Spring is here and it is a great time to get outside to explore. There are thousands of trails in the United State and there is bound to be 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.
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 water fall. Those pauses also take up time, so when planning your hike, be sure to add in the non-walking time.
Wear layers of clothing that have 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. Hiking shoes are water resistant which is super important if you are hiking for hours or days on end.
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), lean protein (chicken, eggs) 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. 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! Gnats and mosquitos are irritating and their bites can make you uncomfortable during a hike. More importantly, there are ticks potentially bearing lyme, erlichia, babesia and other diseases, so wearing bug spray can help eliminate a tick bite. Wear sunscreen on exposed skin. Even though the trees decrease the intensity of the sun on your body, your skin is still exposed to rays that could cause a sunburn, or potentially melanoma.
Stay on the trail
Hike on the trail to decrease the footprint in our environment and to stay safe. Bushwacking, hiking through the forest where no path exists, is not for beginning hikers! 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.