Hiking is a great way to relieve stress and re-gain perspective on life – not to mention great exercise and a wonderful way to enjoy the company of family and friends. One of the other attractive aspects of hiking is that it’s something that almost anyone can do.
If you have friends or relatives who hike, they’ll likely take pleasure in sharing their expertise with you, and may even let you borrow their gear while introducing you to their favorite trails. Of course, if you’re the experienced hiker, the process works in reverse.
As for hiking alone, you get a tremendous sense of freedom that’s hard to find doing anything else, but going solo is only advisable if you’re experienced, or if the trail is short and popular. Even if you’re a seasoned hiker, having a companion can be especially helpful if you get hurt.
Whether you go it alone, in pairs or in a group, it’s always advisable to let someone else know where you’re going and how long you’ll be gone.
Websites and guidebooks are the most helpful sources for deciding where to hike based on the difficulty, how much time you have, where the trail is located, what your fitness level is, time of year and weather conditions, whether dogs are allowed, and other features and rules or regulations that may be important to you and your hiking companions.
Logistics can also factor into your decision, especially if you’re starting the hike in one location and finishing it in another, as you’ll need transportation to get back to where you parked your car, or to the lodge or motel where you’re staying.
Regarding gear selection, whether you’re going for a day, a weekend or a week or more, it’s essential to have the appropriate combination of digital & print maps (internet access can be spotty or unavailable in many locations), insulation, sun screen, first aid items, illumination, nutrition, hydration and emergency shelter, such as a tent you can pitch on the spur of the moment.
Hiking footwear is one of the most important items for helping to maximize your enjoyment of the activity, and selection of shoes or boots is a deeply personal choice.
Some of us like over-the-ankle boots that offer strong support while others prefer lightweight shoes. If you’ll be walking on rough terrain, boots are advisable, and shoes are fine for well-maintained trails that don’t have a lot of obstacles. Likewise, boots are ideal for trails that feature streams, rocks and tree roots. If you’ll be wearing boots, make sure you’ve broken them in before setting out on your hike so the boots will be most comfortable. To protect your feet most effectively, you should wear wool or synthetic socks instead of cotton because the latter isn’t as good at absorbing perspiration.
Whether you’re hiking in hot, cold or in-between weather, clothing made of quick-drying, moisture-wicking fabrics, such as wool or polyester, is best. Don’t wear anything made of cotton, because it takes a long time to dry when wet.
In cool or cold weather, the clothing that comes into contact with your skin should be made of wool or polyester. Your “hiking layers” should include pants made of synthetic fabric, a t-shirt or long sleeve shirt made from a synthetic and a hat to protect you from the sun, rain or cold (70% of your body heat escapes through your head)
Depending upon the weather, a vest, jacket, lightweight fleece pullover, warm hat and gloves may be necessary. It’s also advisable to carry a waterproof jacket even if the forecast isn’t calling for rain because forecasts can be wrong. In that same vein, rain pants can come in handy.
When it comes to backpacks, short hikes near home and taken under pleasant weather conditions require only a daypack with enough space for a bottle of water or two, a few snacks and a piece of lightweight clothing you may want to add to your layers, or replace due to perspiration.
If you’re venturing deeper into the wilderness, it’s necessary to carry more gear, clothing, water and food in a larger pack.
As for food and water requirements, they depend on the strenuousness of your hike. A rule of thumb is that you need 200-300 calories for each hour of hiking you do, and you need two cups (a half liter) of water each hour if you’re undertaking a moderate hike in mild temperatures. You can adjust those quantities based on the intensity of your hike, weather conditions, your age, how much you sweat and your body type.
The more experience you get, the more precise your estimates for nutrition and hydration will be.
For personal health and safety, and for that of your hiking companions, it’s best to know some basic first aid, and to know how to use a first aid kit. The longer your hike, the more important it is for you to have medical training.
Although many trails are equipped with bathrooms, many others are not, making it necessary to relieve oneself in the woods. If that becomes necessary, make sure you do so at least 200 feet (about 70 steps) from water sources.
Whether you’re an experienced or novice hiker, there’s some basic trail etiquette you should follow. Specifically, hikers going uphill have the right of way and mountain bikers should yield to hikers unless it’s easier for hikers to step aside.
With proper planning and a respect for your surroundings, wildlife and other visitors, your hiking experience should help you re-charge your batteries.
What is your most memorable hiking experience?
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