Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Take a Hike! Ten Tips For Absolute Beginners

Stanislaus Meadow
Highway 4, Ebbetts Pass California
So! You think you want to take a hike. Maybe, like me, you joined a hiking group. Perhaps your partner likes to hike and you really want to share the adventure but are unsure about tagging along. Or maybe you are curious about the activity but are a little embarrassed about starting. If you are new to this hobby, I have some tips gleaned from a year's worth of trial and error hiking or, as I like to call what I do, "hike-walking". Curious? Read on!

First off, I call what I do "hike-walking". I use this made up term because of two variables: distance and terrain. Shorter distances such as 2-3 miles on fairly level, even terrain can be considered as walking. The pace can be fast or slow depending on what you want. Longer distances such as 5-7+ miles over uneven terrain that has you traveling up and down hills or scrambling over rocks can be considered hiking. The pace slows down considerably as you ascend or descend and depends largely on the ground on which you are walking and how much you are carrying. Rocks slow you down (or at least they should slow you down) and weight slows you down too. I like a mixture of both types and so I call my hybridized outings "hike-walking".  

Over the course of the last year, I have racked up some mileage and learned some very basic things along the way. These are things I absolutely didn't consider or know about before I started. They are simple tips and ideas to keep in mind before you begin. (I will also include, at the end, some ideas about what to bring along to make things comfortable.) Here are the ideas in order of importance:

1. Equipment Needed: The most important piece of equipment is your body. Climbing up hills, walking over  boulders, crossing small creeks and traipsing over smaller trail rocks all day is taxing. It is all absolutely different than walking on paved, level ground. Carrying a backpack of any size and weight adds to the effort. Additionally, your physical fitness level will become obvious very quickly. No piece of store bought equipment, item of food or fancy bottle of water will help you to get up the hill. The only  thing that will get you up and over is your body. Period, end of story. That said, there is a level of hike-walking and enjoyment for everyone, at any fitness level. Keep that in mind when you start. It is nothing to be embarrassed about. 

2. Physical Conditions: This may seem obvious but if you start your hike with a headache it is unlikely to get any better. Hiking won't make it go away and in fact may make it worse. (Think dehydration.) Ditto for other mild conditions such as muscle strains/sprains, earaches, the cold or flu or any gastrointestinal distress. Your best bet is to take a pass on the outing and stay home until the condition passes. 

3. Dehydration/Staying Hydrated: One of the most frightening physical problems I encountered was a mess of my own doing. I started the day with a headache (see above), did not have enough water with me and became overheated. I also hiked farther than I should have. The combination of those things could have been a real problem. Luckily I made it and my hiking buddy gave me electrolytes. I can't stress enough the real need to carry enough water. For the style of hiking I do, I don't look for water sources such as creeks or fountains at the trail head. I now carry all of the water (and then some) that I think I will need.

4. Medical Conditions: People with medical conditions or who take medication should be able to manage those conditions while on the trail. I met one woman who had a heart condition who had a wrist monitor telling her about her heart rate. I myself frequently carry an extra dose of my daily pills just in case I forgot to take them the morning of my hike. (I also carry aspirin in case of a heart attack.)  Whatever the case may be, you absolutely need the OK from your doctor for whatever it is that you want to do. And then you need to be prepared to manage your condition while hiking. I have mixed feelings about this since I believe we are all responsible for one another to some extent but we are all adults. The reality is though, you want to take care of yourself no matter what activity you are doing.

5. Sleep: Here is another no brainer. Did you get enough sleep the night before? Be honest. Good, solid sleep is critical to being able to stay the course.

6. Meds., Recreational or Otherwise: I have never gone hike-walking with any recreational drugs on board so this admonition is hypothetical. (Nor do I use recreational drugs for that matter.) It would be a bad mistake. As obvious as it seems, an absolute awareness of your environment is a must. Looking for trail markers, finding your way and generally enjoying the scenery requires a clear head. Why bother otherwise?

7. Food: How much and what kind? These are questions I am still answering. My best advice here is to ask around and to observe. What are other people doing? My normal fare of a turkey and cheese sandwich was handy at first but way too heavy. My friends were eating fruits, nuts and some veggie/cracker/cheese combos. Those are good starts. In general, I look for things that carry a good mixture of carbohydrates and fats (for immediate energy use) and protein (for longevity and repair). Some of my recent favorites are nuts with some vegan chocolate, Kind Bars from Costco, apples (water and sugar), dehydrated snack mixture (peas, carrots, edamame, nuts, garbanzo beans) and lots of water. Lunch lately has been a chickpea spread in a pita pocket. (The verdict is out though on that.) On a recent hike, my hiking partner brought olives which I thought was brilliant. (Fats, carbs and some protein.) My point is though to ask around, check your hunger level throughout the day and make adjustments. You may end up eating things (like an energy bar) that you wouldn't normally eat. 

