How to Become a Better Hiker – A Practical Guide

Why should I hike?

I have just finished a load of exams for uni and spent the last few days as an excuse to  celebrate the freedom, but Im ready to get back on track.  Starting this blog has been an interesting learning curve for me, I am only 2 or 3 weeks in but I am genuinely enjoying it, I have so many thoughts and ideas flying out of my head, it’s hard to keep track of them, I catch what I can on paper and unfortunately lose the rest. One of the ones I have lost was the basics, the simple original question, and the question why!

While I have been focusing on beginner articles, such as what equipment to bring, and what boots to choose, and I will continue to do so as I learn more myself, and improve my content, I have forgotten the first point, the original point of interest. Why hike? What are the benefits? How to get into it?

What will follow in this article are the things all you need to know for how to start hiking, and to persuade you to start.

The benefits of hiking?

Some people may enjoy certain aspects of hiking that others hate, and some people may not recieve any benefits at all, while others just can’t decide. So I still hear the question, what are the benefits? Well I could go through a list with you, stating them as; socializing, exercising, experience of the outdoors, satisfaction , bird watching, nature watching, community, sense of achievement or whatever, but that is boring and inpersonal, and unlikely to get you motivated for taking up hiking.

I am passionate about hiking, and I want you to get into it to. Do you like chatting with your best mate,  love it when your child is in a deep sleep after a good day out on the beach? Like watching the sunset, or enjoy a nod or a quick chat with a stranger? Like to challenge yourself to heights you’ve not experienced before? Like animals, watching squirrels prepare for winter scurrying around for nuts, or new born lambs? Do you want a new hobbie, want something you count down the days in the office for?

If you answer yes to any one of those questions, then hiking is most certainly for you. There are many many benefits to taking up hiking, many of them will be personal to you alone. I love hiking the most when I’m with a group of like minded friends having fun, joking, challenging ourselves physically and mentally.

I enjoy it when I get slightly lost, it thankfully doesnt happen often, but if your hiking with a reliable group and let people know your doing it, you will be safe, and anyway, with a map and compass and the ability to use them, you will hopefully avoid getting lost at all or have the skills to recover. I will discuss the map and compass later within this series, for now I will stay on track to try and convince you to start.

Obstacles?

If your worried about family commitments or dogs, or children, take them with you. The dog will love the day out in mud or streams embarrassing you as your favorite pet runs up and down the hill you are struggling to climb four times more than you. Your child, even if you have to carry him or her will enjoy the day out also, of course you will have to decrease the difficulty of the walk and have more concern, but it is possible. Hiking can be a great family day out, it can also be a great friendship day out.

What if you want to start but can’t convince anyone else to join you? No worries, while I highly recommend finding a buddy to encourage you, a topic I’ll touch in the next article, there are plenty of hikers who enjoy the solitude and the peace of mind, the chance to think.

There are also always plenty of groups to join. There really is no obstacle to hiking in regards to the above thoughts.

What about costs? Well this is perhaps one of the biggest boundaries to you and  hiking, I will cover in a future article of this series how to keep costs down, so stick and around and pick up my tips.

Mental barriers?

Ok convinced? I hope so, I would love it if i can convince more people to take up hiking, it is truly a wonderful day out. Ok so your convinced hiking is great and wonderful 😛 , you like the idea,you want to take it up, but naturally you are anxious, you are nervous about starting, unsure where to begin?

Yes?

There is no shame in that, everyone has these thoughts and feelings with something in their life, in fact I am currently going through it now, with joining rugby.

Want to know how to overcome these thoughts and feelings? Keep following my blog and very soon the overcoming obstacles article will be ready and waiting to help you, help yourself.

Break through barriers!

So you are sold on the idea of hiking, great.  There is still this nagging feeling though? Something in your way, an obstacle, you are are uncertain on how to start, when to start and always find a reason not to start?

