A walk in the park is one thing, but a wilderness hike is another. Go too far, choose a route too tough, set off without appropriate gear or the right preparation – and an outdoor adventure could turn ugly and maybe even dangerous. Here are some tips for first-time hikers and beginners.
Choose the right hike
The first step to pleasurable hiking is measuring your personal limits and choosing a trip to suit. Factors to consider are: distance, elevation change and the type of terrain. As a beginner, start with short, easy walks and work your way up. If possible, hike with a companion or in a group with more experience. Not only will it be safer and more fun, you can share in other’s knowledge and skills.
Wear layered clothing and good boots
Optimal outdoor clothing protects you from the elements and regulates body temperature while being lightweight, durable and comfortable. A dependable waterproof jacket is vital, of course, as is a hat – broad-brim for sunny days, a woolly hat for the cold. Then, there is no substitute for high-quality hiking boots, which provide grip, support the ankles and take the knocks. Buy the best pair you can afford. Pay particular attention to the sole: there should be a clearly defined heel and a knobby tread fashioned from high quality rubber.
Carry a comfortable backpack
As a beginner, check that your backpack can be adjusted to suit your body shape, closely examining the lumbar pad, hip belt and shoulder straps, as well as the quality of the padding. If you’re going to carry a heavy load for long periods, get a backpack with a good harness as this dictates comfort and load-bearing limits. A properly fitted pack allows freedom of movement, but doesn’t swing from side to side.
Pack light – eat and drink well
Be careful in packing as light as possible, especially on long hikes in hilly terrain. Food is your fuel, and to keep firing on all cylinders you need to eat well on the trail. Always take more than you need, especially if there’s any chance your trip will take longer than planned. Stay hydrated, but if you are unsure of the quality of water, treat it. For overnight trips, pack foods that are high energy, nutritious, compact, indestructible and easy to cook. Opt for nuts, seeds, cold meats, ready-made tuna salad pouches, salmon, etc. Tasty treats such as chocolate can also work wonders for morale when the going gets tough.
Read the weather
Weather conditions have a major bearing on hiker happiness. Rain and snow can transform easy trails into treacherous ordeals, while intense heat is draining, dehydrating, and can cause heatstroke. Check forecasts and learn how to read the weather. On the trail, keep an eye on the sky, especially in the mountains where conditions can change rapidly. Beware of rain clouds if you have rivers to cross, and don’t be afraid to turn back or take shelter if conditions deteriorate.
When you become a hiker, you join a community of people who love the outdoors and hiking. Get some great snacks, strap on your shoes, and go explore!