As the whole world seems to be on Corona lockdown, you may have decided that you want to take up hiking. Whether you have decided to take up hiking to alleviate boredom or you are looking to improve your general fitness, there is no better past-time than to get out and take in the fresh air that nature has to offer.
It may seem straight-forward, just heading out into the great beyond surely cannot be that difficult can it? Well, actually Yes! There are many factors that you need to consider before you decide to head out on those trails.
The very first thing to consider is your level of fitness. Your level of fitness will initially determine how far you are able to go but do not worry if you are a little out of shape, your fitness will improve with each time you venture out.
In the beginning if your fitness level is not so good, we recommend that you start off by going out on shorter trips but doing so regularly. Going out a little and often will give your body the chance to acclimatise to this new form of exercise and gradually your muscles will become stronger and less fatigued. Also, the more that you go out, the faster your respiratory system will improve, meaning that you can keep going for longer without feeling out of breath.
Even if you are feeling in great shape, we do not think that you should push yourself to your limits right away as there is still much to learn about hiking.
Regardless of your level of fitness, we recommend that you try hiking a few different routes and getting used to the different terrains that you may encounter.
Footwear is right up there with the most important things to consider during your introduction to hiking. Choosing the right footwear can be a daunting task as there are so many options to choose from, hiking boots (affiliate link); hiking sandals (affiliate link); trail running shoes (affiliate link); the list is quite long but do not be overwhelmed, we are here to help.
Why is it important to have the right hiking boots? The right footwear is extremely important to a hiker whether a novice or a seasoned pro and like a cyclist must choose his bicycle and a soccer player must choose his cleats; a hiker will need to choose the right footwear.
The size and fit of your hiking boots are particularly important You will be walking a great deal of kilometers in them and ill-fitting boots can not only cause extreme discomfort, a poor fitting shoe can cause all sorts of unwanted foot conditions that could affect your health.
After considering your fit and where you will be hiking, it is time to invest in your hiking boots. We believe that it is imperative that you buy a good quality boot. A good quality boot can be the difference between you really enjoying being outdoors and not wanting to go be out there at all.
Another thing to think about when choosing the right hiking footwear is the type of terrain that you will be traversing. SUV tyres are designed according to the surface they meet, and many hiking boots can be categorised the same way. There are many types of boot and they will offer different types of protection; if you are in Alaska and hiking through the snow you will want insulation against the cold; if you are in the UK you will want boots that offer waterproofing; and if you are in the desert, you will want boots that offer breathability.
Many experienced hikers will have different boots for different terrains and even for different seasons if the weather changes dramatically. As a novice, we recommend investing in a good boot that offers comfort and versatility.
Depending on where you are hiking and for how long, choosing the right clothing for your hike can be as important as the footwear on your feet. When you are just starting out you may not want nor be able to invest in clothing along with your boots but once you start racking up the mileage, you will soon notice the difference when you swap out the jeans for a pair of hiking pants.
Whatever the weather, you will want to be warm and unless you are hiking in a real temperate region… that means layers. For many environments, the 3 layers below should be enough to get you through although for those among us that hike in more extreme environments, you may want to add a few more.
The first layer we recommend is known as a base layer. Base layers are not only designed to keep you warm, but base layers are also designed to keep you cool and dry. Base layers are made from a high tech moisture wicking fabric which is a modern marvel, the fabric quickly moves sweat to the outer surface (this is known as wicking) and then the fabric dries rapidly so it does not become heavy and wet.
The next layer is our mid layer and for this we recommend a fleece jacket. Fleece jackets are perfect for outdoor pursuits where our body temperature can very quickly rise and fall depending on the weather and our level of exertion. Fleece jackets are known for their qualities of not only providing warmth, but they are also known for being breathable therefore allowing you to stay warm and dry. Another positive with a nice zip-through fleece jacket is that it can be easily removed should you need to take it off.
Our final upper body layer may not be needed by all (especially those lucky enough to live where the sun shines every day), and that layer is a waterproof jacket. Why is a waterproof important? Well, I think the answer to this question is obvious, but I will go ahead and explain anyway. If, like me, you live in a place where the weather is unpredictable and can change at the drop of a hat, you will want to keep a waterproof close by. There is nothing worse than being miles from civilisation and the heavens decide to open.
