Hiking Essentials for High School and College Students

By Eric Eng

By Eric Eng

Group of four hikers with backpacks walks in mountains at sunset

Hiking Essentials for High School and College Students

Hiking is a refreshing and rewarding outdoor activity that provides numerous mental and physical benefits, particularly for high school and college students who often face the challenges of academic pressure. Regular hikes can help alleviate stress, improve mood, and enhance cognitive abilities while promoting physical fitness through cardiovascular exercise, strength building, and increased flexibility. For that reason, one should think about the proper hiking essentials.

As young adults, high school and college students can use hiking to foster social connections, develop teamwork and leadership skills, and cultivate an appreciation for nature. However, these students must be equipped with the appropriate knowledge, preparation, and resources to ensure safe and enjoyable hiking experiences.

Preparing for a hike

Research the trail

Before embarking on a hike, it’s vital to thoroughly research the trail to ensure a safe and enjoyable experience. In preparing for a hike, start by evaluating the difficulty levels of various trails, considering factors such as elevation gain, trail length, and terrain to select a route that aligns with your fitness level and hiking experience.

Additionally, monitoring weather conditions is essential, as they can significantly impact trail safety and the gear you’ll need to carry. Keep an eye on forecasts and prepare for possible changes in weather, such as rain or sudden temperature drops.

Lastly, familiarize yourself with trail regulations and obtain necessary permits, as certain trails may restrict group size, camping, and campfire usage. By conducting thorough research, you’ll be well-equipped to handle the challenges of the trial and minimize potential risks.

Develop a trip plan

Developing a well-thought-out trip plan is essential for a successful hiking experience. Begin by estimating the duration of your hike, considering factors such as trail length, elevation gain, and your average hiking speed. Account for time spent on breaks, meals, sightseeing, and any potential delays due to weather or trail conditions.

Students hiking on a mountain.

Hiking with a group adds an enjoyable social aspect to the experience and increases safety in emergencies. Ensure that group members are compatible regarding fitness levels, hiking experience, and interests to avoid conflicts during the hike.

Finally, share your detailed itinerary, including trailhead location, planned route, and estimated return time, with a trusted friend or family member not in the hiking group. This way, someone is aware of your plans and can alert authorities if you fail to return as scheduled, providing an additional layer of safety.

Physical preparation

Proper physical preparation is crucial for an enjoyable and safe hiking experience, especially for high school and college students who may be new to the activity. Begin by engaging in regular training and conditioning exercises, such as cardiovascular workouts, strength training, and balance exercises, to build endurance and prevent injuries.

If you plan to hike in high-altitude areas, allow time for acclimatization to minimize the risk of altitude sickness. Gradually increase your elevation and spend a few days at a higher altitude before attempting more challenging hikes.

On the day of the hike, perform stretching and warm-up exercises to loosen muscles, increase flexibility, and prepare your body for the physical demands of the trail. By taking the time to properly condition your body and acclimate to new environments, you’ll be better equipped to handle the rigors of hiking and reduce the likelihood of injuries or health issues.

Essential hiking gear


Choosing the right clothing is one of the more important hiking essentials for a comfortable and safe hiking experience. Opt for a layering system, which typically includes a moisture-wicking base layer, an insulating middle layer, and a weather-resistant outer layer. This approach allows for easy clothing adjustments to regulate body temperature and accommodate changing weather conditions.

Select weather-appropriate clothing, such as waterproof jackets for rain, breathable materials for hot weather, and insulated garments for cold conditions. Don’t forget to consider the possibility of sudden weather changes and pack extra layers accordingly.

Lastly, invest in quality footwear that provides adequate support, grip, and protection for your specific trail conditions. Proper hiking shoes, boots, and moisture-wicking socks can help prevent blisters and injuries, ensuring a more enjoyable and safe hiking experience.

Navigation tools

Reliable navigation tools are indispensable for a successful hiking experience, as they help you stay on track and avoid getting lost. Begin by obtaining up-to-date maps and guidebooks for your chosen trail, which can provide valuable information on trail features, distances, and elevation profiles. Familiarize yourself with the map and route ahead of time to gain a better understanding of the terrain and any potential hazards.

