Updated: a day ago
Perhaps you recently noticed the increase in popularity of hiking. You are thinking about joining the fun. Your friends seem to be heading to the great outdoors every weekend, posting panoramic views on social media.
How tough can it be? Just walk to a mountain, snap a few photos, and watch the “follow” requests come pouring in on Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, Facebook. Right?
Maybe you have some questions.
How do I get started? Where can I find easy hiking in the woods? Will I get mauled by a bear? Should I take my credit card to REI? Do the really big mountains have an escalator option?
For advice on swimming in shark territory please refer to the book Jaws, by Peter Benchley. Or you could just watch the movie.
Camping is Not Required
Hiking in the wilderness, especially in the mountains, might be the best all around activity for achieving and maintaining physical condition. It is far easier on your joints than long distance running. The terrain will challenge you more than walking in your neighborhood. And you will likely gain an appreciation for nature.
Even if you are interested in hiking miles into the wilderness to camp overnight, day hiking is where you should start. Let’s define some terms.
This is self-explanatory. You are hiking during the day, and then returning to your vehicle, or your base camp. Most people choose to remain with day hiking. This is just fine. The idea is to enjoy the great outdoors. Pushing yourself too far beyond your comfort level will ruin the experience. For most, day hiking is just as enjoyable as backpacking is for me.
Simply put, this is camping without any of the modern conveniences. You pitch a tent where there are no bathrooms, and of course, no electricity. You have to treat your water, cook your food, and dig a hole in order to poop. Ewe, gross!
Hiking is not necessarily required. There are areas where you can park your car and walk just a few feet to a primitive campsite.
Though if you drive to your primitive campsite, then why poop in the woods? Just drive to a bathroom. Existential questions us hikers are prone to consider.
This combines hiking with primitive camping. Essentially, everything you need to live on, for a few days, is on your back. If you have read about people hiking the Appalachian Trail for days on end, this is what they are doing. There are many trails in the mountains where you can spend days in the wilderness. Hike for some miles, find a campsite next to a mountain stream, pitch your tent, and then cook your food. Wake up the next morning. Repeat.
How About Just Hiking
Day hiking is popular because it requires little expense. You can simply drive to a parking lot in the mountains and start walking.
Well, maybe there is more to it. After all, even day hikers get themselves into trouble. Some have even perished. So let’s begin with a few safety tips before you become an official day hiker.
You will need to carry some things. If you are going on your very first hike, then consider borrowing a small book bag if you don’t own one. Something to carry on your back. In it, at a minimum, you should have the following.
Extra pair of pants, extra socks, and a long sleeve shirt
Maybe a map and a compass
Small Medical Kit which includes insect sting and blister remedies
A sense of humor. Doesn’t weigh much, and makes things much more fun.
If you plan to literally walk one mile in and one mile back out on a popular trail, okay, you probably don’t need a map and compass. But please do not take nature for granted. A quick online search will return stories of day hikers who died because they did not consider some simple precautions.
My website includes basic safety tips. Please check it out.
The main idea is to establish a habit of carrying a few items when you day hike. You could go a year without needing that blister kit, but when you do need it, you will want it. A sudden thunderstorm in the mountains will cause you to regret not carrying a raincoat.
The length of your day hike will dictate how much you carry. Snacks or food for lunch? The items you carry will change as you gain experience.
Know this. Even in July you can get hypothermia in the mountains. It has happened. A raincoat and an extra shirt will reduce the chances of such an occurrence. To learn more about the potential for hypothermia in the mountains, there is this article I wrote.
Footwear. Boots are not required. If your first trail is wide and well traveled, sneakers will probably work. Though you should consider trail shoes. Once you become an avid hiker, you will either use hiking boots or trail shoes. Whatever you do, please do NOT hike in sandals or similar. You will see other people doing this. Remember. Darwinism is real.
When hiking, do not wear cotton. Your shorts and shirt should be a nylon blend which wicks moisture. Do not wear cotton socks. Purchase socks which are a wool and nylon blend. These tips will not really matter for short hikes. When you start hiking multiple miles and it is hot and humid, you will wish you had not worn cotton.
For more on socks and footwear, please check out this article I wrote last year.
Where to go? Open your browser and type the following in the search bar: popular hiking trails near me. Click and read. Google maps is a great resource for how to get there.
Speaking of popular, take a friend. Don’t have any friends who want to hike? Find other friends.
Until you have the confidence which comes with years of experience, avoid hiking alone. If you have to go solo on your first day hike, find a popular spot on the weekend. Parking will be tough, but this is safer than hiking alone on an empty trail.
If you are in a popular area, the chances of seeing a bear are about the same as meeting the love of your life. It could happen, but he or she is likely to run away once they get a good look at you. I am referring to the bear.
Maybe the future love of your life will also run away. But you can chase after your future love, in a non-stalking manner. Please do not chase a bear. Darwinism.
I advise that you do not take your credit card to REI or any other hiking store just yet. Go on a hike. Explore just a little. Then go to your local hiking or camping store and find a sales person. Start asking questions and learn. Then make a few purchases if you are still interested.
Yes. Some mountains have an escalator option. It’s called a chair lift and there is one in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. But that’s not why you are reading this article. To access the best views requires effort and sweat. Don’t shy away. Go for it. You got this!
There are no experts when it comes to hiking and backcountry camping. Avoid sources which claim otherwise. There are those of us with experience, gained mostly via mistakes. I learn something on nearly every trip to the wilderness