This weekend I was chatting with my neighbor Blanche. She mentioned that she’s always wanted to hike to Lake Blanche because, well, coolest name ever, right? But she said she wasn’t sure where to start with hiking, as it’s not something she’d ever loved doing. Still…Lake Blanche! It looks so beautiful. I’ve never hiked it either, but now I’ve got to do it, even if my neighbor does.
When I was hiking with Kendell this weekend, I was thinking about that conversation, and how overwhelming it probably seems, to try to start hiking. How do you pick your trails? How do you know what to wear, what to eat, how long to go, what gear you need?
What I told my neighbor was this: just start. Start hiking and then keep hiking.
Of course, it’s more complicated than that.
So while I was hiking (we did almost 7 miles today, after planning on just doing 4ish; it was just too beautiful to stop), I thought about how someone could become a hiker. The only expertise I bring to this question is my own experiences, so take this advice for what it’s worth. But here are my suggestions for becoming a hiker.
- Pick a goal hike. This can be whatever you want, but try to choose something that is six miles or longer, so you’ll have a good challenge. Pick something that inspires you, for whatever reason. The highest peak in your county, a mountain you’ve always loved. A lake with your name! (I would like to hike to Lake Blanche because it’s beautiful, but also because a little bit higher up is a lake called Florence, which was my grandma’s name, so I’ve always wanted to see it.)
- Set a date for your goal hike. I’d say to give yourself about four months, but this also depends on your current level of fitness. If you’re already exercising in different ways, you could do it sooner. Write the date on your calendar, take the day off work, commit to the date and the hike.
- Pick a day of the week that will be your hiking day. Every week, you will hike on that day, so make it a day that you will be able to remain consistent with.
- Start flat. This will require a little bit of research. You can use Summit Post (a website with tons of details about many hikes all over the world), All Trails (an awesome hiking map app for your phone), or just start Googling. Check your library to see if there is a book there about hikes in your area (they’ll be somewhere in 796 probably). See if you can find a hiking group on Facebook. Talk to the people who work at your local REI or other sporting goods store. Your goal is to find hikes that are fairly close to you, close enough that you can drive to the trailhead, hike the trail, and drive home, all in one day—but also hikes without a ton of elevation gain. Even if you just find one or two trails that meet this criteria, it’s OK. Flatish trails, anywhere from 3-5 miles long. (I think I will write another blog post with recommendations near me for beginning trails.)
- HIKE! On your designated hiking day, drive to the trailhead. And hike. What if the weather is bad? Sometimes I hike in the rain. Sometimes I just wait until the next day. Sometimes I cut the hike short. Sometimes I do a brisk walk on a paved trail that is lower than the bad weather. Missing a long hike now and then will not derail your plans though. If you miss a day, go the next day, or if you can’t, just miss that long hike and start again the next week. Don’t give up!
- Be patient with yourself. Even if you do other forms of exercise, hiking is different. It works different muscles in different ways. Use these flatter hikes to start learning about how your body responds to hiking. You might have to adjust gear (also another post) and nutrition (something else to write about!) as you gain more experience. Your body will learn how to hike only if you take it outside and hike!
Hike your flatish trails once a week for four weeks. On the days you’re not hiking, do your usual exercising. (If you are starting totally from scratch, try biking, walking, or swimming for the days you’re not hiking.)
- Add some altitude. Again—this will take research. Locate a trail near you that is steep but short. The trail I use for this in my area is the Y trail. It gains 1100 feet of elevation in a little bit more than a mile. Think of this hike as your exercise hike. It doesn’t have to be pretty because the point of this hike isn’t scenic overlooks or amazing vistas. It’s just to get your lungs into the habit of pushing through being breathless. Choose a different day, one that’s not right before or right after your long hike day—I do my exercise hike on Wednesdays—and, again: commit. Yep, you’ll now be hiking two days a week, but this exercise hike doesn’t have to be hours and hours. Take it slow the first time, and as the weeks progress, try to push the speed a little bit.
Hike your flatish trails on your long hike day and your steep hike on your exercise hike day for four weeks. Continue with your other forms of exercise.
- Combine! Find some steeper hikes for your long hike day. Keep doing the exercise hike, but on the long hike, get some altitude. Give yourself permission to take the entire day on your long hike, so you could drive further to different trails. Research your area and explore. If you go on a trip during this time, find a hike in the place you’re traveling to. Find some friends who also hike and do a friend hike. Enjoy this part of the training! Your body will be getting stronger and hiking will be a little bit easier. This is why you hike in the first place, you’ll learn. Not really for that goal hike, but for the weekly exposure to beauty and cliffs and tired quads and pushing through. Try to find a few trails that are similar either in length or altitude to your goal hike just to give yourself an idea of what you might experience.
- Continue with consistency. Two hikes a week, one long, one for exercise. Continue with your other forms of exercise. This is important because A—two days of hiking a week won’t be enough to get you in tough enough shape for that goal hike and B—your body needs variety. Your muscles need to be used in different ways. Consider some strength training, if you don’t already do any.
- Complete your goal hike! Take lots of pictures! Have a great time!
Now, here’s the most important step: