June 2nd is National Trails Day—and you have every reason to get excited about spending time in the outdoors. The goal of National Trails Day is to try new outdoor activities, explore new trails and parks, push limits, and spend time with others in nature.
*pc: Naomi Hudetz
If you’re a runner looking to get into hiking or a hiker who wants to level up your trips, here are some of my favorite tips I’ve learned over the years. I started hiking as a fit adult who wanted a new form of physical exercise that would stretch the limits of my body and mind. Fifteen years later, I’ve hiked more the 17,000 miles, including an Fastest Known Time on the 2,181-mile Appalachian Trail and pioneering traverses of several mountain ranges. Now, I’m author of Long Trails: Mastering the Art of the Thru-hike, which won the National Outdoor Book Award for Best Instructional Book. The ideas I tell those who are getting into hiking are the very same things I did to go from hiking beginner to backpacking continuously for months.
The gear you have already is fine: No need to go out and buy boots for your first few hikes. Your running shoes, school backpack, and recycled Smartwater bottle will work just fine for now. As you get more into hiking, you’ll find yourself switching out and upgrading gear. But before you make any major purchases, make sure hiking is something you enjoy. If this is your first hike in a while, use clothing and equipment you already feel comfortable wearing, like gym clothes or what you wear on runs around the neighborhood.
Do some pre-hike research: If you’re reading this post, you’re already well into the research needed for your hike. From here use the internet, maps from a gear store, and/or guidebooks to figure out your trailhead and the mileage for your trip. Figure out where you plan to start and end and estimate how long that may take. Most hikers walk about 2 miles per hour, plus an additional hour for each 1000 feet of elevation gain. Start with a hike that looks fun, but isn’t more mileage than you have done on a run or another hike. Most internet resources will tell you whether a trail is well-defined, marked, and signed. If you’re just getting into hiking, choose trails that are more popular and well-defined. Print out a map of the trail and surrounding area and bring a compass. As back up, download the GPS data and maps onto your phone using an app like Gaia GPS, Map my Hike, or Backcountry Navigator.
Plan for the heat: June 2nd can be toasty in many parts of the country. Choose your start time to avoid walking during the heat of the day but also avoid walking at night (when finding the trail can be trickier). Check the weather predictions to time your day just right. You’ll need a sun hat, sunglasses, and sun screen. Bring enough water for the length of your trip and err on the side of carrying extra. Consider using electrolyte drinks to replenish salt you may lose from sweating. Remember that when you are hiking, you will be out longer than if you were to cover that distance on a run or bike ride.
Stuff not to forget: Do everything you can to ensure you don’t get stuck out overnight, including turning around before you make your destination. Carry a headlamp or flashlight should you get caught. In case the weather picks up, bring some extra clothes, including a rain coat and/or umbrella (check the weather and opt to hike on clear days). A small first-aid kit including bug repellent will also make life more pleasant for events that are less predictable than the weather.
Take Smart Breaks: In hiking, breaks are part of the fun—especially if you have other people with you. Choose break time spots based on resources that are available. Are there picnic tables or an outhouse somewhere along your hike? Use your map to pick out breaktime spots ahead of time. Choose shady spots out of the wind. If there’s no bench or seat, check the ground for critters or thorns before you sit. Rocks
Snacking: It’s easy to underestimate how hungry you may get on a hike. Bring plenty of food. But if you’re just getting into hiking, there’s no need to purchase special protein bars or hiking specific food. A few sandwiches or whatever you normally eat in lightweight, leak-proof to-go containers should work. Healthy high calorie foods work as powerhouses on hikes. Plan to eat every two to three hours.
Use your mind and self-awareness: Hiking requires you to be alert. Check your surroundings for signs you should turn back, like thunderhead clouds or if it is getting late in the day. Always know where you are on your map. Read your body to determine whether it is hungry, dehydrated, or too hot or cold. Stop and make adjustments. Having to stop to fix something doesn’t make you weak or slow. It sets you up for long-term success. This is especially true if you feel a blister coming on. Remember, that on a hike, unlike during a race, you won’t have a support crew with you. You are your own feed station, first aid station, and bail out if an emergency happens. Even if you are hiking with friends, it’s up to you to take care of you. With great fun comes great responsibility!
Bonus tip: Go with a friend or meet new people along the way! There are FREE National Trails Day events all over the country. Check our a new trail, a new outdoor activity (including horseback riding, kayaking, and trail maintenance), and make new friends. To find and sign up for a free project near you, visit: https://americanhiking.org/national-trails-day/