Woman in hiking gear, with trekking poles and a hiking pack

A hike in the mountains is not a walk in the park. To safely traverse and fully appreciate a hilly outdoor excursion, hiking enthusiasts should adequately prepare and plan. Following guidelines from Maggie Peikon, American Hiking Society social media coordinator, I took a summer weekend to experience and hike the beautiful landscape of Grand County, Colorado. Approximately 65 miles from the Denver Airport, Grand County is nestled in the north-central Rocky Mountains and contains six beautiful mountain towns. This 1,868-square-mile area is composed of mountains, river valleys, and meadows—a varied topography that offers something for every hiking genre. For any safe, fun, and successful hike, proper precautions, considerations, and gear must be organized. Follow this guide before your next big hiking adventure!

 

Pre-Hike Prep and Considerations

Grand County, Colorado mountain view featured in Family Travel with Colleen Kelly article Navigate Through Nature With Great Gear and Trail Tips

A several-hour day hike is best enjoyed when certain aspects are regarded beforehand. Hikers should assess the weather forecast, season of the year, and the current conditions of the trail terrain. These factors play an important part in how to dress and what gear to pack for the trip.

Before venturing out, make sure to download or print out maps of your route, in case you are out of cell service range on the trail. A fantastic resource for researching hiking trails is the AllTrails website, where you can search for trails by location; find national park guides; locate wheelchair accessible, stroller-friendly, and dog-friendly paths; and identify difficulty level, elevation, attractions, trail traffic, and overall ratings.

 

Clever Clothing

Woman in front of Rocky Mountain National Park sign
Hiking shoes, Arctix rain jacket, and rain gear for hiking in Grand County, Colorado, featured in Family Travel with Colleen Kelly

A smart hiker will be prepared with proper clothing layers to remain comfortable throughout the journey. Specifically for Rocky Mountain hikes, Peikon advises, “In Colorado, the weather can change on a dime in any season. Summer snow isn’t out of the question and thunderstorms can roll in quickly in the mountains, so packing waterproof and/or windproof layers will help ensure that you stay safe and comfortable in any conditions you may encounter.”

For a well-designed and high-quality rain jacket at an affordable price-point, a smart option is the Arctix Women’s River Rain Jacket or Arctix Men’s Storm Rain Jacket (also sold on Amazon.com). Water-repellant but comfortable and breathable, these jackets are lightweight and compact—ideal for fluctuating weather and temperatures.

Peikon once participated in a mid-August 11-mile day hike through Maroon Bells—two peaks in the Elk Mountains of Colorado. The forecast predicated precipitation, but she grossly underestimated how wet and cold it would become as she climbed the pass into higher elevation. The weather suddenly turned into pouring rain and even snow. Peikon said, “Thankfully, I did have a rain jacket, but my bottom half was completely soaked through, which made for a cold, wet slog back to the car. Rain pants have now become an essential layer to add to my pack. It certainly taught me to never underestimate Colorado’s ability to pack multiple seasons into one day!” 

 

Smart Shoes

La Sportiva hiking shoes for family travel
Merrell hiking shoes

Hiking footwear should be supportive, lightweight, breathable, and water-resistant, with good traction to grip slippery or loose ground. Varying terrain makes cushion and comfort an important consideration when choosing hiking shoes, as the sole and insole should both be cushioned enough to protect against sharp rocks and prevent injury or blisters. If selecting hiking boots, choose a pair with good ankle support. I had the opportunity to test two highly rated pairs of hiking shoes, courtesy of outdoor companies Merrell and La Sportiva, and this selection of great footwear allowed me to focus on my beautiful surroundings instead of worrying about blister hot-spots or pinched feet.

The La Sportiva Ultra Raptor II Wide GTX  women’s shoe is ideal for hikers or runners who intend to go a bit off-road and potentially encounter rocky or loose soil. Easy-to-tighten lacing made them a comfortable but snug fit, and this pair had good grip and traction on the sloped and slightly sandy hills I was exploring. My high arch was well-supported, with a cushy insole and forgiving heel cup. The wide width and a half size up from my normal athletic shoe size worked best for me in this style, and I love the bold color scheme. GORE-TEX protection made them waterproof but breathable, and my feet stayed dry even when a sudden Colorado rainstorm caught me by surprise. This shoe has both men’s and women’s versions, and also comes in boot form with a higher ankle or a mid-rise leather variety. La Sportiva has designed quality athletic footwear, clothes, and accessories for 93 years and passed down experience, innovation, and manufacturing knowledge through 8 family generations. Visit the factory retail shop in Boulder, Colo., or check out La Sportiva online for more product information and apparel.

