Consider hiking an extended walk. It can be as simple as a loop at your local park, or as extensive as walking from Mexico to Canada on the Pacific Crest Trail.
The beauty of hiking is that the sport is more a state of mind than a discipline. There are no rules as to what constitutes a hike—it can be a half-mile or 3,000 miles, one-way, an out-and-back, or a loop. Hiking can be done on established trails, or off-trail, on-road or off road. You can pick an urban hike (like the Freedom Trail in Boston) or a backcountry hike in a park, on BLM land, or private reserve. If there’s any loose rules about hiking it is that you make a loose plan, select a route that you’ll try to follow, and bring along essentials for staying comfortable en route. Pretty much anyone can hike—from little kids to grandparents and great grandparents. It all comes down to the plan. Individuals with compromised mobility have options as well: many local, state, and national parks have trails that are designed for both foot and wheel chair access.
Start local. If you haven’t done a lot of recreational walking, start with a half-hour walk during the day. Select a destination, look at a map, and determine the safest, most scenic way to get there. Part of hiking is selecting a route and keeping track of where you are going and how long you want to be out. Once you can comfortably walk for a half hour, up the distance to an hour.
Hiking is not racing—the goal is to be able to keep moving at a steady pace for the duration of the walk. Sure, you may stop for a food and water break or to enjoy a good view, but if you stop too much, you won’t cover much distance. You don’t need to be a speed walker, but keep in mind that you have a planned route and an estimated time in which to finish your project.
It’s All About the Shoes
Pick a comfortable shoe with a cushioned sole. Running shoes are great for day hikes. Look for a shoe with a good tread (completely flat soles, like on a tennis or basketball shoe, slip when you are on a dirt or rocky trail). A good hiking shoe is relatively light. The rule of thumb is that each pound you wear on your feet is equivalent to five pounds carried on your back. So look for shoes that weigh less than three pounds a pair! Unless you are hiking in the snow, you can wear shoes made of mesh. Leather shoes work, but may take more breaking in time. The most important thing is that the shoes are a stable platform that allow you to be balanced and nimble on uneven terrain. If you are heading out for your first hike, make sure you’ve worn the shoes for several outings in advance, so you are comfortable with the fit. Remember that your feet swell a half size during the day, and, if you are hiking downhill, your toes will push forward, so don’t buy a shoe that’s too small (or too big).
Sock It to Me
In addition to good shoes, you’ll need good socks. You can go with wool, synthetic, or a blend. People have hiked miles in cotton socks, but they tend to bunch easier, which can cause blisters. And if they get wet, it takes longer to dry out. Pick a pair of socks that fits snugly, without being too tight. Crew-height socks will work, but those that extend an inch or two above the ankle do a better job of keeping dirt out of your shoes.
Wear Comfortable Clothes
You can wear almost anything to hike, as long as it is comfortable. Standard hiking apparel includes longish shorts (to cover your thighs from the sun), long pants, and a shirt. Synthetic materials are preferable as they are light, stain resistant, and don’t soak up water. A collared shirt will offer better neck protection (as does a neck gaiter). Bring a hat with a brim and extra jacket (either a lightweight jacket or insulation layer). A good combo to pack is a light vest and a water-resistant jacket.
Check the Weather
Check the weather report before you go. This doesn’t mean you can’t hike during a rain or snow storm, but you’ll want to be prepared.
Always let someone know where you are going and when you expect to return. You can text or call a family member, leave a note on the ‘fridge or on the dashboard of your car. Always expect and plan for the unexpected on a hike. If you get delayed or injured, you want people to know where to find you.
A good rule of thumb when hiking is to set a turn-around time. If you are planning on a two-hour hike, know that you should be heading back to your start point an hour into the hike.
You’ll want a small backpack or lumbar pack. The essentials are a bottle of water, snacks, and extra layer. It’s nice to have a couple of bandages in a zip-lock bag (in case of a blister or small cut), and, if you are going on uncharted terrain, a headlamp. Bring a map, just in case.
Leave no Trace
One of the neat things about hiking is that you are passing through terrain without leaving an imprint. It’s a no-brainer, but always make sure you pick up the remains of your picnic, and take care to stay on trails (if there is one).