In the beginning:
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.
So, how does one start hiking?
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.
You might be thinking, “yeah, I don’t want to waste my time sticking around the neighborhood” and are looking for something bigger and more adventurous. Well, keep reading, there is more to know.
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 bear, 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.
With all that said, I do love hiking here!
Tell me, what do I need to know about hiking?:
Research the Trail
Start with research; research the trail that interests you. Are you looking to do something rigorous up in the mountains or a hike to specific feature, like a waterfall? Are you just looking to get out and enjoy the day with your kiddos?
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.
All that to say, find a hike within a short drive, that is in your experience level, and make a plan.
Watch the Weather
Second, pay attention to what the weather will be come 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. Not trying to scare you off, just be aware of your surroundings and pay attention to the weather.
Third, get out and walk. Yes, start doing some walking around your home. Start preparing physically for the hike. If you intend on hiking something hilly then get acclimated as soon as possible.
For a couple weeks, walk up and down the hill near your house each day for 10 minutes. Your muscles will thank you later. This gives your legs time to get bit stronger and let’s you get used to your hiking boots, or trail shoes.
Prepare Your Food and Water
Finally, prepare your food for the hike. I usually don’t eat foods that I don’t use in my everyday life. If you don’t normally use energy bars, granolas, and other premade items I wouldn’t get too hung up on them. Oftentimes, processed foods can 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.
Also, while water requirements differ among people, the general rule is 1 1/2 quarts per hour of hiking. Check out our blog post on water requirements here.
Get the Gear in Order
The essentials for your hike should include the following:
- Hiking Shoes: 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. Root, rocks, leaves, water, ice, etc. 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 not careful. For the rest, I suggest purchasing a pair of decent hiking boots at a reputable store or through Amazon.
- Additionally, we wrote a nice article about hiking boots here.
- BackPack: for a day pack, I suggest getting a 4-liter backpack with a water pouch. This size can hold enough water for a long strenuous day hike or a shorter easier hike. Check out our recommended backpacks.
- Lightweight Jacket: 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.
- Socks: lightweight wicking socks are good and will prevent blisters.
- Hat: a lightweight hat to keep the sun off of your head or keep you warm. Always good to have.
- Other items: sunblock, bug repellent, toilet paper (you never know), rope, bandaids, and aspirin. As a matter of fact, many people have been saved on the trail just from aspirin at the right time.
Right 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. If on the other hand, you are fairly active and go to the gym frequently, then you can start on a bigger hike. All this to say, 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 yet pain starts to creep into your joints.
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.
Take this as a cautionary tale, getting into hiking conditions is a must. Take, for example, lifting weights, walking around your neighborhood, or going up and down your stairs can help get you started. Even finding a simple trail to hike during the week after work.
Condition yourself before the hike and it will pay dividends; you will be happy that you did.
What do you need before leaving the safety of the parking lot?:
A day backpack, water (bring more than you should), some salty foods, but again stuff you normally would eat, and your hiking shoes, of course.
Also, I hike with lightweight clothing that wicks moisture and to shy away from cotton.
When To Wear What
My general rule: if the temperature is 45 degrees or higher I wear a short-sleeve shirt (your transition temperature preference may vary). For that reason, from 20 to 45 degrees I usually switch to a long sleeve shirt and possibly a windbreaker. Also, below 20 degrees I go from a light fleece with a long sleeve shirt down to a full jacket and multiple layers.
As a new hiker, I would suggest that you avoid those super cold days, trust me, it saps your strength and takes away the fun.
One Final Check
Don’t forget your keys. I don’t know how many times I heard stories of people lock their keys in the car. We get excited and want to hit the trails. I once forgot my hiking shoes in the “drop off” car and had to hike in my work shoes. Fortunately for me, I wear minimalist shoes and so they weren’t much different from my trail runners.
That brings up a good point:
As you become more experienced, you can figure out what works best for you, equipment-wise. Therefore, I tend to follow a minimalist approach to things so, I don’t end up carrying too much equipment, just the essentials…but never try to go without water or food for an extended period of time on the trail, especially as a beginner.
So, are you ready to start your adventure?:
Get out there, prepare yourself, and stay safe. If you do things right, you will be hiking for years to come. Start slowly, build gradually, and strengthen your body you will endure and enjoy the awesome activity of hiking. Oh, the places you’ll go!