I needed an upgrade from my favorite and most comfortable old hiking shoes by Merrell, and got to try the Moab Speed GORE-TEX women’s model, which is designed for moderate hiking. This lightweight shoe is only 9.66 oz per shoe, despite the cushy interior and tough rubber outsole that gave me maximum gripping power on my hikes. Easy to pack and not heavy on my feet, these hiking shoes also needed no break-in period, so I was able to put them on and just go! I have tried other brands’ models that instantly rub against the back of my heel and form a blister, but the Moab Speed pair cradled and supported my feet without any stiff or irritating areas. These shoes have great support, are roomy enough in the toe box, and come in a wide variety of color schemes (I chose “Mineral,” which is a fun teal and sea green combination with orange and black laces). To check out more quality outdoor gear by this tried-and-true brand, please visit Merrell online.

In snowy and icy seasons, you might consider strapping microspikes to your hiking shoes or boots (like using car tire chains for traction in the winter), to maximize grip over relatively even packed snow or ice. These can be heavy on your feet, though, and might tire you out more easily, so it is recommended to only use them in extreme conditions.

 

Pack Preparation

A hiking daypack must fit well and have functionality features to match the outing. For a few hours on the trail, you will want a 20-25L bag with varied organizational compartments and enough room to fit any extra comfort items in addition to the following items compiled by the American Hiking Society:

  • Map and compass or GPS, to calculate distance, direction, and help locate water, campsites, and emergency exit routes in case of accidents or injuries
  • First aid kit. Athletic tape, blister kit (moleskin and small scissors to cut it), minor wound kit (bandages, steri-strips, disposable surgical gloves, antiseptics), elastic compression bandage, antihistamines, pain relief medicine (ibuprofen, acetaminophen), anti-itch/hydrocortisone cream, anti-diarrheal, antacid, tweezers, hand sanitizer, sunscreen. Although it tends to be more expensive than creating your own kit, you can save some time by purchasing a pre-made kit like the Adventure Medical Kits brand Mountain Series Backpacker Medical Kit at REI
  • Safety whistle, flashlight/headlamp, and waterproof fire starter. Sounding three short bursts on a safety whistle or building a controlled fire are effective ways to signal for help if injured or lost. Navigation in the dark requires a light source, so bring a flashlight or headlamp and extra batteries, if required
  • Pocketknife or multi-function tool. Be prepared with the tools necessary to repair malfunctioning gear, remove splinters, prepare food, and cut cloth. The classic Swiss Army Huntsman Knife includes a large blade, small blade, corkscrew, scissors, wood saw, bottle opener with screwdriver tip and wire stripper, reamer with sewing eye, can opener with screwdriver tip, hook, toothpick, and tweezers
  • Rain cover for your daypack, if it doesn’t already come with one. This will ensure all belongings stay dry in wet weather
  • Hat, sunglasses, extra clothing, and rain gear. Avoid wearing cotton, as it draws moisture close to the skin; instead, choose moisture-wicking natural fabrics like Merino wool or synthetic fabrics such as polyester, spandex, bamboo, nylon, rayon, modal, or GORE-TEX, which is a trademarked waterproof and breathable fabric. Dress in layers, so you can easily adjust to varied temperatures and activities
Beautiful Colorado sunset in Grand County featured in Family Travel with Colleen Kelly
Woman with a Juno 24 Gregory Mountain Products hiking pack in Family Travel with Colleen Kelly

A daypack that can accommodate a hydration system (i.e., water bladder and drinking hose) may make for a more comfortable hiking experience, as you can drink on the move versus having to stop and pull out a water bottle. If you can get fitted for a pack (you can go to REI to do this for free!), that would be ideal, to ensure that it suits your body and will feel comfortable while you’re on the move. Your pack should sit comfortably on your back—not too high on your shoulders, and not too low on your hips.

When selecting a daypack, I was looking for a comfortable backpack suitable for half-day hiking trips and one that could hold collapsed trekking poles and had a hip belt for extra stability and pack weight distribution. Gregory Mountain Products suggested the women’s Juno 24 daypack, which turned out to be exactly what I needed. The pack’s straps are suspended from the backside, setting the alloy-framed bag at a distance from my back, allowing air to ventilate and preventing a damp, sweaty shirt. This feature is genius and significantly upped my comfort when the day got hot. The wide hip belt was a secure fit that felt like a hug and even contained pockets, so I could keep essentials like lip balm and my phone within easy reach without having to remove the pack and swing it around to the front. One of the shoulder straps even had a sunglass loop, to easily store glasses when not in use, along with a safety whistle built into the front chest clasp. The sturdy bottom was perfect for setting the pack down wherever, without worrying that it would snag on a sharp rock or branch. The bag’s large looped zipper pulls made me realize how many terrible zippers I have had to endure on other bags in the past—Gregory zippers are easy to grasp, easy to use, and are so appreciated.

Pockets, pockets, pockets! The Juno 24 is sectioned into convenient and well-placed pocketed areas. The front mesh pocket is ideal for stuffing a lightweight rain jacket into, and there are special loops on the side of the bag to secure trekking poles. It has an interior mounting system for a hydration pack, although the side bottle pockets are roomy enough to carry large water bottles. The women’s June 24 H2O model includes a 3-liter soft molded water reservoir and DryLock magnetic bite valve for easy water consumption while on the move. A men’s version of this daypack is the Citro 24, with sizing and hip belt placement more conducive to a male body shape. The Gregory Packs lifetime guarantee ensures hikers will get years of great usage out of this bag. For more daypack options and product details, please visit Gregory Mountain Products online.


