Trying any sport or hobby for the first time can be nerve-wracking; adjusting to a new set of rules, lingo, setting, and even physical demands can stir up chaos in our already frazzled brains, making us reluctant to try new and exciting things. Hiking is an activity that continues to be a learning process. No matter how many summits you reach, you still find yourself encountering situations that you could’ve been better prepared for, or those you would never have seen coming, which is what adds to the sense of adventure and exploration of the unknown. While we can’t prepare you for every little thing on your hike, here’s a list of mistakes first-time hikers often make, and how you can avoid making them yourselves.
There are plenty of ways to get in shape, from biking to hitting the treadmill, all of which are guaranteed to make you stronger and build up endurance that can come in handy when out on the trails. However, there is no pre-trail conditioning quite like hiking itself; starting off small and working your way up to the big climbs is the best way to prepare yourself for major hikes. While cross-training keeps things interesting, and can keep you healthy and active in the hiking off-seasons, there is no machine setting or workout that can adequately replace actual trail hiking. In other words, there is no substituting Mother Nature and the things she does to our minds and bodies!
Dressing for your adventures can be a bit tricky, you have to factor in weather, time of year, the distance and nature of your hike, as well as other things that pertain to your body, and your own personal comfort. Suiting up in appropriate gear can mean the difference between a good hike and a great hike, or a finished hike and a this-is-the-last-time-I-ever-hike hike. Proper footwear, for starters, is a must. You may think your old running sneakers make a great substitute for hiking boots, but one mile into your trek, and we guarantee you’ll be singing a different tune. If you plan to stick with it and keep hiking, investing in a good pair of boots is beyond worth it, or even a mediocre pair for that matter. Light layers are also recommended for long hikes, as they can be added or removed as your body temperature drops or rises. Many novice hikers are also tempted to overpack, shelling out big bucks on useless gadgets, or bringing along too many snacks or supplies. Sticking with only the essentials will not only lighten your load, but it will save you plenty of money and stress in the long run.
Most trail maps will give clues to a trail’s level of difficulty, whether it is the type of terrain you’ll be treading, the distance, or the incline. Taking these factors into consideration before selecting a trail to hike. If you’re a beginner you’ll obviously want to stick to something short and manageable, without a terribly steep incline. T
his bit of advice circles back to the idea that it is best to start small and work your way up to the tougher trails.
Weather or Not
In certain regions of the U.S., such as the Northeast, the weather can be pretty unpredictable, and last week’s rainfall can be this week’s hiking nightmare. Before heading out on a hike, get into the habit of checking the trail conditions, this way you won’t be disappointed or unprepared when you show up and a particular trail is flooded, closed, or under repair. Pocket Ranger® apps offer up-to-date alerts, and most park websites will offer information about any trail closings, or conditions that may arise.
The saying “slow and steady wins the race” isn’t used and abused for nothin’. Keeping a steady pace is the best way to attack a tricky trail, and will help you conserve your energy for steep climbs or rough patches on the path. Beginners are often so eager to accomplish a trail that they’ll rush right through the easier portions of a trail, wearing themselves out before they hit a switchback or encounter a climb. Taking your time even at the moderate parts of a hike will not only prevent you from getting burnt out, but will give you the opportunity to enjoy the sights and sounds found along the way—the details that would easily be missed if your were to race through your hike.
Newbies can be the most stubborn of all hikers, with much to prove to themselves and others, first-time hikers are less likely to say “when” when a trail gets too tough or they get too tired. Often novices will push themselves to a point of exhaustion and even injury. It always helps to remember whatever you do today you will most certainly feel tomorrow, so staying within your physical means is a good way to ensure that you won’t be bedridden or hobbling to work the next day. This is not to say you shouldn’t challenge yourself, pushing yourself a little further each time, and breaking out of your comfort zone, but there’s a fine line between a challenge and unrealistic expectations. Get that heart rate up, but don’t pass out on the path!