Traditionally, this is the time when we start thinking of changing our ways, of living a healthier life in the new year just around the corner. We vow to eat better, or we commit to exercise more.
Of course, there’s been nothing traditional about 2020, the year we’re about to see out the door. It’s been a topsy-turvy year on numerous fronts.
Take hiking, for instance. Hiking has long been considered a great option for a more active lifestyle because… well, largely because it’s typically viewed as a workout without the “work.” It’s also accessible: you can hike right out your front door.
Of course, in 2020 a lot of you have already discovered this, going back to the spring when being outdoors and on a trail was about the only safe exercise — and, more broadly, entertainment — option. So a lot of you have already dabbled in hiking. But as the new year approaches, you’re thinking of doing more than just dabbling: you’d like to go for longer, more challenging hikes. You’d like to become a more confident, competent hiker.
Though the following tips are aimed at folks who’ve had a taste of hiking, they also apply to the still hiking-curious, those who are intrigued but have yet to take those first steps.
Take those first steps.
“Traditionally” for new hikers we’ve recommended starting the new year with a New Year’s Day hike. Our North Carolina State Parks have made this all the easier by sponsoring First Day Hikes at all of its parks and recreation areas. Alas, those hikes aren’t happening this year because they can draw hundreds of people. We like these hikes because they are typically shorter (2-4 miles), have a festive atmosphere and are lead by a ranger who knows the trail.
While N.C. State Parks won’t be doing their First Day Hikes, they are doing shorter, limited-attendance hikes. These hikes are ideal for the first-timer. Between Dec. 17 and the end of the year, more than 40 such hikes are scheduled around the state, most of which are beginner-friendly. Learn more about those hikes here.
Take your first steps in hiking-specific shoes.
One of hiking’s biggest attractions is that you don’t need a lot of hiking-specific gear to get started. But once you advance past hikes of a mile or two, you’ll want a shoe that’s better suited to the sport, a shoe with a sturdier sole to protect you from rocks and roots common on our trails. You’ll also get much better support, which makes it harder to twist an ankle and to get sore feet on a longer hike. And, they’re more resistant to the mud and puddles you’ll increasingly face as you hike longer and farther.
As for which hiking shoe to get, first, beware of recommendations. No two feet are alike, and what works well for one hiker may be totally inappropriate for you. Rather, try on several pairs and walk around the store. A good hiking shoe should be snug, supportive and comfortable. Expect to spend between $90 and $140 for a good pair of hiking shoes.
Next to hiking shoes/boots, socks are your most important piece of equipment. Socks serve as a moderator between your foot and footwear. You want a sock that’s snug, that clings to your foot; otherwise, the sock rubs against your foot, it rubs against your shoe and that leads to blisters.
Be aware there are different hiking socks for different hiking occasions. In warm weather, a lighter sock engineered to wick sweat from your foot (as opposed to keep it warm) will make your feet happy. Conversely, when it’s cold out you’ll want a thicker sock to keep your feet toasty. Look for socks made of wool and synthetics designed to wick moisture from your feet. Don’t be surprised to pay up $20 (or more) for a pair of good hiking socks. Some, however, come with a lifetime guarantee, making them well worth the investment.
Hiking poles take a tremendous amount of pressure off your knees, especially when you’re descending. On the uphills, they let your upper body chip in and do some of the work. And they’re great for balance on uneven terrain and the occasional small creek crossing.
When it comes to cost, much of what you pay for is weight — or lack thereof. You can get a decent pair of metal poles for $25. You can get fly-weight carbon fiber poles for $160 or more. There’s a range of good poles in between.
Your needs are few on a hike that’s 2 miles or less. But go much farther and you’ll need to take provisions, including water, snacks and extra clothing, depending upon the season. You’ll want to keep your car keys and wallet in them as well. Once you have an idea of what you need to carry (for this, check out our free GetHiking! 10 Daypack Essentials download below), you can look for the pack that fits your needs, both in terms of carrying capacity and fit.
You want the weight of your pack to be borne by your hip bones; thus, look for a pack with a substantial hip belt. You want the shoulder straps to not bind your shoulders, so check for width and comfort. You don’t want the pack up against your back encouraging perspiration to gather. Look for a suspension system that keeps the pack off your back. You can get a good daypack that will make you happy in the $75-$150 range.
In the beginning, we drank straight from the stream, and that seemed OK (though we rarely lived past 20). Then we started drinking treated water, which typically meant bringing water in a bottle from home. Then came hydration packs — a bladder of water that sits in your pack and is accessed via a drinking tube that rests on your chest, serving as a constant reminder to drink.
You can buy a pack with a hydration bladder incorporated into the design; however, most daypacks now come with accommodations for a hydration bladder, which you can buy separately. Hydration reservoirs you can add to a daypack start around $30. Packs that come with reservoirs start around $90.
The importance of good health and of spending time outdoors has never been greater. Hiking is the best way to accomplish both.
Be a hiker
5 Great Hikes for Beginners
If you’re more the DIY type but need some direction on where to go, check out our 5 Great Hikes for Beginners package of hiking guides. Each guide includes a map, detailed route description, short video tour, logistics (such as how to find the trail), and an overview of the hiking experience. Enter the code 5YXS3C3R from now through the end of 2020 and get the package free. Learn more and download a copy here.
GetHiking! 10 Daypack Essentials.
As you get more into hiking, do you wonder what you should take with you on the trail? Download our GetHiking! 10 Daypack Essentials here.
Let’s GetHiking! Winter Series for the Aspiring Hiker
This 11-hike program eases you into the world of hiking with weekly hikes on Sunday afternoons beginning Jan. 3 and running until March 14. All hikes are guided, all are at different locations in the Triangle.
The first hike is about a mile and a half, building up to 4 miles at the end. The program is limited to 10 hikers. Hikers are required to wear a mask at the trailhead and to keep it handy in the event other hikers are encountered. Social distancing is followed. Includes a weekly e-newsletter with hiking tips and resources, plus a guide to that week’s hike, so you can hike it again later, on your own. Includes a Guide to 25 Triangle Trails, plus the book, “Let’s GetHiking! A Quick and Comprehensive Guide for the Aspiring Hiker (Second Edition).” Learn more and register here.
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