Is there anything better than exploring the great outdoors? Fresh air, scenic vistas, beautiful countryside, the feeling of clearing your mind and getting away from it all – that’s what hiking is about.
Hiking is one of the best recreational activities there is. Not only is it affordable –some simple gear is all you need for basic hiking – but it’s also perfect for beginners and expert thrill-seekers alike. There are simple hiking trails that are really nothing more than long walks, and then there are those that feature iron-cableways, sky-high planks, sheer cliff-face drops, and more winding switchbacks than you can count.
As the naturalist John Muir said: “In every walk with nature, one receives far more than he seeks.” And it’s true – there are numerous mental and physical perks to hiking. However, if you’ve never hiked before, there are some things you should know before you lace up your boots, grab a walking stick, and hit the trails.
Health Benefits Of Hiking
Hiking is good for the body, mind, and spirit, resulting in a happier, healthier life. And here’s the thing, you don’t need to set off on a pilgrimage along the 2,189-mile Appalachian Trail nor scale Norway’s infamous Troll Tongue to experience the challenges and rewards of hiking. Hiking is the perfect way to get a serious workout. Aerobic exercise like hiking improves muscular and cardio-respiratory fitness. It lowers the risk of high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, and stroke. Hiking also lowers the risk of high cholesterol, reduces depression and stress, and improves quality of sleep. Even a short to moderate hike can burn 370 to 500 calories an hour, depending on the incline of the hill and the weight of your backpack.
A walk on a quiet, country trail or mountain path benefits the mind as much as the body. According to the Huffington Post, spending time outdoors increases attention spans and problem solving skills by as much as 50 percent. At the same time, Stanford University’s Graduate School of Education discovered that hiking improves creativity. And it makes sense. When you’re far from the hustle and bustle of daily life, unplugged from technology, atop a mountain, say, or on a scenic foot trail, the mind has a tendency to wander. Your creative juices are free to flow, just like the cool, blue, burbling brook that threads along your path.
What You Should Wear Hiking
Stay safe, and tread lightly. It’s an old backpackers’ motto. As a beginner hiker, it’s easy to make first-timer mistakes. Whatever you do… don’t go poking that diamond rattler! And it doesn’t matter if you’re scaling Everest or setting off on a two-mile jaunt through the woods, check and double-check the weather forecast before you go. However, one of the biggest blunders first-timers make is how they dress to go hiking.
- Don’t Wear Blue Jeans:Denim retains moisture. When it gets wet, denim takes a long time to dry, leaving you cold and uncomfortable. Denim also hinders flexibility. Wear pants or shorts (depending on the season and hiking environment ) that are lightweight. Hiking clothes should be made of durable, quick-drying fabrics. Some of the best hiking clothes are made of synthetics.
- Don’t Wear Boots Fresh From the Box:Break in your hiking boot before you hit the trails. Wear them indoors, mow the lawn in them… in fact, do whatever it takes to get your boots broken in before you go hiking. New shoes will hurt your feet and cause blisters, which will end a hike in a heartbeat. Wearing a pair of sneakers instead of hiking boots is another option. However, sneakers don’t have as good a grip on slippery surfaces. Whichever type of footwear you decide to wear, be sure to wear a good pair of socks. Don’t wear socks that will give you blisters or make your feet feel sweaty and uncomfortable.
- Rain Gear and Miscellaneous Clothing:It’s good to be prepared for a variety of hiking conditions. Be sure to pack rain gear – even if there’s no rain in the forecast – and a full-brimmed hat to keep the sun out of your face.
What You Should Pack
How much gear is too much? It all depends on the length and difficulty of your hike. What you pack for a quick, two-hour hike to a mountain summit is different than what you pack for a three-day journey through the country. As a beginner, here are 10 things you don’t want to leave home without:
- Extra layer of clothing (fleece)
- Snacks such as fruit, nuts, and granola
- Small first aid kit
- Compass and trail maps
- Sun protection (sunscreen, sunglasses, lip balm)
- Mobile phone
- Waterproof matches or lighter
- Pocket knife
What You Should Eat Before And After You Hike
Hiking is an aerobic, energy-zapping workout. In order to prepare for that type of physical exertion, you need to fuel up with a healthy, filling meal. Whether it’s breakfast or lunch, gas up your tank with quality protein such as eggs or lean meat, whole grains, fresh fruit, vegetables, and nuts. A bagel with peanut butter and banana slices also provides the ideal carb and protein rich pre-hike meal.
There’s a general rule of thumb that states you should snack every two hours during a hike. However, a better rule of thumb might simply be: when you’re hiking, eat when you’re hungry. Small, compact snacks such as raisins, granola, seeds, dried fruit, trail mix, and energy bars are perfect mid-hike meals.
Refueling after a hike is just as important. Some hikers prefer protein and complex carbohydrates, while others opt for salads or protein shakes. The most important thing is to eat a healthy meal that will help you replenish energy and repair muscle tissue. Steer clear of heavy, greasy, fast foods. Be sure to drink plenty of water before, during, and after your hike, too.
How To Find Hiking Trails Near You
Hiking may be all about unplugging from technology and getting back to nature – enjoying the sound of birds instead of the chirp of phones, so to speak – but the best way to go about finding local and national hiking trails is to do a Google search. The following websites are a good place to start:
At the same time, if you’re looking for hiking trails that are a bit more, well, off-the-beaten path, then take a more analogue approach and ask someone who works at a local camping, biking, or sporting goods store. Chances are he or she will have the inside scoop on the best – and less traveled – trails and paths in the area.
Follow these simple tips and there will be no beginner hiker blunders. You’ll get there and back again… and you’ll be hungrier than ever to face your next hiking challenge. Remember: stay safe, and tread gently.