For the lower body we also recommend that you wear a moisture wicking base layer (unless you are an avid wearer of shorts), and we think that it is also best practice to carry a waterproof outer layer too. The other items of clothing that we recommend are below.
You may be wondering why I have added underwear to this list as you think that your current underpants are fine. Well, that may be true for sitting at a desk at work or for lounging on your sofa at home. Have you ever hiked 15 kilometers over rough terrain in your best briefs? Probably not. The importance of a comfortable pair of underpants should not be overlooked as even the smallest amount of chafing can ruin even the hardiest of people’s day.
Next up on our list is a pair of shorts or hiking pants. What can’t I go hiking in my jeans? I hear you say. Although jeans are extremely durable and hard-wearing, they do not make great wearing for hiking especially if you are travelling a good distance. Jeans are particularly heavy and restrictive. Specialized hiking pants however are designed to be just as durable, but they are lightweight and allow you to move more freely which certainly helps if there are any obstacles that you must navigate.
Why are hiking socks important? Hiking socks are important for various reasons. The correct hiking socks will not only provide comfort inside your hiking boots; the correct socks can also help provide additional support for your ankle giving you that much needed stability whilst out on your trek.
Now that we have covered off what to wear on your feet and what clothing is best, now it is time to think about what you may need to take with you hiking. There are numerous things that will be considered essential and others that are good practice to carry with you. You may not need all the items on the list for your introduction to hiking but the further you are able to venture, the more important some of the items become.
The first item on our list of things to take with you is your backpack. A backpack is essential and allows you to carry all your belongings in one place. If you are hiking somewhere known for unpredictable weather, we recommend that you purchase a waterproof backpack to ensure that your things stay nice and dry. This can be particularly important if you are carrying items that do not mix with water such as electronic devices and cell phones or anything made of paper such as a map.
Water, yes water. You need to pack a supply of water to take hiking. Quite simply, de-hydration kills. Water is essential in keeping your body functioning and the more you exert yourself, the more water your body will lose. Regardless of how far you are hiking, a bottle of water to keep yourself hydrated should be the first thing you pack.
How much food you take will likely depend on how far you are planning to go. You want to ensure that you are packing foods that are high in carbohydrates that will give you the energy you need to keep going when you need it. Also, if you are planning on a long journey, you should pack extra just in case anything should happen and you need it as there isn’t anywhere to buy more when you are out in the wilderness.
I always carry spare socks with me even though my hiking boots are waterproof. I carry them just in case my boots get damaged or begin to let in water. I am sure everyone has experienced wearing wet footwear even if it is just for a short time and you will know that it does not take too long before your feet become cracked and sore. If you are a long way from civilisation, wet feet can become debilitating and hinder your ability to get where you are going.
Chances are that you already have a cell phone, and it is a good idea to have it with you when out hiking. Modern cell phones are jam packed with features and one of those is GPS. GPS may be very important should you somehow get into trouble and need assistance. Hopefully, you will never need your cell and you are able to enjoy being away from the hustle and bustle, but it is better to be safe than sorry. Ensure your cell is fully charged before leaving the house and you should also read our tips on how to stay safe whilst hiking.
A good old-fashioned paper map is something that you should carry when hiking, especially when you are travelling right out into the wilderness or somewhere that you have never been. A paper map will not lose signal, nor will the battery die halfway through the day. If you are not sure how to read a map, you can check out our map reading guide here.
It is good practice to have a small first aid kit with you and that must include any medications that you take. If the worst should happen, it is best to be prepared. Carrying things like anti-septic wipes and plasters to prevent infections could literally be the difference between life and death. Other items your first aid kit should include are scissors, bandages, foil blanket and if you are prone to allergies, you should also carry some antihistamines.
A torch is another item that we advise taking with you especially on longer journeys where you could end up out after dark. Being out after dark is not advised for a beginner that is not yet confident with what they are doing but if anything should happen during the day meaning that you are not home by nightfall; a torch would be indispensable.
That just about sums up our introduction to hiking. The things mentioned above are enough to get you going and enjoying the great outdoors. Time away from the rat race is great for the body and the mind and we think you should waste no time and start your journey. Remember, to ensure that your hiking adventures are enjoyable, ensure that you have adequate footwear and clothing. You also need to stay safe out there and remember to pack all your essentials although we hope you never need them.