Most of us have sat in front of the TV or at the movie theater watching a great adventure, when the lead actors run off into the woods on a wild chase that ends up being several days of hiking around. Miraculously, they are in the right clothes, and the right shoes. They apparently never need to eat, or go the bathroom. Oh and when they shoot the enemy, they never miss, but the bad guys chasing them never seem to hit anything, except the tree behind the good guys!
Hiking is a great experience, but it is never like it is in the movies, or on television. I think everyone should hike, if they can, and experience our natural wonders. It is good for the heart, the body, and especially the soul. But, we need to be prepared for the REAL experience of hiking.
So, here is a reality check about what hiking is really like- 10 hiking tips, to hike like a pro, and NOT seen in movies, and NOT "As Seen on T.V."
1. Forget "looking good"
Sure, you may start out looking showered and fresh-faced, but a few hours in the hot sun, trudging through mud, and you’ll be looking like one of the Lost Boys in Peter Pan.
Ladies, wear longer shorts. Your cute short shorts are not for hiking.
Cute shoes? Forget it. Hiking requires practical shoes. DO NOT WEAR FLIP FLOPS. You need good, sturdy, hiking shoes.
Many hikes through your neighborly state parks require hiking/water shoes- not plain water shoes, but the hiking/water type.
These shoes will give your feet protection against sharp rocks and have slip resistant soles. They will also dry quickly when you inevitably walk through muddy puddles or streams.
My preferred shoes cost around $60.00, and are worth every penny!
2. A backpack is also an absolute must.
I prefer the slimmer style, that can carry all the basic supplies without being bulky. The last thing you need when trying to climb up ladders, steps, rocks or muddy inclines, is bulky weight on your back slowing you down, or throwing you off-balance. However, this is my personal preference and might not be yours. You need a pack that distributes the load evenly, and does not throw your center of gravity off.
When shopping in person for a backpack, wear it around the store to see how it fits and feels. If you order one online, try it out before you are out on the trail.
3. Bring Snacks.
Time to think about what you need to pack. Snacks will provide, and help sustain, your energy. Small bags of nuts, pretzels, or Powerbars, and some type of fruit, are good basics.
Do not bring soft fruit. Apples and oranges are great. Bananas become mush.
4. Water, water, water.
Did I mention you need water? When I’m going on a shorter day hike, meaning around 4 hours, I bring 4 bottles of water. I freeze two of the bottles the night before. I throw a third in the freezer the morning before the hike, so it starts to freeze before I leave. The last, I take directly from the refrigerator when I leave.
On very hot days, the unfrozen water will go pretty quickly. The barely frozen one will still be cold when you get to it. By the time you finish that second bottle of water, the other 2 will be about thawed.
I cannot stress this next part enough: DO NOT GULP YOUR WATER!!!! Yes, you will probably end up waiting until you are dying of thirst to get into your water, but drinking water too fast in this situation can mess with your stomach. You won’t get far with stomach cramps!
5. Ladies Only
Remember when I said you can forget about looking good? Well, you need to embrace going potty in the great outdoors too. Bring along a package of those sanitary wipes, learn to laugh, and not pee on your shoes!!
Grab a few Ziploc bags while you’re at it, because like any nature lover, you know that you take out everything you bring in. Put your wipey things in the baggy, along with your orange peels. Do not leave garbage behind. Not ever.
The first time you see a dirty diaper on the ground, it is shocking, and disheartening. Just don’t leave any kind of trash behind.
6. Take Breaks
After you don’t gulp your water, and you don’t pee on your shoes, it would probably be a good time to take a break. Breaks are very important, especially if you are on a longer hike. Take a break, and catch your breath. If you are wearing boots, take them off for a couple minutes, and stretch your feet out.
Look around for a bit and really enjoy the surrounding scenery. One of the things I caught myself doing, was watching my footing so much, that I missed a lot of beautiful things around me.
Once I learned to slow it down, and take much need rest breaks. It really opened my eyes to all nature has to offer us: the amazing rock formations, the way the sun looks coming through the trees, the sounds of animals around you, the way water transforms the stone it flows over, and the feeling of the light breeze over your skin.
