Hiking 101 - How to equip yourself and start hiking
If you’re thinking about starting to regularly going hiking and you are wondering what kind of equipment and experience you are going to need, it is not actually all that much. With a few simple pieces of equipment and a couple of trips of increasing ability, you’ll soon be able to hike just about anything in your area. Maybe you won’t be mountaineering or climbing, but for the majority of the hikes that are available in most area, some basic things will cover all that you need for your new sport.
I always tell people that anyone can hike, you just have to find what you are comfortable with before you start so that your first experiences are not bad and that you will want to continue exploring and hiking in new and different areas. That is how you build up to a hike that you may have not thought you would ever be able to do.
The first real step to starting your hiking adventure though is to find yourself a decent pair of boots.
The Hiking Boots
As someone just starting out with hiking on daytrips, you can start off with a lightweight hiking boot. The light day-hiking boots are generally made from lighter materials such as nylon and may include waterproof materials such as gore-tex. These boots generally have a comfortable fit with a soft in-sole material and a Vibram bottom that allows the boots to grip and stick to rocks and rough terrain. Another feature common to most of these boots is their light weight, most are around three pounds or so in weight for the pair, which makes them less taxing to wear than heavier-duty hiking boots.
When you are shopping for the boots make sure you bring the socks you are going to wear hiking. This will give you the most accurate feeling of how the boots will feel when you actually lace them up and start hiking.
For me when I’m shopping for boots I find that the best thing to for me to do is find a price range I am comfortable with and then look at the boots that are available in that price range. The trick to finding the best fit and the most comfortable boot in to wear your hiking socks, lace the boot up like you were hiking and then really try the boot out in the store. That means that if the boots are not laced properly; take the time to lace them up. Slip them on and then tie them as if you were hiking and then get up and get around the store. All good outdoor gear stores will include a ramp and some stairs in their boot area. This gives you a chance to see how the boots work on something besides the flat sales floor. Spend some time going both up and down the ramp, just as you would be hiking up and down a sloped surface. Flex the boots as you wear them on the slope, leaning into the slope and getting to see how firm the boot is and how your foot feels in it while it flexes. Use the steps to see how heavy the boots are as you are climbing. Walk around the store, stretch out, stand up on your toes or even jump around a bit. You want to make sure that the boot both fits your foot and more importantly is comfortable. As you walk around and try out the boot, make sure there is no movement in the heel area, as rubbing is what can cause a blister.
Once you’ve narrowed down the choices to those that are comfortable and fit your needs, you can consider the pros and cons of each boot to your friend and also consider the prices of the various boots. Your decision should be guided by price (if that’s a concern to you), but shouldn’t be made by price. Your decision should be for the most comfortable boot that meets your needs.
The Clothing for Hiking
This is actually probably the easiest part of getting ready to start your hiking experiences. There really is no special clothing that you need, but you do have to dress for the conditions that you will be expecting along your hike. Hiking in a desert area? It’s going to be hot and sunny. Hiking somewhere it could rain? You want something that dries quickly and have some sort of raincoat or shell to protect you from the elements. Is it cold, then you will want to dress warmly, but not so warmly that you are sweating before you even start walking.
I would suggest getting yourself a decent pair of hiking socks. Now there are a million different hiking socks available, but all you want is a wool or a synthetic blend that will give your feet protection, will wick away any moisture and will be comfortable with the boots that you have.
After the socks comes the underwear. I would not suggest wearing cotton in any season on this layer. Pick up a pair of synthetic underwear. This will wick the moisture away from you as you sweat and it will stay relatively dry. It will also reduce chafing and discomfort, since you won’t have damp clothing right against your skin.
If you are hiking in the summertime, I would suggest rounding out your outfit with a synthetic t-shirt and a pair of synthetic hiking pants that can be turned into shorts by zipping off the legs. These pants are incredibly handy for a range of conditions and while the price is a bit steep, they are a worthwhile investment. I’ve had a couple of pairs for years and beyond some wear and tear, they are fine.
If conditions are a bit colder, you should pick up a fleece jacket and/or a heavier weight synthetic shirt that will insulate you better, but allow your body to breathe and stay dry as you sweat.
A backpack for your hike
Even for shorter day trips, I always recommend some sort of backpack to carry water in and a few extra clothes should the conditions change while you are in the woods. I highly recommend the LL Bean Bigelow Daypack. This pack is comfortable, has lots of space and works well on anything from a short hike to even a lightweight overnight hike.
The most important trick to find a good backpack though is going to the stores and trying them on. Use the weights that they have to fill the pack up to what you think you will be carrying. That way you can feel what the pack is going to feel like fully loaded.
Equipment for your hike
No need to go crazy here. For most hikes you do not need anything beyond some extra clothing or a jacket and some water bottles. My favorite water bottles are the 32-Ounce Nalgene bottles, but really, any kind can do. You can also invest in a water bladder to put into your pack, so you can just drink as you walk.
For my food, I just keep it in a good, strong zip loc bag. I generally keep a trash bag in my pack too, in case I’m going somewhere where it’s wet, I can pack everything inside the bag inside the backpack, to give it a little extra protection should some water leak through the pack itself.
I would suggest you pick yourself up a decent compass. Not that you’ll be navigating your way out of the woods, but it is handy to have even to just get an idea of the direction you’re heading in should you get lost.
I always carry matches and/or a cigarette lighter in a waterproof container. You never know when you might get lost or have to spend the night in the woods and if you have an easy way to start a fire, it makes life a lot easier.
A flashlight or a headlamp is always a good idea too. Should you take longer on your trip than you expect, you do not want to be stuck in the woods in the dark.
Planning for your hike
So you have gotten the hiking boots, the clothes, the gear and a backpack, now what do you do? I would suggest heading to your local bookstore and picking up a guide for the area that you are considering hiking in. Just about every major hiking area has a guide. Usually they are written by local hiking clubs, but there are also other guides available. These are great because they give you maps of the areas and also describe the hikes, sometimes in minute detail. They let you plan your trip out very well and give you an idea of what to expect while you are out there.
For your first hikes, I’d suggest bringing the guide with you if it is small enough. If it is a larger book, copy the pages out of it and bring the map with you so you know where you are as you are hiking.
I always recommend getting a map of the area you are hiking in. Whether it comes in the guidebook or you need to get one separately, it is a very good idea to have one. Should you get lost or disorientated, you can use the map to help you find your way.
Types of hikes
You should start out small with your hiking plans. Maybe do a few hikes that are only a few miles long and on various kinds of terrain. That will give you an idea of what to expect and will let you understand what you are comfortable with and what you might need to work on. Each hike should be a bit longer than the last, increasing your stamina. After several trips, you should be able to go on hikes that are several miles long without any problems. After even more, you can probably hike 10-12 miles a day without too much effort.
Getting out in the woods and hiking
So the big day is here. Find the trailhead, get ready and you’re off. Just make sure to pace yourself, stay aware of your surroundings and enjoy your trip in the outdoors.
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