Spring is here and it is a great time to get outside to explore. There are thousands of trails in the United States, most likely, a local, state or national park near your home town.
If you are new to hiking or are embarking on a trek for the first time in many months, take it easy! Preplan your adventure so that your excursion is successful.
Get into hiking shape
Hiking is walking on uneven terrain in nature, generally for an extended amount of time, such as hours or days. Get into hiking shape by walking on sidewalks, tracks, treadmills and a rail trail, extending the length of time each week to build up endurance. Progress to local trails and condition your body to walk on rocky paths, through muddy valleys and over fallen trees. Eventually add a light backpack (10 pounds) to practice hiking with additional weight.
Add balance exercises into your routine such as standing yoga poses or squats/lunges on a BOSU ball or other unstable surface. Practicing balance will improve your stability while walking on uneven terrain.
Determine the time commitment for the hike
How long it takes to hike a trail is dependent upon the fitness level of the hiker, the terrain, the elevation and weather. For new hikers, it is best to choose a time limit and then hike during the time frame for the first few treks. If you want to hike for 1 hour, hike 30 minutes one direction and then turn around and return to your starting point. By using a fitness watch or phone app, you can track your distance and your pace. Use that information to plan future hikes. My average pace is 3 mph. If I want to hike 7 miles from point A to point B, I can estimate that the hike will take me about 2 hours and 20 minutes. Most likely I will stop for a drink, to take off a layer of clothes or snap a photo of a waterfall. Those pauses also take up time, so when planning your hike, be sure to add in the non-walking time.
Layer clothing, and include one items that has pockets. Pockets are great for cell phones, tissues, gloves, sunglasses. The weather can change quickly while on a hike because of elevation changes, the protection of the woods, or the time of the day.
Wear sturdy footwear. Sneakers are appropriate for beginning hikers or those completing short hikes. If you intend to hike over the bulk of a day (8-12 hours) or on very rocky or wet terrain, it is a good idea to wear a sturdier shoe that has strong soles to protect your feet and ankles. Many brands of hiking shoes are water resistant, not water proof, therefore keep this in mind as you walk through streams.
Food is nourishment
Eating appropriate foods will provide you with energy to complete a hike. Before beginning the hike, eat a meal that includes healthy carbs (fruit, vegetables, oatmeal), protein (quinoa, protein shake) and good fats (olive oil, avocado). Choose snacks that provide your body with quick energy and good nutrients. For a day hike of 3-8 hours, I usually pack an apple, a couple of clementines, a small baggie of raisins and almonds, a couple of granola bars. Avoid eating sugary snacks like candy bars since they do not provide any nutritional value, spike your blood sugar and then leave your body wanting more sugar.
Water is a necessity
More than half of the body is water and therefore we need to stay hydrated for systems to work correctly. The American College of Sports recommends consuming 16-20 oz of water up to 4 hours prior to exercise. During the hike, drink 4-8 oz every 15 minutes (per the ACSM). This level will vary based upon the intensity of the workout, the heat of the day and the length of the hike. You can carry water in a waist pack bottle holder, a back pack or in a camelback pack. For shorter time spans, you can even carry the bottle in your hand.
Wear bug spray and sunscreen
There are bugs in the woods, therefore wear bug spray. Gnats, black flies and mosquitos are irritating and their bites can make you uncomfortable during a hike. Unfortunately, there are also deer ticks potentially bearing lyme, erlichia, babesia and other diseases.
Wear sunscreen on exposed skin. Even though the trees decrease the intensity of the sun on your body, your skin is still exposed to UVA and UVB rays that can cause a sunburn. Long term exposure to the sun’s radiation can cause cancer, increase wrinkles and decrease skin elasticity.
Stay on the trail
Hike on the trail to decrease the footprint in our environment and to stay safe. By staying on the trail, you can assure that you won’t get lost, will have a better chance of avoiding falls in unseen holes, and will enjoy a mostly animal free stepping zone. (Yes, I am referring to snakes).
Carry a phone
Have a phone for emergencies, tracking distance and time, and for taking photos. Please, don’t chat on the phone or listen to music while hiking! If you do, you will miss out on the beautiful sounds of nature and some awesome conversations with your hiking buddy.
Leave No Trace
Follow the 7 Leave No Trace principles:
- Plan ahead and prepare
- Travel and camp on durable surfaces (stay on the trail and camp at designated camp sites)
- Dispose of waste properly (carry out your trash and what you may find on the trail)
- Leave what you find (don’t collect rocks, pinecones, flowers; take photos instead)
- Minimize camp fire impact (know how and where to light a camp fire)
- Respect wildlife (never feed animals or approach them for a better photo or video)
- Be considerate of others
Learn more at lnt.org