Whether you’re a newbie to the world of hiking, or just looking for somewhere different to plan your next trip, it’s often overwhelming when deciding what you need to get started. It’s therefore important, no matter your experience level, to understand exactly what you need to start hiking safely.
To start hiking safely, you need to research your planned hike, learn what to look for when it comes to the weather, prepare both physically and mentally, and invest in the right gear. Practicing with small walks can greatly help when it comes to preparing for larger hikes.
Below, we go into more detail about everything you need to know to start hiking safely, whether it be this weekend, tomorrow, or in a month’s time. But first, let’s discuss how you can start hiking in the first place.
How To Start Hiking
When I was 12 years old, I went on a small hike near my hometown. I didn’t know what to expect, I was just excited to try it. And to this day, I continue to hike. Now I consider myself blessed to live near the White Mountains in New Hampshire. I have found that pretty much everything that you want from hiking is right here in my home state.
To be honest, going for a hike doesn’t take much effort at all and the risks of injuries are very low. Find a park near you or a local community trail (assuming it is not too hilly). Put on a pair of shoes and off you go! But you may be looking for something bigger and more adventurous.
Where I Hike
The White Mountains, while super fun to hike, are rugged, to say the least. Unlike other parts of the country, hikers have been creating trails that seem to go straight up for miles. Switchbacks are rarely used, and rocks abound.
For nearly two hundred years, hikers flocked to New Hampshire to conquer the famed Mount Washington. Battered by the weather, eaten alive by mosquitos, and chased around by black bears, hikers continue to push onward and upward to this impressive peak in the White Mountains.
The trails are super rocky, rooty, and much of the year covered by leaves, water, ice, or snow. Even so, people flock to the mountains each year in search of exercise, solitude, and a way to enjoy the great outdoors. And as it happens, many come unprepared for what these mountains have to offer.
Even the most seasoned hikers leave with injuries. These injuries can range from mild to severe, a scuff from a rock to a faceplant during a stream crossing. So, it’s vital that you prepare for your hike before you set off, so you understand the risks, but also to ensure you get the most enjoyment out of your hike.
What You Need To Know About Hiking Safely
Research The Trail
Start with research. Research the trail that interests you. Are you looking to do something rigorous up in the mountains, or hike to specific feature, like a waterfall? Are you just looking to get out and enjoy the day with your kids?
You can find all sorts of information on many different websites. The one I recommend and use frequently is AllTrails.com. It is a reputable site, and they do a great job describing, providing photos, maps and reviews of thousands of hikes.
Find a hike near you, that is in your experience level, and make a plan. Consider things like total distance and elevation change, and take into account the terrain. The next thing to do is check the weather.
Watch The Weather
Pay attention to what the weather will like on your chosen hiking day. In New Hampshire, the weather can change quickly, and it is most likely not exactly like where you are living even if it is only an hour away.
Temperatures can drop, rain can come in abruptly, and if you are above treeline lightning can strike. I’m not trying to scare you off, but just be aware of your surroundings and pay attention to the weather.
The next thing to do is to get out and walk. Even just start doing some walking around your home. Start preparing physically for the hike. If you intend on hiking something excessively hilly then get acclimated as soon as possible.
For a couple of weeks before your hike, walk up and down the hill near your house each day. Your muscles will thank you later! This gives your legs time to get a bit stronger and it lets you get used to your hiking boots or trail shoes as well.
Prepare Your Food And Water
Next, prepare your food for the hike. I usually don’t eat foods on hikes that I don’t eat in my everyday life. If you don’t normally eat energy bars, granolas, and other premade items, I wouldn’t get too hung up on them. Processed foods can often leave you feeling weak when hiking.
They may upset your stomach and leave you feeling a bit weak on a longer hike. Beware of sugar hiding as “energy” in energy bars. I go by the mantra that “fat fuels” on the long trips. So, stick to nutritionally balanced, healthier alternatives to high sugar snack foods when hiking.
Also, while water requirements differ among people, the general rule is half a liter per hour of hiking. This increases if your hike has lots of elevation, or if you’re hiking in hot weather.
Get Your Gear In Order
Some like minimalist, others like standard hiking boots. And, while my son has hiked Mt. Washington barefoot, I don’t advise it for everybody, especially in the White Mountains.
As I stated earlier, these trails are rugged. Roots, rocks, leaves, water, ice, etc. are abundant. If you are a minimalist, the only thing I advise is wearing a shoe that has a fairly stiff bottom that is puncture resistant. The trails can really bruise your feet if you’re not careful. For the rest, I suggest purchasing a pair of decent hiking boots at a reputable store or online.
For a day hike, I suggest getting a 4-liter backpack with a water pouch. This size can hold enough food and water for a long strenuous day hike or a shorter, easier hike. If you’re going to need a lot more food and water, obviously pick a backpack size to accommodate everything you need.
When out hiking, even in the summer, always bring a lightweight windbreaker jacket. Wear this when you stop for a bite to eat in the cooler weather and if the weather turns on you.
Lightweight wicking socks are good and will prevent blisters.
A lightweight hat to keep the sun off of your head or keep you warm is always good to have.
Sunblock, bug repellent, toilet paper, rope, band aids, and aspirin are all very useful to bring on your hike.
Size Your Hike
For your first hike, you should stay within your limits. If you sit a lot at work and don’t do much walking during the day, it doesn’t make sense to try a 10-mile hike in the White Mountains right away. If, on the other hand, you are fairly active and go to the gym frequently for example, then you can start on a bigger hike. With hiking, it’s best to start small and build up.
Beware Of Injuries
Many injuries start without you really noticing until after the hike. The gradual climb up a mountain may not feel too bad initially, but pain can start to creep into your joints later on.
Take tendonitis, for example. While you hike your body responds to stresses by creating small amounts of swelling. You may not notice it until after the hike. Swelling can continue for a day or two after the hike. It is important to take care of your aches and pains after the hike.
Adapt Your Body
My first hike, returning after a long absence, was a 2-mile up and down the trail. In hindsight, it shouldn’t have been a difficult hike. But because I had not prepared at all, I really struggled to get up to the top that day. I stopped a number of times to catch my breath, let my legs recover, and allow my heart rate to come back to a more human level. My legs burn just thinking of that hike!
Easing into shape for any hike is key. Even just walking around your neighborhood, or going up and down your stairs can help get you started. Finding a simple trail to hike during the week after work is a good way to prepare for a larger hike at the weekend.
To hike safely, you simply need to research the trail, prepare yourself physically, consider the weather, and bring the appropriate gear. Doing all of these things will minimize your chances of getting injured and maximize your chances of enjoying the hike.