Bored with your treadmill workout? Tired of breathing in bus fumes on your morning run? Hiking in the great outdoors may be the perfect way to freshen up your exercise routine. In addition to building aerobic stamina and strengthening your leg muscles, spending time in nature is a great opportunity for relaxation and reflection. It can also make for a fun time spent with family or friends.
Many people dismiss hiking as an activity suited only for super outdoorsy survivor types, but that is far from the truth. A hike can best be described as a walk through natural areas, which often involves changes in elevation. Beyond that, you are free to make your outing as easy or challenging as your experience and fitness level allow.
Planning your hike
There are many valuable resources to choose from when planning a hike including dozens of excellent guide books as well as well-rated websites and phone apps. Examples include All Trails and GaiaGPS. You can also check out some designated walking sites or hiking trails in your own town.
Some of the factors you’ll want to consider include:
- Time. Before you set out, decide how much time you want to hike. The average hiker can cover a mile in about a half an hour on gentle terrain. If you are new to hiking, begin at a pace that is comfortable for you. The key is to just get started. You’ll want to start early enough so that you’ll be sure to be back before the sun goes down. Also, factor in how long it will take you to drive to your hiking destination.
- Distance. It is common for rookie hikers to overdo it by picking a hike that is too long or involves too much climbing. As a beginner, a hike of one or two miles on fairly flat terrain is a great starting place. Also, unless you’re choosing a loop trail, be sure to factor in the mileage in both directions.
- Climb. As you progress, you may want to increase the level of elevation. The amount of elevation gain on a hike is a key factor in determining how difficult your trek will be. A trail that climbs a 1000 feet within a mile is considered steep. A good rule of thumb is to add an hour to your trip for every 1000 feet of elevation gain on the route.
- Weather and trail conditions. Be sure to check the current weather in the area of your hike. Temperatures at higher elevations are often significantly colder than in the lowlands, and you may encounter snow, ice, or slippery mud even in spring time.
What to wear
Your best bet when hiking is to choose layers of quick-drying, moisture wicking fabrics such as wool and polyester. Cotton is a no-no since it takes too long to dry if you should become wet. If there’s a chance you’ll run into cooler temps or rainy weather, bring along an outer garment such as puffy vest, lightweight fleece, and a waterproof jacket. Your choice of footwear will depend on the condition of the trail. Lightweight, low-cut shoes may be fine on well groomed trails. However, you’ll want sturdy hiking boots for navigating more rugged paths.
What to bring
For short treks in good weather, a small -sized day-pack should be sufficient for carrying water and some healthy snacks. For longer treks, you might want to bring extra clothing. In moderate temperatures, you’ll need to bring about half a liter of water for each hour of activity. Other essentials include, but are not limited to sun protection, bug repellent and safety devices such as an air horn or whistle.
Playing it safe
Knowing where you are and where you’re going is essential for a safe hike. If you’re using an app, be sure to download the trail map for offline use. You should also let someone know where you plan on hiking. In addition to electronic resources, beginners might also want to carry a guide book or paper print out of the trail. And, while being alone with nature s can be a magical experience, it can also be intimidating for new hikers. You may feel more comfortable if you bring along a companion to lend a hand if you get hurt.
So, let’s recap
As the weather warms up and the skies clear, it’s a perfect time to move your fitness routine into the great outdoors. In addition to strengthening your heart and lungs and building hamstring and glute muscles, hiking is a wonderful way to relax and recharge. The key to a safe and enjoyable hiking experience is planning ahead so that you can avoid common beginner missteps.