Hiking 101

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Howth Head, Ireland, after eating some well deserved nuttella sandwiches

This entry is basically to explain the quick and dirty of hiking/hill walking/trekking/etc to the very begginer, as in someone who has never gone on a hike before. Some of the things said are pretty obvious, but I'm saying them for a reason (either from personal experience, or watching friends struggle!)... This is specific for day hikes, as I've gone on many, many of those, but have yet to go on a long-distance, multi-day hike (but hopefully that will be changing as of May!)  

Anyways, I love hiking. It is so simple, I trully believe anyone can do it, as long as they find the right hike for them.

Getting Started

You might, or might not need a few things to get started. A good pair of shoes is a MUST. Definitely do NOT skimp on shoes.

Cliffs of Moher, Ireland
If you just plan on doing city walks, or walking on mostly flat, paved roads, a GOOD pair of sneakers will do you good (NOT the cutesy ones with little heels). For dirt paths, steeper climbs, or unknown terrain, boots are a must. You want to look for boots that are comfortable, with good ankle support (as in, they go up past your ankle), and water-proof a couple of inches up. My sister-in-law swears by steel toes, but i just find they make my feet cold. Personally, I love the Bates military boots for hiking, as does my husband, but they are a little pricier if you're not involved in the military (of course, if you're not involved with the military, you probably have more choices available and normal feet).
where am I supposed to go?

Another important thing is good socks. I'm not a fan of cotton socks, as I find my feet start to sweat and they hold moisture, thus making your feet cold. Plus you get the nasty sweaty foot feeling. Not really too much of a problem in Florida, found it to be a problem and a pain in the butt just about everywhere else. Wool or synthetic fiber socks tend to better wick away moisture, and keep their warmth. I LOVE wool socks, especially the ones made by SmartWool.  If I could afford to replace all my socks with SmartWool socks I would. I particularly love their liners and padded hiking socks. Liners are great for colder days, and, as they are cheaper, I tend to have more of them, so I layer them with your average cotton/poly sock nicely.

Somehow, this seemed like a good idea...
The padded socks though... I thought they were ridiculous until I got a pair, but they make a HUGE difference. Like I said, synthetic fiber socks are pretty good too (my hubby prefers those), and can be cheaper/more expensive depending on the brand and where you buy them.

Water, snacks, lunch, etc... Water you will definitely need. Depending on how strenuous and/or long your hike is, depends how much water you'll need. No soda, as it dehydrates. I'm not a fan of sports drinks (I perfer to eat my calories, not drink them), but I can say they're pretty good if you REALLY feel yourself feeling woozy and dehydrated (but that's why I'm telling you to take snacks and water! learn from my mistakes!). Depending on the length of your hike, bring a snack or two, or pack a lunch.

at this point, I'm totally, completely lost, about to wade through muck. thankfully, a track team runs through here every evening :)
Make sure to have things with protien and carbohydrates. You don't have to go crazy, a handful of nuts, a granola bar, some dried fruit or a sandwich is cool. Since living in Japan, I've been taking rice and bean cakes or inari (vinegared rice wrapped in bean curd pouch) on my hikes.

Maps, maps, maps! Ok, so while you definitely don't need maps for all hikes, they are important, and if you can get a map of your hike, it will save you headaches later. Trust me on this! You might feel like you've been walking forever, but have no way of knowing where you really are unless you have a map. Grant it, some hikes are very well sign-posted, paved, very near urban areas, but I've ended up lost on a trail that was supposed to be "easy" and "popular," with some pretty terrible markers (why? cause I had no map!). If you feel like you aren't very good at reading maps, most cities have self-guided "historicals walks" you can take and that's a good way to brush up on map skills in a safe arena (plus perhaps see some of the city where you live and get walking on your feet!). A compass can be helpful too, if you know how to use it. If anything, it'll tell you where north/south/east/west are and you could orient yourself. I use them that way in a new city when I'm using the subway. You can laugh, my friends do (but at least they don't get lost!). If you don't have a map, at least orient yourself to the trail, know how long it is, how long it should take you to finish, any landmarks along the way, etc.

And a few other things I have found useful...

