If you love the outdoors and you enjoy discovering new places, then hiking is a perfect activity for you. But before you just grab a bottle of water and head out into the wild, take a look at this intro to hiking as a summer sport; the more prepared you are, the better your experience and the safer you will be.
Know Your Body and Your Limits
Hiking is great exercise, but you don’t want to jump into a strenuous uphill climb your first time out if you’re either out of condition or simply not used to long periods of exercise. There are hiking trails of all kinds, from short, flat routes to those with steep elevations. It’s recommended that a first hike be no more than a few miles, or even less if there are any elevation challenges.
Plan Your Hike
In order to get the most from your hike, check to see what type of terrain is available in different areas. Some may be flat and easy, others may have boardwalks rambling through wetlands, and still others may be rocky, hilly or muddy. Choose what appeals to you and what you feel you can best manage.
It’s also important to recognize poisonous plants that may be along your path – you can take a small photo guide with you.
Choose Appropriate Clothing
The clothing you take, even on a day hike, should allow for changing temperatures. Depending on the time of year you’re hiking, temperatures in the early morning and late afternoon can be quite a bit cooler than they are midday, so be sure to bring appropriate layers; this is also important so you don’t overheat during warmer parts of the day.
Temperatures in heavily wooded areas are also cooler than non-shaded trails. Wear a hat if your hike will include sunny areas and to keep ticks out of your hair. Most importantly, invest in a good pair of hiking boots.
Make sure you check weather forecasts for the area you’ll be hiking in before heading out. If rain is predicted, you may want to plan a shorter hike, especially in rocky or muddy areas. More than just a nuisance, rain can create slippery conditions that can cause injuries, which can be dangerous in isolated areas.
One thing many first-time hikers don’t remember is to leave enough time to get back to their car before a storm comes in or before the sun sets. Remember, a two-mile hike out requires another two-mile hike back, turning it into a four-mile hike and twice the amount of time.
Kit-Out Your Backpack
Choose a backpack that fits you comfortably and only carry necessities for the trip; you want to keep your backpack as lightweight as possible without sacrificing essentials.
Some things to include are:
- Compass, in case trails are not well marked
- Trail map from the trail head or nature center
- Plenty of water
- Energy snacks plus lunch for longer hikes
- First aid kit
- Windbreaker jacket with hood
Water in natural areas may look clean, but most contain organisms that are harmful to humans, so always drink bottled water. Make sure to carry any trash back out with you; never discard trash in the woods, streams, etc.
By following these guidelines, you’ll be well prepared to enjoy your hiking experience. Hiking in the wild offers plenty of opportunity for discovery, but always follow the old maxim “Take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints.”