8. Overloaded Small Pack/Under-loaded Large Pack: I have had problems with both of these scenarios. There honestly is a sweet spot to getting it just right. This is a trial and error thing but I suggest working it out at home or in the store. Places like REI will fit you for a pack, load it up, and let you walk around the store with it. Be as specific as you can about what you will be doing. It will help the salesperson to pick the right pack for your activities. You want to get this right for you because either scenario will make your progress on the trail difficult. 

9. Planning: I didn't know at first how long things might take. Or where I was going exactly. In short, I really didn't know how the day was going to unfold. Luckily, I started going on day hikes with another experienced hiker. I learned from her about expected walking time/distances and lots of other things. Knowing when you start and end is important and is a piece of information that you want to convey to anyone back home who may be expecting you to show up at dinnertime! (And in this same vein, you should always let someone know where you are going and how long you will be gone.)

10. Weather: There is this really awesome thing now. It's called the weather forecast! Not only should you know what the weather forecast holds for the day (rain, showers, full sun, etc.) but you should have an idea about what happened in the days leading up to your hike. Lots of rain could mean very muddy conditions or higher than normal creeks to cross. On one hike that I took, there was a full on creek to cross which was a little unusual. We had a lot of rain over the Winter and Spring and even though things had been dry for awhile, there was still quite a bit of water in the creek. And kind of as an adjunct to checking the weather you should also come to know what kind of weather you want to hike in. I prefer some cooler days-clear or not. Storm clouds and a light drizzle don't bother me much anymore. Always be prepared with the appropriate layers.

The above ten ideas and tips are very basic and may seem like they should be intuitive. Probably to some people they are obvious points but to me, a newbie, they are things I honestly didn't know about or consider.

In addition to the basic points I mentioned above, there are also some things to consider taking along with you on your hike. Either purchase or scrounge around your home to see if you already have them. The Internet is full of professional lists on the hiking essentials. You should definitely check that out. The items I list below though, have been helpful for me. 

* Appropriate quantity of water and electrolytes.
* Shoes/boots suitable for the terrain and which will protect your feet and ankles from injury.
* Socks appropriate for the above foot gear (include a spare set in your pack).
* A packable floppy hat with a sun shielding wide brim and a chin strap.
* A warm cap, neck warmer, and appropriate gloves.
* Extra layers-wind and water proof are nice, sun shielding and bug repellent are good extras for the summer. Something with a collar to keep the sun off of your neck is helpful also. I like a synthetic button up shirt that can be worn winter and summer.
* Wrist watch.
*Smaller lightweight wallet that holds your license, some cash, trail permit and medication list along with name and number of doctor.
*Map and compass and trail directions. Consider too a small lightweight magnifying glass.
*Sun screen and bug repellent (your choice of brands). 
*For ladies, pantyliners, toilet paper (or bandanna) and a plastic baggie. Some people travel with a small lightweight spade for digging a cat hole.
*Two bandannas or thin cloth napkins. One is for nose blowing and the other is to make wet and wrap around your neck to keep cool. It can also double as a wet wipe to wipe your hands or face. 
*Whistle and pocket knife/tool set.
*Small toothbrush (cutoff)/toothpaste.
*Small mirror with duct tape wrapped around it. (For repairs)
*Extra shoelaces and safety pins.
*First aid kit. (Include aspirin for heart attack, band aids, tape, antiseptic wipes, insect bite wipes, gauze, etc.)
*Small towel.
*Plastic garbage bag. (You can sit on this and it is also rain/pack protection.) 
*Cell phone.
*Carabiners/zip ties/clothes pins/safety pins.
*Hiking pole adjusted for your height.
*Misc: matches, bear bells (attach to shoes), lightweight small flashlight and an ace bandage.

As I wrote above, there are many resources on the Internet and in books from professionals that deal with what to bring on a hike. All I can say is, the above items have made me comfortable and have given me peace of mind. When compiling your own list, consider where you are going, who you are going with and how long you will be out. My watchwords are care, comfort and protection.

I hope the above two lists are helpful. Please remember that I am a novice hike-walker and that there is much I don't know. I can, however, report on my own experiences and it is my desire to help others just like me. I hope the information will be useful (and maybe even entertaining!) to someone, somewhere. Happy hike-walking!

1 comment:

  1. Dear Libby - this was such a great amount of good information. I don't hike for long periods of time but do take walks in the woods near our home... water is truly an essential. I am so glad you shared these tips friend. Hope you have a blessed day.


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