*a little packet of tissues (for wiping hands, emergency bathroom breaks in the bushes, to stop bleeding),

*flashlight (you might think that hike is only going to take a couple of hours, but it ends up taking more and the sun starts setting while you're still in the woods... not a fun experience),

*rain gear (if you're hiking somewhere rainy, or with sudden rainstorms invest in a real poncho. Can be turned into make-shift tent too. If you're hiking somewhere fairly dry, an emergency poncho would be ok. Forget about umbrellas.)

*synthetic/wool base layer (ok, this is probably the white-water rafter in me talking but... same as with the socks, when it's cold, it tends to wick moisture and keep it's heat, while cotton leaves you shivering. Again, trust me, been there, done that, dealt with the misery. You can actually get some pretty good deals at wal-mart on 100% poly/nylon athletic shirts, and they work just as well their pricier cousins. I've heard silk is also excellent, but I'm not rolling in cash like that)

*outer layer (ok, so I can't preach much here even though I know what the *right* thing to say is, because I LOVE my jeans and that's what I go hiking in 80% of the time and until they spontaneously combust on a mountain top, I will continue to wear them. Unless it's summer in Florida, then it's light-weight shorts. Unless it's the rainforest with blood-thirsty mosquitos, then it's lightweight pants. Basically, where whatever you're comfortable in, things you don't have to be tugging, pulling, adjust every 5 minutes)

*Hat/sunglasses/scarf/etc (anything else you might personally like to use on a daily basis, or need for the climate. I almost ALWAYS have some kind of scarf with me, so it's no different when I'm hiking)

*Sunscreen/DEET bug spray (when it's situation appropriate...)

*Hand Sanitizer (for... haha, just kidding. That stuff's crap when it comes to dirt. Take it and use it if it makes you feel better)

Lots of people have walking sticks, I've rarely ever found use for them, but on those really steep, narrow hikes that I did... man was I wishing I had one (if only to help me keep my balance)! I always try to bring a camera, especially if it's a new hike for me. If it's a familiar hike I usually bring an MP3 player too.

Getting Hiking!

First, you have to pick a hike. Some things to keep in mind are:

your own physical level (Be honest with yourself! don't be picking a steep, rocky, mountainous trail if you're a total couch potato!),

location (how will you get there? do you need tom drive yourself? will you have to back-track for your car or is it a loop? I would always recomend something close to home for a first hike, so you are somewhat familiar with the area)

time of year/weather (Summer is sweltering hot and humid in Belize. Mt Fuji also sees some of the best weather in summer... along with thousands of tourists. Rain and fog ALWAYS reduce visibility, and makes things harder. Choose wisely. If necessary, cancel hike for weather. Weather is a huge factor in safety)

type of hike (woods? around a lake? sand dunes? bare hills or forested mountains? There's lots of choices. even around a city if you hate nature.)

who else? (it's always better to bring a friend :)

After choosing a hike, there's not much to it! Just go and enjoy yourself. Don't push yourself too hard, watch where you step, be familiar with the wild life of the area (although that's never been too much of a problem with me, most animals are terrified of people), be sure to tell someone where you are going and when to expect you back (especially if you are alone!) and stick to the marked trail.

What if...?

You're lost: REMAIN CALM. Stop, orient yourself before you keep going. Look at your map, figure out where you are. No map? Retrace your steps, go back to the fork in the trail, until you know where you are. If necessary, go back the way you came. Already 5km into a 3km trail, it's getting dark fast, no map, no compass, can't read signs in kanji??? Go to higher ground, orient yourself, try to follow where the trail ahead goes, if you see someone else on the trail ASK for help, go towards the lights/city/town, keep track of the direction you are supposed to be going. And pray.

You're hurt: REMAIN CALM. Stay where you are and have a friend go get help. Trying to go with them might only slow them down and put you in greater danger. Unless it's a poisonous snake bite, stay put! If it's bleeding, put pressure on it. If it's broken, splint it. If you're alone? Depends on the injury. If you have a cell phone with signal, call for help. If it's bleeding put pressure on it, if it's broken splint it. If you have no signal or phone, and you can walk, go for it. If you can't walk, or are having a difficult time, stay where you are. Someone WILL come, either on their own, or looking for you.

In any situation that might arise, remember, the MOST important, #1 thing to do is to REMAIN CALM. Do not panic, do not freak out, all that only makes it worse.

A useful wikipedia entry: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ten_Essentials

Happy trails!

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