Stop and take it all in. It may not always be there, and you may not always be able to get there in the future.
7. Bring a Camera.
You can bring your phone and use it as a camera. You can bring a disposable camera, but take pictures. If you are planning on getting wet, make sure you have a waterproof container, and keep your camera inside when not in use.
Some of the things you will see on your hikes will be amazing. Some of the things you will do on your hikes will be semi-dangerous, and exhilarating. You will want to look back on those memories and relive them. Nature changes continuously. So do we.
I keep many pictures of my hiking trips around my house. They remind me of what it is like to be free; to live; to do things I would never let my kids do. (I’ll address all those in a later article.) Don’t let yourself forget what you have accomplished!
8. Pack the Practical Things
Always carry a flashlight and an extra set of batteries. A compass is a good idea too. Sure, you may look at your watch and think, this trail says it usually takes 3 hours, and it is only 9 a.m. Trust me when I say: NOT ALL STATE PARKS PROVIDE GOOD MAPS, AND NOT ALL TRAILS ARE WELL MARKED!
I have had experience wandering around at dusk, trying to remember where in the world things went wrong. It went like this...
"The path said 2, and I’m on 2, but 2 never seems to end. Thank goodness I have the flashlight, because I swear I just went around that curvy thingy on the map that says I should be approaching path #5, but I’ve been walking for an hour, and the path still says 2!!!
But wait, the map says 2 is in 3 different directions. OH FOR CRYING OUT LOUD, I better start tearing my clothes, and tying strips around the trees, because I think we are walking in circles!"
The phone is only going to be good for pictures, because it is a rarity you will find a signal, wandering around a forest in the middle of nowhere. But hey, this is when the real adventure begins. Keep calm and enjoy. You WILL laugh about it later.
9. Pack Just in Case
Whoops, you fell in the water, cut your arm and daylight is fading fast, but it’s okay. You pack a first aid kit.
Your first aid kit should contain band aids, ace bandages, and pain relievers like ibuprofen or aspirin, just in case.
Of course your anxiety might kick in if this happens, so you bring your prescription medications, just in case. Pack your first aid kit in your waterproof container.
After you bandage yourself up you might as well reapply the bug spray. If dusk arrives, the mosquitoes come out hungry.
Wait that might not be a mosquito, it might be a bee, and you are allergic. Bring your epi pen too, just in case.
Hiking is a great adventure, but sometimes WE get too adventuresome.
Be prepared for minor accidents, just in case, because there is no 911, and the hospital is still a good hike, followed by a god drive, away.
10. Stay on the Trails!
I cannot repeat enough how important it is to stay on the trails. My phone has only had signal in one of the many places I have been hiking. Your phone GPS will be of no help.
Again, a lot of state maps leave much to be desired. Sometimes your trails are vaguely marked, and dark comes before you know it. Even if someone notices your car has been in the parking lot for 3 days, they will have a very hard time finding you, if you get lost. It will be next to impossible if you were not even on a marked path.
Revel in your accomplishments, and look back with pride!
When you are showing off your amazing pictures to your family and friends, you won’t remember the Ziploc baggies, or the weight of your frozen water, or the first aid kit you may never have to use.
What you will remember is sitting on the fallen log eating your trail mix, and drinking your water, listening to the sound of the water gurgling nearby.
What you will remember is how difficult it was to walk on jagged slippery rocks, for almost an hour, to make it to the waterfall not everyone can make it to.
What you will remember is reaching out your hand to let a fellow hiker help you climb up the final few feet, so you can sit behind the waterfall.
What you will remember is how it felt to feel the weight of that water hitting you, and the way it made you laugh like you were a little kid again.
What you will remember is the camaraderie with fellow hikers, sharing a smile, or that slight head nod, that shows you are among true travelers and true adventurers.
What you will remember is that you made it. Not everybody does.
Contributed by Christine Gillmore
If you would like to know more about Christine, see her bio on our Editors, authors and guest travelers page, here: Editors, Authors and Guest Travelers
If you are looking for some places to hike, see our Budget Trips page, here: State Parks
If your are looking for hiking/water shoes, other hiking supplies, see some suggestions from Amazon below. The last link will take you to the general search for hiking supplies.
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