Most of us need to exercise more, but we balk at the idea of paying for a gym membership, or get bored when stuck on a treadmill. If you are that kind of person, you may think that hiking is a better idea. Hiking lets you get some fresh air and explore the beauties of nature; you can go on all sorts of varied routes instead of the same exercises day after day, and it is fantastic exercise.
But hiking in the great outdoors is a much different experience from a stroll in the park, and a hiking beginner has to prepare thoroughly before setting out. Here are some crucial tips for any hiking beginner hiker to both to enjoy themselves and be safe.
1. Know Your Limits
The very first time I went hiking, I chose to follow along with my sister, who had been hiking in the mountains for years. While it was a great experience and the mountains were beautiful, I was completely unprepared for the challenge, and ran out of breath and energy way before she did.
Hiking can be harder than it looks, and time spent in the gym or jogging on a paved sidewalk will not make you accustomed to walking up a steep dirt path, or navigating through branches. If you are a beginning hiker, look for beginner’s trails regardless of your physical condition and then work your way up. It is better to start with something too easy than push too hard and risk either injury ,or turning yourself off to hiking.
2. Avoid Hiking Alone
My first experience with hiking alongside my sister was a tough one, and I very well may have stopped early had I been by myself. But I kept up at it because I did not want to disappoint her.
Hiking alongside a companion like I did is crucial for a variety of reasons. There is the motivation factor, as noted above, and hiking alongside someone more experienced can teach you a lot. But the most important reason is safety. Traveling in a group will help deter wild animals and ensure that one of you can get help or perform first aid if the other gets injured. This is one of the key hiking safety tips all beginners should pay heed to.
If you are having trouble finding someone to hike with, do not hesitate to ask on Facebook, or check out regional outdoors groups. The Outbound Collective has a good list of places where you can look to find a hiking partner.
3. Know the Ten Essential Supplies, But Don’t Overpack
Any hiking guide will talk about the Ten Essentials that you have to bring when going hiking. It does not matter whether you are simply taking a short two to three-hour hike, or are going to camp out overnight. You need food and water, a map and compass to help navigate the area, an emergency shelter, and a fire starter in case you have to stay out overnight, and so on.
But there are also things that you do not need to bring when going on a hike. While some first aid is essential, you do not need some massive pack containing medicines and splints, or a billion things that you don’t really know how to use anyway. Outside of the Ten Essentials, ask yourself if you are really going to need something on your hike, and don’t bring it if the answer is “maybe.”
4. Check the Forecast
Bad weather can be an inconvenience at best and dangerous at worst. Rain and snow makes trails more slippery and streams harder to cross, lightning can be dangerous if you are stuck in a high place, and heat and cold have a way of sneaking up on you.
Always check the forecast at a website like NOAA.gov the night before you are planning a hike, as well as right before you leave, and learn to check the skies for things like approaching storm clouds. You do not have to necessarily turn back if there is just a light shower, or even a storm, but always prepare in advance.
5. Tell Someone Before You Leave
No matter how much you prepare before a hike, things can go wrong. There are plenty of stories out there about experienced hikers who make a few wrong decisions and find themselves lost or in deep trouble. Satellites and cell phones can sometimes help you get in touch with rescuers, but the most reliable method is to let a friend know in advance that you are hiking, and tell them to call the authorities if you are not back by a certain time.
Do give some leeway. If you think you will be hiking for three hours, then tell your friend to call if you are not back in six hours. This will give you a cushion if things go a little wrong or if you just want to stop and enjoy the scenery for a while.
Featured photo credit: Joel Kamer via flickr.com