Hiking is a tremendously enjoyable pastime, whether you are young or old and whether you enjoy spending time alone or in the company of others. But hiking is also much more than simply a ‘walk in the park’ and does require a little bit of forethought.
If you’ve never tried hiking then you may well picture it as being little more than walking. You wait for a nice day and then slip on a pair of shorts, a t-shirt and a stout pair of shoes or boots, pop a flask and some sandwiches in a backpack and off you go.
Certainly that is a fair description of some hikes which are little more than an excuse to get some fresh air and a little exercise and to enjoy the countryside at the same time. But, although this is how most hikers start out, they soon want to expand their horizons and thoughts turn to exploring more rugged countryside and hiking over longer distances, often requiring an overnight stop or two along the trail.
So how do you make the transition from being an afternoon hiker to something of a more serious hiker?
The first thing you need to do is to get into shape and that means gradually increasing the length of each hike and adding in some more demanding countryside. But take it slowly. Probably the number one reason for people giving up almost before they’ve started is that they try to do too much too quickly and end up either getting injured or simply having so many aches and pains that they simply decide that enough is enough.
It’s also a good idea to add some general exercise into your daily routine. In doing this though don’t simply concentrate on your legs. Many novice hikers think that, since hiking is basically a form of walking, it is the legs that are going to take the strain and thus need to be strengthened. You’d be surprised however at just how many muscle groups in the body come into play when you’re hiking.
A general program of exercise for the whole body to strengthen your muscles and to give them flexibility will do wonders for your hiking.
Hiking also requires a sound cardiovascular and pulmonary system, so get that heart and those lungs working with a good program or aerobic exercise. But, again, take it slowly and build yourself up gradually over a period of weeks, rather than days.
This is also a good time to buy some suitable equipment and, at the very minimum you need a good pair of hiking boots, together with suitable hiking socks. Your boots should be well-fitting, comfortable and supportive and should also be waterproof. As you’ll probably be hiking in a variety of different conditions it’s also a good idea to get some hiking pants, rather than shorts, and also some long-sleeved shirts. These will keep out the weather when needed, but will also protect you from scrapes, scratches and insect bites.
At the beginning you’ll also need a good backpack and will want to take everything you need for the hike with you. The thought of living off the land may seem appealing but, until you have an intimate knowledge of plant life, you should avoid eating anything you’re not absolutely sure of, including such things as wild berries and mushrooms. You should also avoid drinking the water. Natural clear stream water may seem natural and healthy but I well remember my mother and I drinking crystal clear water as it melted straight from a glacier and then spending the next three days in bed!
Now is also the time to pick up a good set of maps of the area you will be hiking in, as well as a compass, and learning the art of map reading. Although GPS navigation systems are all the rage these days and can be an excellent aid for the hiker, the ability to fall back on the traditional art of map reading could well save your bacon when you forget to pack a spare pair of batteries for your hand-held GPS system.
The next thing you need to do is to arm yourself with some basic information about the “ins and outs” of hiking and it’s a good idea to read up on the subject and to join a local hiking club where you will be able to learn from experienced hikers.
All in all the secret is to start out slowly and gradually build yourself up. Start with a few well known hiking trails and work your way up to those three and four day hiking trips through the Rockies where you experience the sheer peace and magic of sitting under the stars and looking out across the heavily forested slopes at your feet.
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