Have you ever been hiking? Hiking can be one of the most adventurous (and fun) ways to get those miles. Hiking has so many benefits. First of all, it’s terrific physical exercise! Hiking helps improve your stamina, build stronger muscles and bones, improve your sense of balance, and even improve the health of your heart and lungs! Sound good so far? We’re just getting started.
Hiking can boost your mood and improve your overall mental health – really! A recent study by Stanford University shows that it can help decrease anxiety and stress levels and reduce depression. Hiking has even been prescribed by doctors as part of a treatment plan for patients with depression and/or PTSD.
Not only that, but hiking can open up all sorts of new places that you’d never get to see otherwise. It helps to put you in tune with your surroundings, and helps to alleviate boredom from always walking in the same place.
On a personal note, hiking has really helped me to overcome some mild depression and general moodiness. It has, also, helped me to get more physically fit and gain more confidence in myself. That’s why I can’t wait to share my passion with you.
Now that you know why you should go hiking, let’s tackle the “how”. Although the basic “gist” of hiking is just putting one foot in front of the other – again and again and again, there are some things that you should know before hitting the trail. Let’s start with the most important one.
Don’t Forget Your 10 Essentials
The beauty of hiking is that you don’t have to have a lot of equipment. For your safety and comfort, you will want to invest in a small daypack and throw in these 10 essential items that can be purchased very cheaply AND won’t take up much room. According to www.nps.gov, they are as follows:
1. Navigation (map, compass, & GPS)
2. Sun Protection (sunglasses, sunscreen, and hat)
3. Insulation (jacket, hat, gloves, rain shell, and thermal underwear)
4. Illumination (flashlight, lanterns, and headlamp – EXTRA BATTERIES)
5. First Aid Kit (band-aids, aspirin, basic first aid supplies, etc.)
6. Fire (matches, lighter, and fire starters)
7. Repair Kit and Tools (duct tape, knife, screwdriver, and scissors)
8. Nutrition (food)
9. Hydration (water and water treatment supplies)
10. Emergency shelter (tent, space blanket, tarp, or bivy)
Now that you know about what to bring, let’s talk a bit about what not to leave. We’ve all heard the phrase, “Take only pictures, leave only footprints”. The following guidelines outline how to do just that.
“Leave No Trace” Principles
Most of you have heard of Leave No Trace. Just in case some of you aren’t familiar with the seven principles, here is the description from the LNT website:
“The Leave No Trace Seven Principles are the bedrock of the Leave No Trace program. They provide guidance to enjoy our natural world in a sustainable way that avoids human-created impacts. The principles have been adapted so they can be applied in your backyard or your backcountry.”
The LNT Principles are as follows:
1. Plan Ahead and Prepare
2. Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
3. Dispose of Waste Properly
4. Leave What You Find
5. Minimize Campfire Impacts
6. Respect Wildlife
7. Be Considerate of Other Visitors
Please visit the Leave No Trace website for more explanation of these principles and share them with other outdoor explorers.
Now that we have those covered, let’s move on to some added tips that will hopefully enhance your hiking experience:
Dress in Layers and Wear the Right Shoes
We all know that outdoor temperatures can fluctuate, but so can our body temperatures as we warm up or cool down on a hike. The best bet is to wear or carry layers that can be taken off or put on accordingly. You will also want to wear non-cotton, moisture wicking clothing. Cotton gets wet quickly and stays that way – holding that moisture next to your skin. That’s a recipe for hypothermia.
As for hiking shoes, everyone has their opinion as to which ones are best. The problem is that everyone’s feet are different. It may take several trials and errors to determine which ones are best for you. In the end, you will want to make sure they are sturdy, have good tread, and are comfortable. Many people have switched to trail runners from traditional hiking boots, but it’s really a personal choice. I highly recommend trying several different pair and talking with the knowledgeable staff in an outdoor store, such as REI. Be sure to pair them with wool socks to reduce the chance of blisters.
Daypack! So many people carry water, keys, phone, wallet, etc in their pant’s pocket on a hike. Unfortunately, this can lead to leaving things behind because you ran out of room. Carrying a small daypack allows you to bring all the things to make your hike safe and comfortable. For example, you have room to store extra layers (or a place to put layers when you take them off), ten essentials, snacks, sunblock, etc.
Trekking poles! Trekking poles can really help with balance and confidence on uneven terrain. They also help take pressure off of your knees and assist in going up and down hills! You can buy really good inexpensive poles at any sporting goods store or even online. I would suggest cork handles, for sweaty hands.
A loud Whistle! Clip one on your pack strap so that it’s easily accessible. Whistles can help ward off animals (the 2 and 4 legged kinds) and alert rescuers to your presence in an emergency.
Safety First! Please let someone know your planned route and where you are leaving your vehicle. This is so important! Personally, I always text my husband when I hit the trail and when I arrive back at my car. I also give him a rough estimate of how long the trail should take. That way he knows when to expect me to contact him again. Don’t be afraid, just be proactive.
Okay, now let’s cover the “where” part of the equation.
If you are new to hiking, just start with a short hike, close to home. Once you feel more confident, you can choose longer hikes to fit your skill level and schedule.
You can always join a buddy that has more hiking experience, but don’t be afraid to speak up and let them know that you are a beginner. They once were too! Everyone has to start somewhere.
Check out local hiking groups. This is a terrific way to learn about all of the local trails in your area. You can schedule a few with the group and come back on your own, once you feel more confident. They are chocked full of great information.
Check Out your Local State & National Parks
One of the biggest problems you may face is choosing where to go on your hike. Most of us have parks very close to our homes, if we know where to look. The best place to start is with the internet. Go online to your state park or national park websites for maps and information. You can also visit their social media pages for events, educational programs, and guided hikes. You don’t have to travel thousands of miles and go on some epic trip to hike. Some of you may even have a local park within a short driving distance. Once you start doing your research, you may be surprised at the trails offered in your local area.
If you’ve never tried hiking, I hope that this has given you the confidence to give it a try! If you are already a hiker, I hope this has inspired you to get back out there!