Trekking Pole Tips

Young girl hiking with LEKI trekking poles

In challenging terrain, such as hilly and rocky areas, hiking/trekking poles are important to maintain balance and stabilize steps. The least cumbersome trekking poles are foldable, lightweight, and able to be easily packed in a daypack. Poles can be purchased by size, but many are fully adjustable to users’ height. Regarding adjusting these properly, Peikon suggested, “A good rule of thumb for sizing your hiking poles is to bend your elbow to 90 degrees—as you would to hold your poles while hiking. The handle of the pole should reach and sit comfortably in the center of your palm when the pole is on a flat surface.”

Courtesy of LEKI, I was able to test two variations of trekking poles. The Cressida AS model is a women’s ultralight 8-ounce set with three segments that I could lock together and adjust. The sturdy, supportive design reduces the force of impact by up to 40%, which provides comfortable cushion and support for muscles, ligaments, and joints. Portable and fully adjustable from 90-125cm, these poles were easy to set according to my height and the variations in terrain. I loved the grippy carbide tip—a feature that helped greatly as I navigated down slopes of mossy shrubbery. Popular walking accessories often seen used in European cities or by traveling seniors or those with joint concerns are Nordic walking poles, which are meant for concrete-paved river trails, urban environments, or cobblestone paths. These come with rubber tips, which are intended for surfaces like blacktop or concrete, and provide stability and maneuverability. Sven Brunso, LEKI Director of Marketing, said, “Some national parks or tribal lands ask that you use rubber tips on the trail to not damage them, but regular trail hiking should be used as is with the carbide tip, as that gives you grip on dirt, roots, and rocks.”

The Cressida FX Carbon trekking poles I tried are a women’s model constructed from lightweight carbon, making them incredibly sturdy without being bulky. The cork ergonomic handles felt breathable and very comfortable—no sweaty palms or slippage, and no worries about losing grip or bruising pressure points. I could easily fold these into three sections, allowing them to become less than 16 inches in length, and tuck them into my daypack or strap them to the pack’s pole loops. Adjustable from 100-120cm, these have a slimmer pole profile than the other pair, although both share the same Aergon Air Compact grip on the handles. The storage bag that came with this model was a handy surprise and ensured dust and mud from the poles did not dirty my other gear. I felt so confident and safe using the LEKI poles, especially with my unpredictable knees, and I don’t think I’ll ever hike without poles again!  

Sips and Snacks

Regardless of the season or type of hike, all trail-trekkers should ensure they have adequate water and food supply to stay hydrated and well-fueled. Muscles and organs perform best when well-nourished and hydrated, and a low water supply results not only in thirst but can also make you more susceptible to altitude sickness or hypothermia. A general guideline for water supply is to carry 1 liter for every 2 hours of hiking, keeping in mind that overestimating and bring more water than you think you might need is always a good idea, especially in the warmer, summer months. Pack and plan for a way to purify water if you anticipate running out of clean resources during your hike. Extra snacks, especially those containing protein to boost energy, are recommended in case you sustain an injury, lose your way, or encounter other scenarios that cause you to stay out longer than expected.

Hiking Rules

Woman standing in front of YMCA of the Rockies in Grand County Colorado
Two women's Morrell hiking shoes featured in Family Travel with Colleen Kelly

National parks, forest preserves, and hiking areas all have rules the public is expected to follow when using the trails. Please research the area you will be exploring, to familiarize yourself with the expectations and courtesies you need to adhere to. For example, people are often asked to hike, camp, bike, and rock climb only in designated areas. National parks ask that visitors leave the trails better than they found them, by picking up any litter they see and leaving no trace of their own visit. There are also rules that you cannot fly drones, feed or approach wildlife, or remove anything native to the parks. If you want to hike with your pet or smoke tobacco, you must first research whether the park is pet-friendly and find where the designated smoking areas are. Specifically in Rocky Mountain National Park, you cannot hunt in the park, and campfires are forbidden outside of designated areas, due to the heightened risk of wildfires.

Get Out There

Whether you hike to stay in shape, feed your spiritual health, maintain mental well-being, or simply to explore the beauty of nature, make sure you are safely prepared so you can fully enjoy your trip. Beginning hikers can start out by hiking close to home or on familiar trails until they are ready to break outside of their comfort zones. Peikon encourages, “Building confidence on the trail starts with simply getting out and exploring, regardless of how ‘hard’ the hike is. And always, always, tell someone where you’re headed!”

 

Photos courtesy Alison Ramsey.

 

Read related articles:

Mountains of Memory-Making in Colorado’s Grand County

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The Ultimate Family Ski Trip: Mammoth Lakes, California

 

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