Hiking is an excellent low-impact workout. Studies show it offers multiple physical and mental benefits. From reducing anxiety to preventing osteoporosis, hiking is an outdoor activity delivering benefits beyond scenic and fun.
Unlike walking on a treadmill or paved path, hiking involves more, sometimes unpredictable, variables. Of course, these variables are part of what makes it so enjoyable! Use the following hiking tips to make your first treks successful:
1. Start small and choose the right trail for your fitness level.
Select a hike a little shorter than the distance you can normally walk on a level or paved surface. To estimate the time required to hike the trail, figure a pace of roughly 2-miles per hour. Next, review the elevation changes and add an hour to your estimated hiking time for every 1000 feet of gain. After you’ve been out once or twice, you’ll have a sense of what distance and elevation changes work well for you.
2. Familiarize yourself with the trail.
Once you have selected a trail, obtain a map of the area and review reports and data. There are some excellent online resources available. Find out if the trail is a loop, or if you’ll have to backtrack or spot a second car. Take note of any intersecting trails where you could potentially make a wrong turn. I also like to look for a good lunch spot such as a lake or peak with a view.
3. Check the weather.
Leading up to your hike, and again a few hours before, check the weather. This will give you valuable information on how to dress and what to pack. If the weather is forecast to be awful, it will give you the chance to change plans instead of getting surprised on the trail.
4. Tell someone where you will be.
It’s important that someone not on the hike knows the itinerary and what time to worry about and call for help. Note I didn’t say, “when you expect to be done.” The “worry time” may be several hours later than your planned finish to allow for slow hiking, amazing views, or perhaps a sore ankle causing a delay.
Another option is to carry an emergency device such as the SPOT tracker, which allows you to summon emergency assistance by satellite. One caveat, devices like the SPOT are not an excuse to shirk responsibility for your own personal safety – they are a backup.
5. Pack the 10 essentials.
The 10 essentials have gradually shifted from a list of items to a list of systems. These are the systems you should pack to stay safe in the outdoors, including facing a potential overnight. Depending on the length and remoteness of your hike, expand or minimize each system. For example, on a short summer hike near services, a compact emergency blanket should be fine. However, a remote winter hike would require something more extensive. Here are the 10 essential systems:
Ten Essential Systems
- Navigation (map & compass)
- Sun protection (sunglasses & sunscreen)
- Insulation (extra clothing)
- Illumination (headlamp/flashlight)
- First-aid supplies
- Fire (waterproof matches/lighter/candle)
- Repair kit and tools
- Nutrition (extra food)
- Hydration (extra water)
- Emergency shelter (tent/plastic tube tent/garbage bag)
This list may look daunting, but once you tailor it to your hike, it won’t be so bad. Many of these things are what you’d pack for a picnic. Visit Mountaineers Books for more details.
9. Pace yourself.
When you first get on the trail, you may feel like powering forward like a hero. However, you’ll be zero by the end of the day if you don’t pace yourself. Instead, pick a pace you can maintain all day. It might feel a little awkward at first, but after a few miles, especially uphill, you’ll be glad you saved your energy.
10. Leave no trace.
The beautiful trails we love will only stay beautiful if we care for them. Take time to read the Leave No Trace Seven Principals and follow them. It’s up to every outdoor enthusiast to take care of our natural spaces.
Using these tips I hope you’ll get out hiking this season. Where will you go? Leave a comment to share your ideas; I’d love to hear them!