In addition to maps, carry a compass or GPS device for accurate navigation, and learn how to use them effectively. While GPS devices are convenient, a compass is a fail-safe option without batteries or signal coverage.

Additionally, consider utilizing mobile applications designed for hiking, which can offer helpful features such as offline maps, trail descriptions, and real-time tracking. Remember that technology can fail, so always carry a physical map and compass as backup tools to ensure you’re well-equipped for any situation on the trail.

Food and hydration

Maintaining proper nutrition and hydration is one of the more serious hiking essentials for sustaining energy levels. Pack calorie-dense, non-perishable snacks, and meals that are easy to consume on the go, such as trail mix, energy bars, and dehydrated meals.

Group of hikers on a mountain. Woman helping her friend to climb a rock.

Balance your food choices to include carbohydrates for quick energy, protein for sustained endurance, and healthy fats for long-lasting fuel. Carry enough water to keep hydrated throughout the hike, using water bottles or hydration systems designed for easy access while on the move. The amount of water needed may depend on temperature, exertion level, and individual needs. Still, a general guideline is to drink about half a liter per hour of moderate activity.

If your hike requires refilling water from natural sources, bring water purification methods like filters, purification tablets, or ultraviolet purifiers to ensure the water is safe to drink. Staying properly nourished and hydrated will help optimize your performance and overall enjoyment on the trail.

Safety and first aid

Prioritizing safety and being prepared for emergencies is essential when venturing outdoors. Carry a basic first aid kit containing hiking essentials such as adhesive bandages, gauze, antiseptic wipes, pain relievers, and any personal medications. Familiarize yourself with basic first aid procedures, including how to treat blisters, sprains, and other common hiking injuries.

A multi-tool or knife can be a valuable addition to your essential hiking gear, serving various purposes, from cutting rope or fabric to preparing food or assisting in emergencies. An emergency whistle and signal mirror can help you attract attention and communicate with rescuers if lost.

These lightweight tools can be life-saving when phone reception is unavailable or unreliable. By preparing for potential emergencies and carrying essential safety gear, you can help ensure a secure and enjoyable hiking experience.

Additional essentials

Several additional essentials can contribute to a safe and comfortable hiking experience. First, invest in a durable and well-fitting backpack with sufficient capacity to carry all your gear comfortably. Opt for a backpack with adjustable straps, a hip belt, and a padded back panel to distribute weight evenly and reduce strain on your shoulders and back.

Next, protect yourself from harmful UV rays by using sun protection measures, such as applying a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher, wearing sunglasses with UV protection, and covering up with a wide-brimmed hat or lightweight clothing.

Finally, pack insect repellent to ward off mosquitoes, ticks, and other pests that can cause discomfort or transmit diseases. Choose a repellent with an effective active ingredient like DEET or picaridin, and reapply as directed to maintain its effectiveness throughout the hike. By carrying these additional essentials, you’ll be well-prepared to tackle various challenges and enjoy your time on the trail.

Hiking Etiquette

Respect for fellow hikers

Being respectful towards fellow hikers is unspoken but one of the most important hiking essentials. This aspect of hiking etiquette contributes to a positive and enjoyable experience for everyone on the trail. Observe trail right-of-way rules by yielding to hikers moving uphill, as they often require more effort and focus on maintaining their pace.

 Young people hiking in countryside.

If you encounter horses or other pack animals, step off the trail to the downhill side and allow them to pass. Additionally, be mindful of noise control while hiking. Keep your voice volume low and avoid playing loud music, as excessive noise can disturb both nature’s tranquility and other hikers’ enjoyment. By respecting fellow trail users, you help create a harmonious and pleasant hiking environment that everyone can appreciate.

Protecting the environment

As responsible hikers, it is crucial to protect the environment and preserve the natural beauty of the trails for future generations. To minimize waste, practice the “pack it in, pack it out” principle by carrying all trash, including food wrappers and biodegradable items, back home with you for proper disposal. Consider using reusable containers for food and drinks to further reduce waste.

In addition, always stay on designated trails to prevent damage to fragile ecosystems and avoid contributing to soil erosion. Cutting switchbacks or creating new paths can harm plant life and disrupt wildlife habitats. Minimizing your environmental impact will help ensure that the trails remain pristine and enjoyable for everyone.

Wildlife interactions

When encountering wildlife during a hike, it is important to treat animals with respect and maintain a safe distance to ensure both your safety and the well-being of the animals. Observe wildlife from a distance using binoculars or a camera with a zoom lens if you wish to get a closer view.

Avoid approaching, feeding, or disturbing animals, as this can cause stress, alter their natural behavior, and potentially result in dangerous encounters. To minimize the risk of unwanted wildlife interactions, store your food properly by using bear-resistant containers or hanging it at least 10 feet off the ground and 4 feet away from tree trunks in areas where bears or other wildlife may be present.

Proper food storage protects you and your belongings and prevents animals from becoming reliant on human food sources, which can have negative consequences for their health and behavior. By following these guidelines, as one of the hiking essentials, you’ll promote the safety and well-being of yourself and the wildlife you encounter on your hikes.

Post-hike recovery and care

Cleaning and storing gear

Proper cleaning and storage of your hiking gear after each trip are essential for prolonging the life of your equipment and ensuring its effectiveness for future adventures. Begin by thoroughly cleaning any dirt, mud, or debris from your footwear, backpack, and other gear, following manufacturer instructions for specific cleaning methods.

Air-dry your items completely before storage to prevent mold or mildew growth. Organize and store your gear in a cool, dry place, avoiding exposure to direct sunlight or extreme temperatures, which can cause damage to certain materials.

Regularly inspect your equipment for wear or damage and make any necessary repairs or replacements. By taking the time to properly clean and store your hiking gear, you’ll maintain the quality and functionality of your equipment, ensuring it remains reliable and ready for your next adventure.

Stretching and rest

It is one of the definite hiking essentials you should know when to rest. After completing a hike, you must allow your body time to recover and prevent potential injuries or muscle stiffness.

Engage in post-hike stretching, focusing on the muscle groups that were most active during the hike, such as the calves, hamstrings, quadriceps, hip flexors, and lower back muscles. Hold each stretch for 15-30 seconds, ensuring you feel a gentle pull without experiencing pain.

Stretching helps improve flexibility, promotes blood flow to the muscles, and aids in recovery by reducing muscle soreness and fatigue. Additionally, give yourself ample time to rest and recuperate, particularly after more strenuous hikes.

a female high school student choosing from the best degrees posted on the bulletin

This recovery period allows your body to repair muscle tissue, replenish energy stores, and rehydrate. Incorporating post-hike stretching and rest into your hiking routine will help ensure a faster hike recovery and reduce the risk of injuries, allowing you to continue enjoying the trails with greater ease and comfort.

Evaluating the hike and learning from the experience

Reflecting on your hiking experience is a valuable exercise that allows you to grow as a hiker and improve for future adventures. Take some time after each hike to evaluate the overall experience, considering factors such as the trail’s difficulty, your physical and mental preparedness, the effectiveness of your gear, and any challenges or obstacles you faced.

Identify areas you need to improve, such as physical conditioning, navigation skills, or trail etiquette. Also, acknowledge your achievements and progress, noting any personal milestones or skills you’ve developed.

Share your experiences with fellow hikers, exchanging insights, tips, and lessons learned to collectively enhance your knowledge and skills. By evaluating your hikes and learning from each experience, you’ll continually grow as a hiker, better prepared, and more confident for your next adventure on the trails.

Now that you have an idea of the right hiking essentials, you should pay attention to college admissions next. To ensure that you get into the college you want, you can get help with AdmissionSight. With ten years of experience with college admission experts, AdmissionSight can help you get into the college of your choice. You can talk to our experts today to get an initial consultation.


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