We all know that physical activity is essential to continued or restored good health.
My wife and I live in the mountains and although we don’t do it enough, we enjoy the beauty and peace of hiking here. We all know that physical activity is essential to continued or restored good health and the benefits of an active lifestyle are too numerous to mention here, but are well-documented in medical and psychological literature.
Having said that, there are some areas of caution and of planning anyone might undertake before going to the nearest trailhead and taking off. My wife and I have backpacked and day hiked easy to difficult trails and we have accrued many hard earned and sometimes painful lessons that I hope save you time, disappointment, and discomfort.
The starting point in hiking, as in most things, is preparation. In the service we had the seven Ps: Proper Prior Planning Prevents Poor Performance (some of you will count the Ps and see that there are only six above – use your imagination for what the seventh was for Army folks).
First determine what your fitness level and/or physical limitations are and plan with that ability in mind. I will say that if you look at hiking maps and they list the level of difficulty, believe that. We have found that trails labeled “difficult” or “hard” are. If you are a beginning hiker, do not go to the advanced levels, it could be dangerous. If possible, ask others who have hiked the area or trail you are considering about what their experience has been. Many local hiking clubs have web sites that you can use for research or to ask questions. Always carefully consider any limitations you might have when picking a trail.
Next, pick the proper equipment. Foot wear is the single most important piece of equipment you will own. Some trails are fine for sneakers, others require good boots with ankle support. Get your foot gear early and break it in around the house and yard before your hike. I would strongly recommend purchasing your foot gear at a outfitter’s store. The staff there are knowledgeable of the area, will ask you the right questions, and their recommendations will be pretty reliable. Know that you should wear clothing appropriate for your area.
In picking the right clothing, consider that in some areas like deserts and mountains temperature can drop significantly with storms, as the sun goes down, or with an elevation change. I always carry a small pack with a first-aid kit, water, extra food, flashlight or headlamp (with fresh batteries), toilet paper, ziplock bags, and matches.
Some other quick tips:
- Never hike alone.
- Be aware of local fauna hazards such as bears and poisonous snakes.
- Be aware of things like poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac.
- Bring an insect repellant and put it in a leak proof container.
Also remember that cell phones don’t always some work in hiking areas, so let someone know where you are going and when you should be returning.
This just scratches the surface, but should be a starting point for a most enjoyable activity that can take an hour, last all day, or involve overnight camping. The pictures and memories are well worth it and you can share it with grandchildren if you can get them away from video games and the television.
A good start on books on hiking can be had at The Mountaineers Books.