How To Hike
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Learning What You Need to Know in Order to Enjoy Hiking
If you can walk, hiking is easy. Really! Hiking is simply going for a walk, but doing so the wilderness. Its not really that much different than taking a walk anywhere else except that the surfaces you are walking on may be more uneven than the paved or flat surfaces you usually find in a city.
In addition to walking you need to be prepared for whatever the weather conditions are when you go for a hike, and you need to be able to find your way back home again.
The following suggestions are intended to help you ease into hiking if it is a new experience for you. If you are unsure or uncomfortable with the idea of going off into the woods for a walk, they may help you to get started.
Probably the closest thing to hiking that you can do in the city is to go for a walk in the park. If this business of hiking is really new to you going for a walk in a park is probably a good way to get started. Find a park that has some unpaved walking paths or just some open areas where you can get a feel for walking on unpaved surfaces. I find walking on unpaved surfaces much more pleasant than walking on concrete or payment. The hard city surfaces give my feet blisters faster than walking on bare ground.
One of the best ways to get started is to start with short hikes first. That way if your muscles or your feet aren't used to hiking or if you find you are not properly dressed for the weather you won't suffer unnecessarily.
One of differences between hiking and walking around in town is that you need to become more aware of your circumstances and what you need in order to take care of your body. While you are hiking there generally won't be a car, bus, house, store, or any other shelter to duck into if you get too hot or too cold or too tired or too hungry. And depending on when and where you go there may not be anyone else around. If you miss judge something on a short hike, it won't take long before you can get back to warmth, shelter, food, water, and more familiar surroundings. If you want to do it the easy way, use short hikes to learn what you can expect before attempting to tackle longer hikes.
Learn about hiking by doing it at the time of year when the weather is the nicest. Remember you're going to be outside. Summer in most areas is usually the best time of year for hiking because the weather then is most pleasant, but if you live in an area such as the desert you may want to start hiking in the spring, fall, or even winter when temperatures are more moderate. Choosing friendly weather will mean one less thing you have to worry about while you are finding out what this hiking thing is all about. Later after you have gained some experience and want more variety or challenge you can go out when the seasons are less friendly.
Start out by hiking with others in a group. It is also a good idea at least at first to go with other people who have already been hiking and know what to expect and can help you out when you don't know what to do. If you don't have some hiking friends that are willing to take you along with them, you can probably find some more formally organized groups to go with. Check with local hiking clubs, municipal parks and recreation departments, outdoor supply stores to see if they have some organized hikes scheduled. If you have trouble locating any of these, go to your public library and ask the reference librarian for assistance.
Some people find they enjoy hiking so much with a group that they never get around to hiking by themselves. Others really enjoy the solitude of hiking alone. It gives them a chance to think about things, or the opportunity to not think and just experience. There is something to be said for both approaches, but I recommend hiking with a group first if you are inexperienced.
One of the most common mistakes made by the hiking novice is the wrong choice of footware. Choosing the right footware is very important. Hiking by definition is walking which means being on your feet. So you should choose footware that is designed to make your feet comfortable while walking not footware whose sole purpose is to look good and get attention. Some people prefer hiking boots, but you do not need boots to go hiking especially if you are just going hiking for a few hours or a day. A good pair of walking shoes is quite adequate in most areas. There are people who like to hike while wearing sandals. There are even people that hike barefoot. What you don't want to wear hiking are dress shoes that are designed with walking foot comfort as a last consideration. The footware needs to be comfortable and needs to have the kind of sole that won't have you slipping on any surfaces that aren't perfectly flat.
Another common mistake is to buy brand new footware and wear it for the first time on a hike. This is more of a problem with boots than it is with shoes. Give your feet a chance to get used to any new hiking footware by wearing it for short periods around your home or for short walks in the park. Generally the heavier the footwear the longer it will take for your feet to get used to the new shoes. If you wear something on your feet for a hike that don't already feel very comfortable, you may be sorry. Blisters are the most common result, and while not life threatening blisters certainly arenít fun. They can in fact be quite painful.
The clothes you wear are also important for comfortable hiking. Wear only clothes that feel comfortable while you are walking. Generally this means loose fitting clothes. You don't want clothes that will bind with every step you take. At the other extreme you don't want your clothes so loose that they get in your way and trip you up or catch on things as you walk by. Your clothing should also be chosen to help your body maintain a comfortable temperature while hiking - not too hot and not too cold.
The best type of footware and clothes to wear while hiking will vary some based on locale and weather. Sandals for example probably aren't a good choice for winter hiking where there is a lot of snow. Really warm clothes aren't desirable for hot, sunny hiking weather, and clothes that aren't warm enough can be miserable in cool to really cold weather. That's an advantage to learning about hiking by going with a group. You can ask around and find out what's most appropriate for the area and time of year in which you will be doing your hiking.
Experience will be your best teacher if you're paying attention. To gain experience start out with some short, easy, group hikes. Ask questions when something doesn't feel right or you don't know what to do. The experience you gain will help you make sense out of what others have to say, and pretty soon you will be able to decide for yourself what feels most comfortable to you while you are out walking in the wilderness.
Once you have some experience under your belt, if you want to do more by expanding your hiking season, or going out for longer trips, or going it alone, or tackling more difficult terrain, check out the other information available here and elsewhere for ideas. Consider these ideas and techniques in light of your own experience. Then experiment. Try different techniques. Test different pieces of gear. Find out what works best for you. Hiking is a very personal experience. What works best for you, what brings you the most joy while hiking, won't be the same for everyone else. Don't worry about it. Get the most out your hiking that you can.
The rest of the information on this web site is all designed to help enhance your hiking adventures. Season it with experience and digest it at your own pace. Most importantly enjoy your hiking.
Good luck and happy trails to you!
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