“The mountains are calling, and I must go.” The famous naturalist John Muir said that, and maybe you’ve decided it’s time to follow in his footsteps. You’ve got a decent backpack, a Camelbak filter, and plenty of water. All you need to do is head out the door to the great outdoors and start walking, right?
Well, yes and no. On the one hand, hiking is a marvelous low-impact workout, and it gives you the chance to immerse yourself in nature. However, sometimes hikes can be unpredictable, and if you’re not properly prepared, they can even be dangerous. If you’ve been bitten by the hiking bug, but you want to make sure you come back in 1 piece, keep reading and we’ll share a few tips to keep in mind for your first hiking excursion.
- If you’re thinking about hiking, you probably have a good idea of how far you can comfortably walk on a paved or level surface. You’ll want to figure out how much of a hike you can handle. For example, if you can walk for 3 miles on a sidewalk, pick a hike that’s a bit shorter than that. For most people, a hiking speed of about 2 miles per hour is the norm. Check the elevation changes, too. For every 1,000 feet of elevation gain, add on an hour of hiking time.
- Next, it’s time to choose a trail. You can either get your hands on a physical map of the area, r use online resources. Is the trail a loop? If not, you should either pick a spot to turn around or have another car pick you up. Keep an eye on any trails that intersect, and be sure not to take a wrong turn. Consider choosing a spot with a decent view, like a rock formation, lake, or mountain peaks.
- Every year, hikers run into serious trouble, and the main reason for that is being ill-prepared for weather. Keep in mind that the weather can change deceptively fast when you’re out on the trail. Check the weather forecast a few days before your hike, as well as a few hours before you leave, and use that data to dress and pack accordingly.
- Before you leave, it’s critically important you let someone who’s not going with you know two things. First, they need to know where you’re going to be hiking. Second, they need to know at what time they should worry and call for help. They don’t need to know exactly when you’ll be home, since it could be a few hours later if you roll an ankle or you’re taking your time. Let someone know when you’ve crossed from “taking my time” to “there’s a problem.”
- When you start hiking, there’s a very real temptation to just power through at full speed. You don’t want to do that. In fact, pacing yourself is the name of the game. A hike is supposed to be fun, and you don’t want to be so tired that it turns into a grim struggle to just finish it. You might feel like you’re going too slow, but trust us, when you start going uphill, you’ll be happy to have extra energy.