We all have to start somewhere! Believe it or not, even though I've hiked nearly 6,000 miles, I only began hiking less than 10 years ago. I didn't go from short hikes to thru hiking overnight, even if it seems that way. It took me many months of taking short day hikes before I could even consider doing an overnight trip! If you want to get into hiking but don't know where to start, I've got five tips for you on how to become a hiker.
1) Proper footwear and clothing
We have all seen the hikers in flip flops and blue jeans on the weekends. Hey, maybe you've actually been that hiker before! Proper clothing and footwear are the first step to enjoying yourself in the woods. If you just want to try hiking before committing to expensive hiking shoes or boots, I recommend wearing your gym clothes on your first hike. Wearing cotton on a hike is never a good idea. While it breathes well, cotton clothing absorbs water and holds it against your skin. Wool or synthetic gym clothes are designed to wick moisture away from you, which can help you regulate your body temperature and prevent chaffing. As for footwear, if you have running shoes or cross trainers these should do just fine on your first few hikes. When you decide to start doing more hiking, take the time to go to an outfitter and get properly fitted for a shoe. The people at outdoor stores are trained to find a good fit and will help you find out the style right for you.
2) Proper backpack and hydration equipment
Not drinking enough water is one of the most common mistakes hikers can make. Even experienced hikers, myself included, can be guilty of not drinking enough! A good rule for drinking water on a humid, hot day is 1 liter of water per hour. A good way to keep yourself hydrated on a hike is stop every few minutes and just take a sip of water from your bottle. Starting a hike slowly, especially as a new hiker, is important to help warm up your ankles and feet anyway, so you should generally be stopping anyway. A water bottle can be anything from that free Nalgene you got from your last company conference to an empty and clean soda bottle. They don't have to be expensive! Now, if you're hiking for 2 hours you can't just carry 2 liters of water in your hands, right? A backpack you can access on your own is another piece of gear you should always have with you. You don't even have to buy an expensive hydration pack - a Walmart special will be just fine! If you are in the market for something you can use time and again, look for a pack with pockets on the outside that can hold a water bottle.
3) Do your research!
Do a little research about the hike you are about to take. The internet is full of great hiking websites - AllTrails and and Every Trail are two of the most popular. Doing a little reading about your destination will tell you what you can expect on your hike. Is the trail hilly or flat? Is there a lot of shade or is it exposed? Are there wildflowers in the spring? Any of these questions can be answered on a quick google search. Also, social media can be great for trail research! Ask your friends if they have done the trail or try searching the trail on Instagram for photos of your destination.
4) Keep it short
Until you become familiar with hiking, try and keep your trip mileage between 3 and 5 miles. Most Americans don't walk more than this on a daily basis and if you want to head out to see the sights for the first time, doing too much more than this will leave you sore and tired. By leaving your hikes short in the beginning, you'll learn to build endurance without stressing your body too much. Always remember when planning a hike - it might be 4 miles to the waterfall, but unless you're hiking a loop trail you need to come back out 4 miles also! Don't turn a short hike into a long one by accident!
5) Remember to stretch!
Starting to hike is just like starting a workout routine. A warmup and cool down before and after a hike are never a bad idea! Whenever I start hiking, I always take a minute to warm up my ankles at the trailhead. A good way to do this is lift your foot and pretend you're writing your name in cursive in the air - about 30 seconds for each foot should do the trick. In the first 30 minutes, take time to stop and shake out your feet, knees, and ankles gently. When you return to the trailhead after your hike do the same. Do a simple hamstring stretch by making a figure-4 with your legs and bending your standing knee. Do this for 30 seconds on each side. Follow this with a runner's lunge. If you used a walking stick or trekking poles, make sure to stretch your arms overhead and make large circles with your arms.
With these five easy tips, you'll slowly be able to spend more time in the woods. By taking the time to gradually ease into hiking you'll not only help your body adjust to the different terrain, you'll build strength and endurance to enjoy longer and more difficult trips. What are some good memories you have from some of your early hiking trips? Do you have any tips you'd like to share with other hikers? Leave me a comment below or join the conversation on the Facebook post!