I was practically dragged during my first hike. My friends decided they wanted to go, I passed up, but they whined saying what a killjoy I am. I eventually gave in, begrudgingly said I was going to join, and much to my dismay, packed without bothering to ask or research about what to prepare. I was not even involved in planning the whole trip. I just showed up at the meeting place and thought I was perfectly good to go - boy, was I wrong.
I don’t want you to make the same mistakes I did, so I am going to share with you a few tips I have learned the hard way on how to start hiking.
No, I am not talking about your location. By knowing where you are, I mean assess your fitness level. You have to know if you are in tiptop shape to walk long hours or if you can hold yourself up in mountainous or rocky terrain.
While hiking makes up for a therapeutic activity that makes you forget your problems, I suggest you make sure that there is nothing urgent that might make you lose your focus while hiking or make you hurry down and proceed without caution. Make sure that your physical, mental and emotional states are all ready to take on the journey.
When you decide that you are going to join the hike, actively participate in the planning. Have a say in choosing the hiking route and when you are going to do it. Remember, in doing this, you have to determine your fitness level. You don’t want to take on The Death Trail when the last time you’ve exercised was... let’s move on.
When choosing a hiking route, it is also important to consider the time you have, because it can determine where you want to go. Are you willing to hike only for a few hours? Or are you brave enough to go on for a full day or even a few days? Think about how many miles you are comfortable hiking. Your pace may be slower because it is a foreign terrain.
Another important factor to consider is the time of year and weather. You want to be able to prepare clothes and other hiking necessities appropriate to the climate you are going to encounter.
Once you have selected the trail, familiarize yourself with it. Do your research - get a map, check online for more information about the terrain and for people who may have possibly chronicled their experience. Through the information they volunteer, you will be able to get firsthand information from people who have seen for themselves what awaits you. Listen to what they have to say.
I personally feel hiking should always be done in groups. Not only is it safer, but also more fun. Having people to talk with, motivate you, and share moments with, is one of the main reasons why hiking can be a therapeutic activity. You get to meet new people and strengthen friendships and relationships.
When I say involve people, I also mean let some people who are not going to join the hike know where you are going to be and aware of the “worry time”. What is worry time? These are the hours later than your planned finish to allow for leisurely hiking, bask in amazing views, or maybe a sore ankle causing delay. This person or these people should know your estimated time of finish with these things factored in. If in case something happens, he should call for help and notify authorities.
I do not advise hiking alone as it is a very dangerous thing to do. I have heard of many tragic accidents where solo hikers did not make it back because they did not have anyone with them or have not notified anyone where they will be. Always involve people.
Since I know I cannot pack lightly, I have settled in saying “Pack wisely.” What you should bring to your hiking trip greatly depends on the kind of weather you are going to encounter. I believe hikers have developed packing schemes for the essentials you should bring no matter the weather. It is as follows:
If you think this is a lot, believe me, it is not. I should also reiterate that you should ready yourself to carry all these things on your back. Nobody will carry your things for you - endurance is key.
Hiking entails hours and even days of walking. You will get physically tired, but your feet will take most of the drubbing. Invest in quality hiking shoes and socks, because, no, not all rubber shoes are the same. I had to learn this the hard way. Rubber shoes do not have the grip hiking shoes have. When you hike, the grip is extremely important. It can prevent a lot of accidents or falls. Wearing the wrong pair of shoes will drastically slow down your hike, or worse, can cause accidents.
I also urge you not to skimp on socks. I discourage you from using cotton socks, especially if you are headed somewhere cold or your trail has some bodies of water along the way. Cotton does not give enough warmth and takes too long to dry. You don’t want your feet to soak in sweat which can cause odor. You don’t want to punish your friends more after a long day of trekking.
Now that your feet are all taken care of, clothing is next in line. Comfort is key. As with the socks, I also discourage you from wearing anything cotton. There is a saying among hikers, “Take in an ounce of cotton, and pack out a cold body.” I find this overly dramatic, but it turns out, it is well-founded. Here’s why:
Cotton does not percolate chemicals into your skin nor does it attract wild animals. It could kill through hypothermia. Hypothermia is a condition in which the body’s temperature falls below 95 degrees. It is fatal. Hypothermia does not only happen while trudging through five feet of snow. It also happens to unsuspecting hikers in warmer months. It is a common mistake to spare on warm extra layers and wear light clothing while hiking during the summer, but this should not be the case.
Now that you’re all pack and raring to go, I strongly advise you to move gradually. Pace yourself. Decide on a pace you know you can maintain all throughout the day. This is a common mistake for first-time hikers. They are all caught up in the excitement and being with their friends that they forget they have a challenging task at hand. Take it easy.
As hikers, we are visitors. The trails we take are habitats for humans and animals. It will only stay beautiful and as a home to our fellow men and animals if we care for it and hike responsibly. Do not leave traces and bring your trash home.
These are some of the things I have learned in my hiking experiences. Taking up something new can be intimidating, but our hunger to discover new things and to get out of our comfort zones should be greater. Push yourself and see the beauty that awaits you.
My first hiking experience was a disaster, but I have committed to pushing myself to get out there and make each hike as enriching as possible. Hiking means going out to see what’s beyond all the screens we always face.