This is common, we’ve all been there at somepoint in life, in a number of ways. I am there myself right now, I want to play rugby, I have never played for a proper established team before but have played in the past and I love it, so what’s stopping me? I know the benefits for me, that I will enjoy, what is stopping me? Well a whole number of things; cost, fear of the unknown and a terrible habbit of procrastinating to name a few. I keep saying ‘next week im busy now”, keep putting it off for other things. Well I am changing my attitude, I have decided to start this week, one of the two training sessions, I am going, I have to.

I5 ways to ‘Break through mental barrier’

Buddy up!!

Ask a friend! Anything that you are nervous about suddenly becomes a whole lot easier when with a person you trust and enjoy spending your time with. There is also the benefit that you will have someone ringing you up to encourage you on the day, it is a lot easier to wake up and say no to a walk to yourself, than to saying it to someone else. Everyone wants to avoid the guilt of letting someone else down and you will take that first big step into hiking.

What if you are struggling to convince any of your friends to become budding hikers? No worries there are other options.

Join a group.

This is how I got into hiking, and is one of the best ways as you’ll learn the correct techniques off people who know them, you will be a lot safer and your progression will be quicker, in theory. Not forgetting all the new friends you’ll make, this is a really great option. To find groups I advise simply looking at google, there will be plenty of options, and don’t forget to consider groups which don’t just focus on hiking, there will be more chance of finding a group but also more options to broaden your horizons and change your life.

Happy with the first 2 suggestions? Worried about finance?

Keep costs down.

Hiking doesn’t have to be expensive, the beauty of hiking is its simplicity, and simplicity is not expensive. Of course you get many hikers that spend a fortune on equipment and enjoy doing that, that’s fine if youy have the money. What if you are like me on a restricted income? Then it is still possible. Over the coming weeks I will be writing equipment articles so keep tuned,however quick hints for now, expensive doesn’t always mean better, see my article on choosing hiking boots, shop around, use the internet carefully and you will find bargains, and perhaps most importantly, don’t go crazy on spending.

Slowly invest, start with essentials, boots, map and compass and waterproofs perhaps. This leads to my next point.

Take it easy.

Pretty simple really, slow down, take it easy, relax and build up. If you go in all guns blazing and try and climb a mountain on the back of no previous experience, you will likely fail and never go again. Be realistic, set an aim you can achieve and slowly improve.

Perhaps the most important point coming up;

Enjoy.

Have the right mental attitude, be optimistic, slow down, enjoy the experience, share it with friends or enjoy it alone, do what ever you like, at the pace you like. It is all about you, if you enjoy pushing yourself physically, then great, but if you prefer to examine the wildlife and bask in the sun, then do that.

There you go, that is it for now, hope it has provided more of a practical approach to starting hiking and breaking through that mental barrier.

9 Essentials for day hiking!

Boots.

I cant stress enough how important a nice sturdy pair are. If you have comfortable fitting boots you will avoid a great heap of problems, and you will be allowed to concentrate on the enjoyment of hiking. Make sure you pick the right pair of hiking boots.

P.S. Don’t forget your extra socks!!!.

Food and water.

Possibly the most important. If you are on a 2 hour hike or a ten hour hike you will need to refuel, you will go through an unusually larger amount of calories, water, salt, carbohydrates so you need to stock up, this is why food and water are  so crucial to your hiking success. With water,  you are meant to be drinking at least 2 litres a day anyway, so drink a half a litre to a litre before the hike, and definetly after it and make sure you have at least 2 litres with you during the hike. I usually carry 3 because someone will always runs in a group. If it is very hot, and a long hike you will need to carry more or plan for refils!!! When I did the Nijmegen Marches, I was drinking up to 6 litres a walking day, although this is extreme due to long miles and heat.

First aid kit

Consisting of blister plasters(band aids), feet tape, scissors, tweezers, triad bandages , pain killers(up to you of course, can come in handy) at least. While it is always best to construct your own, personal to you, most hiking shops will sell pre-packed first aid kits, I advise buying one of these and adding and personalising them! Sun cream as well!!

