Getting Fit by Hiking - dummies

By Liz Neporent

If you want to get in shape, hiking can take the boredom out of walking. It gets you out in the fresh air and allows you to commune with nature. Even if you live in an urban area, you’re probably just a 1- or 2-hour drive from some scenic walks.

For the best local hikes in your area, check with your parks department, Chamber of Commerce, or local walking or hiking group. Sometimes neighborhood bookstores have accurate and detailed maps of local trails.

Hiking safely

Because most hikes take place off the beaten path, so to speak, make safety a high priority. Here are some tips to keep your hike safe and enjoyable:

  • Never attempt a trail that’s beyond your ability. Trails can range from pleasant, pine-needle-covered dirt paths to rocky, nearly vertical scrambles. Make sure that you know what you’re getting into before it’s too late. Remember that you can’t exactly hail a cab if you become too exhausted to continue.

  • Plan your route. Bring maps and directions. Have some indication of about how long a round-trip hike will take, including rest stops and lunch breaks. Start early enough to make it out of the woods by dusk. Always let someone know where you are going and when you expect to be back. If there is a trail book, be sure to sign in.

  • Check weather reports. Take them seriously and prepare for the worst. You don’t want to get caught unexpectedly in a thunderstorm or a sudden heavy snowfall. Bring extra rain and/or snow gear along just in case.

  • Bring along a first aid kit that includes bandages, antiseptic, and a snake bite kit. Many people scoff at this advice, especially if they plan to be out for only an hour or two. You can find a small first aid kit for around $10.

  • Bring snacks and plenty of water. Drink frequently and fuel up to keep your energy steady for the trail ahead. Many hikers like to munch on granola or a mix of peanuts and raisins known as gorp (shorthand for Good Old Raisins and Peanuts).

  • Never hike alone. It takes so little for something to go wrong. You may lose your way or fall and injure yourself. If you’re alone, there is no telling when you will be found.

Knowing what hiking equipment you’ll need

Hiking requires highly specialized equipment that differs from the equipment you need for other types of fitness walking. Here’s some advice to help you get started:

  • Hiking shoes: Hiking shoes are more substantial in the forefoot and a bit stiffer overall than walking shoes. The rigidity is required for traction, foot stability, and protection from rocks and other debris. Even if your hiking shoes are waterproof or water-resistant, it never hurts to treat them with a waterproofing product to ensure that your feet don’t get soggy.

  • Hiking clothes: Poison oak, poison ivy, and ticks carrying Lyme disease are a big worry in a large part of the country from March through November. That’s why most experts recommend covering as much of your body as you can, even when it’s hot. Be sure to tuck your pants legs into your walking shoes or boots and wear a hat. Wear a cap to prevent ticks from embedding themselves into your scalp. Remember to always bring rain gear too.

  • Bug repellent: Wear plenty of bug spray. Test it out on a small area of skin and see whether you develop a reaction. When in doubt, read the label on the product you’re using.

  • Hiking pack: For 1- to 2-hour hikes, you can probably get by with a simple fanny pack that cinches around your waist. For longer hikes, wear a day-hiking backpack and stock it with snacks, extra socks, and a first aid kit. If you are hiking for more than a day, get a larger, sturdy hiking pack with a frame.

  • Walking poles: These are optional, but you may find them very beneficial. Walking poles help you power up hills and steady yourself on loose gravel and dirt, downhill slopes, and rocky trails. Good poles are adjustable in height, offer some sort of shock absorption, and have comfortable grips.