It's important that a hiker knows what to do in all types situations and environments. Because, let's face it, Murphy has one hell of a curveball. Being able to know how to use your equipment effectively and efficiently is key. To become a better hiker, you just need to apply yourself to it.
Here are some key notes I have that I feel have made me a better hiker.
- Hike as often as you can. You’ll build strength and endurance, learn basic footwork and how to stay hydrated. Everything from simple day hikes to multi-day trips applies here. I've been hiking for several years now and I learn something new every time. I've said this before, there are no experts when it comes to backpacking, just people with more experience.
- Understand how to read a topographic map. You can often figure out where you are by matching the features on a map to what you see in front of you. It's also good to know how to read it for route planning. You don't want to plan a day that's "only" 7 miles but has over 6000' of climbing - you don't keep hiking buddies that way.
- Go on hikes with experienced hikers. You’ll pick up a lot of skills by simply watching other hikers. You’ll see what kind of gear they use, how they pace themselves, how they navigate, how leaders manage different types of groups, and so on. There’s a lot to learn.
- Buy a water filter and start using it on day hikes. Learning how to do this one thing made it possible for me to hike longer and farther than ever before (and save water weight).
- Hike in the rain. Seriously. This is a great way to learn about how to stay warm when you get wet, about how to accept what the trail throws at you, how to take care of chronically wet feet and about how to maintain a sense of humor when you are physically miserable.
- Increase your number of overnighters. Again, hike with experienced hikers.
- Then, go on a long backpacking trip lasting at least a week. You’ll learn about the importance of going light, being able to change your plans on the fly, and having good skills for dealing with unexpected situations or mishaps.
- Start (if you haven't already) going rock climbing. Doing this totally transformed my outdoor scrambling skills.
This just begins to name the first several of a long list. The take home message is hike more and hike often.