Bivvy bag/ emergency equipment

I call them bivvy bags, they are basically bright illuminous coloured emergency blankets/covers. Mine is orange, plastic and will keep me slightly warm, dry and highly visible if I get stranded on the hills. Simple. Also consider taking whistles, emergency tents, an old mobile phone and change for public telephones (What emergency equipment you need to take with you obviously varies on where your hiking, so consider this before every walk).

Hat.

Your face  and head are most sensitive to changes in temperatures, so covering them up with a scarf and hat makes you feel warm and cosy!! If it is hot and sunny wear a trimmed hat to protect the skin on your face and neck, and to shade your head.

Map and compass.

If your going for a hike alone or with a group even, you should never go without a map and compass. These can keep you safe, on track, on time, and happy!

Waterproof/windproof warm jacket.

If you are hiking in Wales like I do, then the weather will change out of nowhere, be prepared for it, even in hot and dry climates you will need a warm coat in case of emergencies and your forced  to stay overnight. For waterproofs they do sell very compact packs of jackets and trousers, I advise getting these  as a minimum.

Durable trousers/pants.

Not JEANS, EVER. A a lot of people may do it but my advice is strongly, definitely do not wear jeans. They restrict movement, they get very heavy when wet, rub and cause you pain. Avoid them!!  Wear thick trousers, but flexible trousers, khaki trousers or pants are ideal.  Try and also avoid shorts unless it is very hot as they leave your leg open to insect bites, scratches, anything really.

Bag/rucksack.

For obvious reasons of carrying all your essentials!

Well there you have it,  my basic essentials that I have with me for every hike.  This a general list, and by no means exhaustive, be smart; plan your route in advance,  judge the terrain and climate,  keep track of time,  pack for your needs e.g. if in north America you may have to worry about wildlife, learn about what animals are around, how to avoid them etc.

How to avoid exhaustion and pain while hiking!

You don’t have to be a perfect athlete to take part in hiking, however, if you are up for testing yourself, avoiding exhaustion, preparing yourself for any eventuality and love the thrill of an extremely challenging hike, then there are certain fitness levels and diets you can be using to improve your hiking fitness.

If you don’t, you can find youself tested to your limit and beyond. This has happened to me once a few years ago in a competition. I was the youngest and least experienced of the four man team and we were behind, after ascending and descending one valley in North Wales, Snowdonia, I was already tired, but then came the killer. Another valley, even steeper and higher than before, I was not allowed to rest, my bag seemed to be getting heavier with every step, and my legs were burning almost unbearably.  I made it after being encouraged up by my team mates, we won that competition in the end, but I was not prepared to be in that situation again. Want to avoid a scenario like that? Then follow the following steps, besides keeping fit and healthy is good for you, and exercising actually releases ‘feel good endorphins’, so you have nothing to lose.

Diet.

To be hiking fit, you don’t have to be slim or ‘buff’, in my opinion it is better to have a layer of fat, and to be well fed, to have a healthy body full of nutrients, vitamins, protein, unsaturated fat and energy sources such as carbohydrates. The benefits of  a strong healthy body are clear to see, you will have a better immune system to avoid colds on winter walks, you will have a large energy resource to avoid exhaustion, you will be able to complete your targeted hike or expedition.

The night before a hike, be sure to eat a lot of carbohydrates, you will need to slow releasing energy for the next day. Try to avoid fast releasing energy sources, such as chocolate, or sweets or sugar until hiking time.

Recent scientific research has shown that your body uses up a lot of carbs during exercise, and a lot of fat after the carbs are used, this process continues for hours maybe even into the next day. To avoid losing too much weight and therefore strength and vital energy supplies, eat your carbohydrates!!

Also be sure to replenish the stock at the end of the day. Some hikes last 8 hours or more, your body would be eating up far more calories, fat and carbohydrates than usual, and you will sweat more, so keep hydrated, and eat more salt than usual to avoid cramp. A nice bag of crisps, or plate of salty chips should do the job fine. If your a healthy eater, just add a bit of salt to ur veg. Yes i know salt can be horrible, and bad for you,but it is vital to avoid cramp.

