Taking one step at a time, I spent years building up my endurance and mastering the art of hiking. From small day treks to half a month Himalayan expeditions, I’ve done it all in the past 10 years. Today, I can proudly say to have witnessed the glory and fierceness of Mother Nature like many people have never seen. Has it been all worth it? Well, let’s put it this way, I wouldn’t have spent my life doing anything else rather than going on solo and outdoors team expeditions around the world.
Today, many close friends and acquaintances come to me asking for advice on how to hike. My answer always remains the same – train, prepare, and conquer. But wait! The most important thing of all, don’t forget to stay humble when you’re in the lap of nature.
The three things you must have in your backpack
Before we move into the ground details, I’d want to share with you the three essential items that greatly helped me to traverse the wilderness and scale the mountains. Apart from the usual hiking gear, trekking poles, pocket blankets, and dry bags are the three things that you shouldn’t even think leaving home without. Why? It’s because they just might save your life.
Trekking poles: You may have seen hikers carrying two long pointy sticks on their walks. Ever wondered why? As funny as they may look, trekking poles are a crucial item to have on long walks as they act as support on different terrain. From giving your balance to taking pressure off the knees, trekking poles will ensure you don’t damage your knee joints in the long run.
Pocket blankets: Lightweight and extremely portable, pocket blankets are a kind of item that I use for a whole lot of reasons. From using it as a mattress laid on the wet ground to pulling it over my body during cold nights, these blankets have served me well on every journey. When you have one of these in your backpack, you surely put it to use one way or another.
Dry bags: Dry bags have literally saved my life on more than one occasion. No, it didn’t keep me from falling off a cliff, but my trusty bag did protect my photographic gear, smartphone, GPS, and other electronics that mean to me as much as my life. Dry bags will keep your essential items dry and safe as they are made of waterproof material. You can also use it as an inflatable pillow, a kettle bell, a makeshift bucket, and what not.
Now that we have got the essentials covered let me tell you how you should plan and prepare for your hike in advance. If you really want to have an enjoyable trekking experience, you have to train well in advance. Proper training will give you better mobility and protect your feet, legs, and other joints that would be working all day long. Strengthening your quads and hips will lead to improved cardiovascular endurance, thus minimizing the impact on the body.
Some tips for training
• Regardless of your destination, train your lower body strength to reduce fatigue and increase chances of injury. It will also prepare your body to handle steep inclines.
• If you hit the gym, drop the weights for few days and concentrate on cardio. Your goal would be to reduce the resting period in between the sets and develop more lung capacity.
• Yoga is a fantastic practice that can not only improve flexibility but also prepare your body for motion. It will also add strength that will aid in the post-hike recovery process.
• If possible, devote some time to cross training by bouldering, climbing, or running on a trail to develop overall endurance.
Never underestimate the importance of training like I did in my earlier years and for which I paid the price. Get at least two weeks of training if you plan to head outdoors that spans for more than three days.
Plan your hike
If you are going to a destination that you haven’t been before, you must read up on features of the trail, associated dangers, and safety tips from people who have already completed the hike. Planning is imperative when hiking for the first time so never go out on the spur of the moment. Doing a quick Internet search can tell you a lot about the true location and stuff to keep in mind.
Packing your backpack is an acquired skill that you’ll get better with time. But for starters, try not to fill it up to a point you are having difficulty lifting the bag up. Remember, what feels light now will feel a lot heavier when you’re going up a slope or traveling on uneven terrain. Keep your essentials in the outer pockets so that they are within your reach. Heavy clothes and other non-immediate essentials can be staffed at the bottom of the backpack.
If your hike has more than one route, be sure to choose the one that you feel comfortable taking. The scenic route might provide better views, but as a first-timer, your objective would be to have a safe trip. You may start with less water on your backpack if you have an idea on what a fill-up locations along the trail.
Navigate the trail carefully
Going on a simple day hike? What could ever go wrong? Over the years, I have learned that the span of a hike has nothing to do with the possibilities of encountering unfortunate incidences. I’ve been to month long hikes with no difficulty but came face-to-face with injury, getting lost, and being stuck on much smaller trips.
Plot your route before embarking on the trail and make a habit of keeping notes or sketches of intersections that you can use as reference material. Look at your map frequently and match how much progress you’ve made. Always keep GPS as a backup, even though a map and compass are two favorite things of veteran hikers.
There is no substitute for precaution, and you must do everything within your reach to make sure you have a safe and memorable outdoor experience. This guide is meant just to touch base on the essentials of hiking, and I hope you learned something valuable by reading it.