Hiking is a great way to exercise and get outside, whether you are in a group or going solo. Not only are there numerous physical benefits, recent studies have also shown that hiking can help you focus better, boost your creativity, improve your memory and even increase your self-esteem.

However, a fun day on the trail can go south if you’re not well prepared. While more difficult treks require a bit more training— check out the 90 Day Half Dome Hiking Guide here are five tips on how to stay safe and get the most out of your hike.  

1. Plan Ahead
Before hitting the trail, remember to do some research. Make sure you are aware of the forecast, potential hazardous conditions, and the area’s wildlife. The Internet is a great resource for finding details about a trail such as altitude, distance, and difficulty level. You can even find pictures and reviews posted by fellow hikers on sites like AllTrails. In addition, always remember to start your hike early enough so you don’t get caught unawares when it starts turning dark.

2. Know Your Abilities
Despite what Marvin Gaye may say, there are mountains that can be too high (cue to Coach Chris singing). While it’s okay to step outside your comfort zone, it is important not to push your limits too far. Hiking can be strenuous, especially at high altitudes, and pacing yourself is essential. You may need to take special precautions if you have certain health conditions, like asthma or high blood pressure.

3. Pack Light, but Well
The Boy Scout motto says it all: be prepared. However, carrying an overstuffed pack can be exhausting and greatly reduce the quality of your hike. Don’t leave the house without these essentials:

Water: Bring plenty of water to avoid dehydration.

Food: Keep your energy up with small snacks like trail mix and granola bars.

Small first-aid kit: Keep it stocked with bandages, alcohol wipes, painkillers, and any essential medications.

A map and a compass: Know where you are and where you’re going.

Proper clothing and shoes: Dress in comfortable, layered clothing and sturdy shoes that are appropriate for the terrain and weather.

A whistle: Signal for help if necessary with three short blasts.

A flashlight and extra batteries: Don’t get caught in the dark.

4. Take Breaks
Make sure you are stopping to rest for at least 10 minutes every hour. Hiking requires tons of energy and it is necessary to take a few moments to recharge. Take time to sit down, put your feet up and enjoy your surroundings.

5. Be Smart
Last, but not certainly not least. There are plenty of horror stories out there about even simple day hikes going wrong; however, taking some necessary precautions can help ensure your health and safety.

-Try to hike with a group.

-Protect your skin with insect repellent and continual reapplication of sunscreen.

-Don’t stray from the trail and make sure people know where you are and the details of your hike.

-Make sure you have thoroughly researched the unique challenges of the trail and are equipped to deal with them.

Whether your next hike is a fun, monthly outing with COR Boot Camp or a backpacking trip through the Grand Canyon, following these tips can help you maximize your enjoyment while minimizing potential hazards.