Physical fitness.

So, now that we are eating well and extremly healthy, how should we prepare for the physical challenge presented by hiking? As a rule, hikers need to be strong in legs, hips, body core and shoulders. The best way to get fitness for a specific activity, is by doing the specific activity, so for football or rugby, play football or rugby, same applies for walking or hiking, go walking or hiking.

Start light, only a few miles on flat terrain. Evaluate how you felt, easy, difficult, or inbetween? Adjust your training appropiately, try to always progress, slowly building up your physical strength, breaking in your boots and importantly improving or adapting your mental strength.

Getting too easy? Increase the distance, and difficulty, move to hilly terrain, move to loose footing, and wear a heavy backpack. Start wearing the big ones,  pack your bag as if your going on the expedition, if you don’t want the hassle of having the pack your bag for an expedition, then just add weights and fill it with clothes and water. Keep increasing the difficulty of your walks and training, remembering always to not push your self too far. The majority of hikes are to be enjoyed at  a pace and effort you are comfortable with.

What if you cant practise by doing?

If for whatever reason such as not being near suitable locations, lack of funds or time, you can not prepare by practising, then you can always target exercise parts of your body. Perform squats, to strengthen your legs. Press ups for the upper body help with your heavy rucksack. To artificially prepare for hill walking, walk or run up and down stair cases with your pack and boots on.

Follow these exercises and diet, and you should be hiking fit , but do remember, hikes are to be enjoyed, they are leisure activity, do what your comfortable with, only follow these steps and push yourself if you are mentally ready for a challenge.

5 ways to take care of your feet!

Feet! An undeniably crucial aspect of hiking, without them, we wouldn’t get anywhere, and it is therefore very important to treat them well.

So what are my methods of pampering the ever important feet?  How can you look after this valuable hiking commodity? After exeriencing the effects of different boots, different types of hiking, and long distance walking, I have come up with my favourite methods, that are sure to help you, help your feet.

Boots.

Wear boots that fit, stop the blisters occurring from one of the most common causes, ill fitting boots. I have been the victim of ill fitting boots before, severely, too horrific to show on the blog, treat your feet with respect and get them a nice pair of boots.

Socks.

An influential factor on if your feet survive a hike or not. Give them the attention they are due, make sure they do not rub, or suffocate your feet too much. Can you fit your feet in your boots with the socks you wear? Everyone has personal preference of socks, thick, thin, double layered, two pairs, but can you fit your feet in the boots with them on?

If they get wet, change them, leave your feet wet for too long, and nasty stuff starts happening.

Prep them before your walk.

Not so much needed in shorter hikes, with well fitting boots, but if long distance walking of up to 25 miles a day, your feet need a helping hand. Treat your feet properly and minimize or even avoid damage, neglect them and suffer almost debilitating agony. Using micropore tape is effective, but my personal favourite is zinc oxide tape, which should prevent a lot of pain providing it is tight to your skins, and not rubbing.

Training.

Train your feet! My feet have a hard skin, they do not blister easily, while not as strong as they once were, they are still resistant a year or two after their peak.

Wear in your boots on light walks nothing more than 5 miles, see how your feet react. If they are hot in parts, and sore, you have hot spots, these can develop into blisters if not acted upon.Stop your walk, evaluate what is wrong, and act. Socks wet? change them. Feet rubbing? add more socks, tighten your boots or abort the walk.

Slowly improve the resistance of your feet with increasingly tough hikes.

Pamper.

At the end of the walking day, you git to rest those wonderful feet. Take your boots off, ahhh lovely, take your socks off, even better, take your tape off, WOW, an experience not to be underestimated.It gets better, for the best feeling, immediately rub cream such as E45 cream into your feet, massage it in for maximum bliss. Of course reapply after cleaning your feet.

Follow these steps, and you should have no problems with your feet on hikes.

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