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How to Start Hiking

Get Out on the Trail With a Few Basic Tips

By

How to Start Hiking

After a long day of hiking, nothing is better than kicking back and taking in the view.

Photo All Rights Reserved © Tom Gamache
Hiking is as simple as putting one foot in front of the other. That's a big part of its appeal. Without expensive equipment or long-distance travel, hiking delivers a workout that's good for your body-and your mind too.

Hiking lets you unplug from the static of daily life as you explore forests, ramble through hills, and climb to panoramic views. There's no question about it: A day on the trail will energize and inspire you.

If you're a newcomer to hiking, here are a few tips to consider before heading out.

Gearing Up

Pamper Those Feet: Look for lightweight hiking boots and a few pairs of hiking socks. Shop at an outdoor outfitter such as REI where the trained staff can help you find the best fit.

Because trails can have tricky footing, you'll need footwear with traction and more support than athletic shoes. Socks that wick away moisture and breathe will keep your feet cool and cut down the chances for blisters. Wear your boots a few times before your first hike to break them in.

Carry a Lightweight Daypack: You'll want a daypack to stash keys, wallet, snacks, and water bottle. Choose one with easy access to your water and enough compartments for your items. And keep waterproof matches, a flashlight, and a simple first aid kit in your pack.

Dress in Layers in Cool Conditions: Layering gives you options when conditions change or your body warms up as you hike.

Cotton absorbs perspiration and gets cold and clammy. So wear a lightweight t-shirt made of a moisture-wicking, fast-drying synthetic material as the base layer against your body.

Depending on how cold it is, you might wear a middle layer for warmth and insulation, such as a lightweight fleece. Zippered fleeces work better because you'll have more control over your body temperature by simply zipping and unzipping.

An outer shell, such as a windbreaker, will provide protection against breezes and from rain depending on whether it's fully waterproof.

And finally, convertible pants are a versatile piece of clothing for hiking. Just unzip the lower portion of the pants legs and they convert into shorts-a nice option if the day gets warm. A number of companies including REI, Columbia, and North Face carry convertible pants.

Beating the Heat: Especially when you first start hiking, you won't want to go out on hot, sunny days. But if it's warm, wear loose-fitting clothing in light colors that won't absorb the sun's heat. While you might think that a tank top would be the coolest choice, a lightweight long-sleeved shirt can sometimes feel more comfortable because you won't feel the sun beating down on you so directly. Some even offer UV protection.

And Wear a Hat: A hat helps retain body heat on cold days and shields you from sun on hot days. A bill or a wide brim will also help keep the sun out of your eyes and reduce glare.

Before You Head Out

Pick Your Spot: Park and hiking recommendations are available online. But try to find a park with a staffed visitor center so that that you can get trail advice from a ranger or docent. Some elevation gain is fine although you won't want to do too much climbing until you've built up your skills and endurance.

Choose the Time That Works For You: If you're not a morning person, you won't enjoy a hike at dawn. Time your hike according to your existing workout patterns. Morning and late afternoon are the most appealing times for a hike. Especially on hot days, you won't want to head out midday.

Don't Hike Alone: You'll be more motivated (and safer too) when you hike with a friend. Time passes faster and you can help each other in an emergency. Or find a local group that conducts group hikes.

And definitely let someone know where you're going to hike.

Always Pack Water: There's always a risk of dehydration and you're unlikely to find a safe water source on the trail.

Fuel Up: Don't hike on an empty stomach. All sorts of energy bars provide a good balance of carbohydrates and protein so you won't suddenly bonk when your body uses up its fuel reserves. Carry an extra bar or trail mix to snack on during the hike.

Protect Your Skin: Wear sunscreen and apply lip protection.

On the Trail

Know Your Limits: If you do some light exercise a few times a week, hiking won't pose much of a problem. But if you've been sedentary or have knee or back problems, don't push yourself too hard.

So start with short hikes and build your endurance.

Time Your Hike: It's easy to lose track of how long you've been out. Check your watch at the start of the hike and periodically recheck it to know how long you've been out. There are also smartphone apps for hiking. Some maintain a hike log with times, maps, and pace-a great way to stay motivated and track progress. One easy-to-use app is MapMyHIKE.

Keep It Simple: Avoid complex routes with multiple turns and route finding. A basic up-and-back hike will be easier than a loop and will reduce your chances of getting lost. Simply turn around when you've reached your goal.

Settle Into a Rhythm: Start slowly and find a comfortable pace. You may initially experience some shortness of breath until you warm up and your heart rate increases. One rule for a good pace is that you should be able to carry on a conversation without becoming so short of breath that you can't easily talk.

Stay Oriented: Turn around occasionally and familiarize yourself with the area. It's amazing how different a trail can look from the opposite perspective.

Take Breaks: Hiking is great exercise but it's also about connecting with nature. So don't rush. Breaks let you take in your surroundings and rest.

Don't Get Depleted: Drink before you're thirsty and eat before you're hungry. Sometimes, before you even notice the signs, your body is running low on fuel.

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