itself you’ll have an even better idea of your hiking pace.
Calculating some downtime is the next step in working out how long you’ll need for your hike. Downtime is the time on the trail that you’re not walking. Try and estimate time for navigation, photography, meals, breaks, zero-days (no hiking at all), time in towns, pitching your tent at the end of the day, and so on.
Once you’ve got an idea of your pace and downtime you’ll have a good guide to how many miles you can cover in a day
Don’t forget to take into account the number of daylight hours when you’re planning your hike!
If you’re staying in accommodation remember you’ll have a lot less flexibility. If this is the case you’ll need to make sure you can walk the distances between them in plenty of time.
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 trip.
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 kmph) = 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.
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 7 hours (17.5 miles) plus downtime? You see how this goes?!
How Many Miles A Day?
For this example, I’ll settle on 18-mile days, which would make it a 5.5-day hike. We’re not finished yet though! There are still a couple more things to consider: travel and flexibility. I’ll add 2 extra days for travel and an extra half a day in case there are any places I’d like to explore on the way. This means I’ll need 8 days for the entire trip – finally I’m getting somewhere haha!
The Benefit Of Experience
It goes without saying 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 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
When you plan to go on your adventure depends on things like time off work or caring for children and other practicalities of course. But you also need to consider other things that will affect it, like weather and seasons.
These might include 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!
Section 2 – Planning The Basics
Tips 7 – 9
7. How To Calculate A Budget
There’s no doubt about it, calculating a budget can be a real headache…
If there’s one thing experience has taught me it’s that it always costs more than you think!
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 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.
- 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 breaking 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
I’ve written a separate full guide to travel: How To Plan A Backpacking Trip On A National Trail: Travel, 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 ‘spilt ticketing’
9. Wild Camping Or Places To Stay?
Options usually range from wild camping and campsites to hostels and b&bs – which 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. The links below will help you decide which is best for you.
The Ultimate Guide To Wild Camping In The UK
UK Hiking Resources – including how to find campsites and BnBs
Campsites On The South Downs Way: Tried and Tested!
Section 3 – Plan Your Kit And Get Fit
Tips 10 – 16
10. Gear – The Basics
A good night’s sleep definitely makes a better hike! It’s customary to organise your gear into ‘the big three’: shelter, sleep, and cooking:
- Shelter: tent or bivvy, plus footprint (ie a ground sheet)
- Sleep: sleeping bag, sleeping bag liner, sleeping mat
- Cooking: stove, fuel, pots, mug, spork
Try and keep these as lightweight as your budget allows, or suffer the consequences! This is a tongue-in-cheek look at how I got wrong: Packing List For The South Downs Way – It’s Heavy! – with tips to avoid my mistakes.
All of my trail guides include a gear list which will give you an idea of what you might need
Once you’ve got your essentials sorted you can consider things like clothes, electronics, walking poles, water bladder, food, first aid kit etc.
Test It Before You Leave
Never forget to test your 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
Osprey Renn 65 Review 2021 – review of my women’s fit rucksack (totally love it!)
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 in the summer, 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.
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).
Make sure you include a waterproof jacket and trousers (re-proof them before you go), a warm layer (thermals if you need them) and a hat, gloves and a Buff too. My Trail Guides include lists of the clothes I took on each hike.
Occasionally, at the end of a long hike, I buy a change of clothes (eg a t-shirt and socks) for the journey home (so I don’t have to carry them).
The Beginner Hiker’s Guide To Day Hiking And Walking Gear
13. Little Luxuries
Little luxuries make life worth living – especially on the trail, so why not take something you love? As long as you keep it light and restrict yourself to one or two things you’re hardly likely to notice the extra few grams.
As well as the trekking umbrella I take a couple of other luxuries. One’s a luxury because of the weight, but I couldn’t go without a sketchbook and a few pencils. My other luxury is a travel tube of lavender foot cream. I pack a small flannel (about 10cm square cut from an old microfibre towel) to wash my filthy feet then follow it with a ‘foot cream massage’. It’s a blissful way to end the day!
Packing your rucksack is an art in itself
Make sure you pack everything inside your rucksack sack (This means getting one the right volume)
This is for several reasons, including:
- Avoiding damage to stuff hanging on the outside when you put your rucksack down
- To stop losing things on the outside without noticing (I once lost an expensive waterproof coat this way – and spent the rest of the hike crying! You live and learn.)
Keep the heavier stuff towards the bottom of your rucksack for comfort and balance (the weight should be on your hips not your shoulders) with the stuff you need quick access to in the brain or side pockets. (This includes walking poles, first aid, phone, snacks, etc.)
A waist belt is a really good idea for things you need to keep safe and want quick access to, like your wallet and phone
Keep Dry and Organised
Dry bags are great for both, 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 on a road!
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.
15. Look After Your Feet
Be warned that if you don’t look after your feet you’re in for a really rough ride!
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 and clean socks as a bare minimum!
23 Ways To Care For Your Feet On A Hike Or Long Distance Walk
16. Train And Get Fit
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
Try some long-distance back-to-back walks with a rucksack and gradually build up the weight. And if you can walk on similar terrain so much the better.
If you’re planning a long hike weight training and trail running are great ways to build fitness too.
Section 4 – Life Outdoors
Tips 17 – 24
17. Stay Safe
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 a phone app or buy a tide table booklet)
- Terrain – cliffs, bogs, ascents, mountains, bodies of water (do you have to cross any?)
- Wildlife (like snakes if you’re planning to hike with your dog, for example) and livestock (cows!)
- 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
- A storm shelter for groups hiking in remote areas
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, Leave No Trace is really important. Find out what it is and 12 tips to put the principles of Leave No Trace into practice in this article.
20. A Loo Break In The Wild
Following on from Leave No Trace, going to the loo outdoors worries lots of people, but if you do it properly it’s not an issue. Read these tips before you leave.
Always make sure you carry a lightweight trowel to bury your waste. (Don’t bury toilet paper, wet wipes, or sanitary products. You need to carry these out -dog poo bags are really handy for this). Best of all though, try and use public toilets along the way.
21. Hiking Food: Calories – You’ll Need More Than You Think
Seriously, you can never get enough calories!
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.
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 sometimes plan to stop and have breakfast after a few miles of walking (depending on time). You can add extra calories 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 (decanted from glass to plastic containers), 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 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.
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.)
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.
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).
Bear in mind that some places are closed on Sundays (even during the week sometimes) or have limited opening hours.
24. Plan Your Hike For The Rough As Well As The Smooth
I guarantee it won’t all be plain sailing!
Little things 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
- Niggles – elasticated supports for your knees and ankles, or painkillers like paracetamol and ibuprofen…
Section 5 – Don’t Forget To Celebrate!
Tips 25 – 27
25. You’ve Done It!
You may have walked a hundred miles or more but when you get to the end of a hike, be warned: it can be really 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.
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
- Champagne! (lots of people do!)
- A celebration when you get home
26. The Adventure Blues
This is real, even after a short trip!
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?
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? Use a pin board for inspiration – include 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. Plan Your Hike And Do It Your Way
Any 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
- 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 difficult sections
- And remember it’s your decision whether you use a baggage transfer service or take on a section hike
All of these decisions are for you to make – it’s nobody’s business but yours!
Enjoy your hike!
Thanks for reading Plan A Hike Like A Pro – 27 In-Depth Tips! Let me know if helped you out in the comments below or if there’s anything else you’d like to know – I’d love to help.
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