An introduction for hiking beginners

Rachel Walker

THE WASHINGTON POST – Take a hike. It seems like the easiest thing to do: get out there and put one foot in front of the other. But if you’re not used to being outdoors in nature, or walking is difficult for you, or you need a wheelchair or walker, then the whole idea of ​​hiking can be intimidating. Resist this reaction. When the opportunity to hike presents itself, take it, advised Florence Williams, DC-based author of The Nature Fix: Why Nature Makes Us Happier, Healthier, and More Creative.

“When we experience beauty and awe, science suggests it helps us feel more connected to the world around us and to each other,” Williams said. “And really, we evolved to walk. Our bodies and our brains feel very comfortable doing it.

You will not be alone; Since the start of the pandemic, people have flocked outside, where there is plenty of air circulation and where they can practice social distancing and exercise. As a result, many state and national parks, as well as local trailheads, have implemented reservation systems or provided shuttles to minimize parking headaches.

Considering the number of people outside, a summer hike can seem daunting for beginners. But getting started hiking is relatively easy, said Amy David, hiking and backpacking guide for Sawtooth Mountain Guides in Stanley, Idaho. Beginner hikers may think they need expensive gear or ambitious destinations when in fact the only requirement is a desire to get outdoors. That may be easier in the American West, where federal and state public lands abound, but it’s also possible in most parts of the country, she said.

“In its simplest form, hiking is a way to enjoy the outdoors, the fresh air, and nature,” David said. “You can go to an urban park, but I’m leaning more towards the backcountry.”

ABOVE AND BELOW: The author hikes in Boulder, Colorado; and Hannah Kilbride takes in the view while hiking near the Colorado River. PHOTO: WASHINGTON POST

Sawtooth mountain guide Amy David at Thompson Peak in Idaho

Non-hikers can be wary because of pervasive myths that can act as barriers to getting people onto the trails. For one thing, many people assume they need expensive, fancy gear to go hiking.

“There are certain types of equipment you should have to make your experience safe and enjoyable,” David said, “but it doesn’t have to cost a fortune.”

Hikers should have properly fitting shoes or boots to avoid blisters. thin woolen socks; a water bottle; woolen or synthetic clothing that wicks away perspiration and dries quickly; and, if the weather forecast looks unstable, appropriate layers to keep you warm and dry. Trekking poles help distribute your weight and make descending hills easier by taking the strain off your leg muscles and joints. Many hiking poles are collapsible, like tent poles, which makes them easy to transport. For longer day hikes and overnight trips that include sleeping in a tent, the gear list grows. But for a newcomer to the trails heading out for a short or half-day hike, there’s no need to buy lots of fancy new supplies.

David said some people are also intimidated because they think they have to be in top physical shape and climb a mountain for their hike to “count”. Bad. “A gentle walk can be a hike,” David said. “The hike is open to almost anyone, regardless of experience or fitness level. As long as you enjoy moving your body at a pace that’s comfortable for you, you’re a hiker. And you will continue to progress as you gain experience and fitness.

Instead of looking for the prettiest or toughest trail, David suggested just finding a nice trail and exploring. It’s relatively easy with the proliferation of trail-finding apps.

David recommended Avenza Maps, OnX and Gaia GPS, adding that the best app is the one you’re comfortable with. Most apps categorize hikes by difficulty and provide essential information like round-trip mileage, elevation gain and loss, and more. Printed maps and guidebooks also work, and most outdoor sports stores have maps of local trails. Enter one on vacation and you’re almost guaranteed to get some friendly local information to help you choose the best trail for your goal.

There are few things that can ruin a hike as completely as ill-fitting shoes or boots. Blisters can take weeks and sometimes months to heal, and sensitive feet will restrict movement or even deter you from hiking for the rest of the season, says longtime outdoor educator and guide Eric Henderson. based in Denver.

“I would never advise buying boots online without trying them on first,” he said. “The right shoes are essential for an enjoyable hike, and it’s worth going to a specialty store for expert advice.”

People’s feet are not uniform. Even if you know your height, you may have bunions, arch issues or other complications, Henderson said. This means that fit is everything, and you won’t know if a shoe or boot fits you without trying them on first.

When shopping, don’t just lace up and hang around the store. Stand on benches, jump up and down stairs if you can. Henderson said he prefers mid-height boots that provide more ankle support than a hiking shoe, but are less sturdy than a heavy hiking shoe.

If all of that sounds daunting to a beginner, go ahead and hit the trail in your running shoes, as long as they fit snugly and are broken in so you don’t get a blister, David said. But if your interest in hiking piques you, invest in durable, well-made hiking shoes or boots.

There’s a popular refrain among hikers: Leave No Trace. It’s a philosophy that comes down to respect, David said. Literally, it means to pack what you pack, including trash, extra food, orange peels or apple cores (or any other biodegradable waste that shouldn’t be thrown in the bushes).

Leaving no trace also means respecting others on the trail. Give people space as you pass and don’t play music on portable speakers or through your phone. “Go ahead and listen with headphones, but it’s rude to subject others to your music or podcasts,” she said.

It’s equally important to make sure you bring enough food to stay fueled and water to stay hydrated. David suggested bringing more food than you think you’ll need (and a comfortable bag to carry it in) and a water filtration system if you plan to replenish your water from a river or stream. stream. “Fresh water does not mean clean water,” she said. “Even if it’s clear, there may be giardia.”

The outdoors is for everyone, and exploring nature on foot can be a wonderful way to spend part of your vacation. Not only can hiking allow you to slow down and stimulate your senses, but it can also help you adjust to a new place, Williams said.

“Being outside in daylight is good for resetting circadian rhythms if you’re traveling across time zones,” she said. “It’s also great for working on the inertia of sitting for long periods of time in a car or on a plane.”

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