A stroll in the country or even a long walk through a national forest may seem like a leisurely way to spend a Saturday afternoon, but hiking enthusiasts will attest that hiking involves more than just putting one foot in front of the other. Don’t let anyone tell you that a hike isn’t a good workout.
We love hiking. Bird watching and letting the dogs enjoy the flora and fauna is a weekly ritual in our family. We are older now. The backpack is lighter and the pace is a little slower, but there is still nowhere else we would rather be. The peace, quiet and fresh air are positively intoxicating.
Hiking is not a piece of cake. You need both strength and stamina to navigate a mountain trail safely. A dose of common sense is a good prerequisite too. I am grateful that so many cities in the Pacific Northwest have walking/bike trails but hiking is even better. Hiking is more fun than running around a football field track or dodging bikes or young moms with baby strollers on a city trail.
I would call hiking exercise in its purest form. Look at it this way:
- Hiking builds endurance and strengthens muscles
- Scrambling up and down hillsides burns a lot of calories. You will know this because your heart and your lungs work harder than they do even during a marathon running session. If you don’t think that it works all of your muscle groups it is because you haven’t tried it yet.
- Hiking is a “Zen” experience. It works wonders for your mood and mind frame.
Hiking is an exercise form and as such a little preparation is not amiss. The preparation is as important as the sport itself.
- Hiking is an aerobic exercise. Hopefully you already do some form of aerobic exercise, or it won’t take much of a climb to have you gasping.
- You know those big muscles on the front of your thighs? They are called quadriceps. Combine an elevation gain with uneven surfaces and you will experience “burn” like you have never felt before. A good strengthening program will add to your outdoor enjoyment.
- Wear comfortable socks and shoes. A blister can ruin the experience like nothing else can. Trim your toenails. Long toenails can cause considerable discomfort. Your toes tend to jam against the toe bed of your shoes as you run, slide, and scramble during the downhill leg of the journey. The down hill leg of your journey is less aerobic but actually more difficult than the uphill climb.
- Eat a nutritious breakfast but not too heavy. You don’t want to overload your stomach before you set out, but hiking burns a lot of calories and you will get hungry. Carry plenty of water and nutritious snacks with you.
- Warm up a little bit before hitting the trail, especially if it starts out with a long uphill grade.
- The ground may be uneven, rocky, muddy and slippery. Keep your eyes on the ground and step firmly and carefully.
- Use small quick steps rather than long slow ones.
- If you start to lose your footing when scrambling downhill, slide on your seat. I know you didn’t wear white pants and tennis shoes.
- Use side steps (like in skiing) for muddy hills.
- Slow and steady. No running in the forest please, you may scare the wildlife.
- Take breaks but don’t sit so long that your muscles get cold.
- Hike with a buddy, preferable one with a good sense of direction. Stay on the trail because even experienced hikers can get lost. Carry a cell phone but remember that reception may be spotty.
- Sign in at the ranger station and learn about trail conditions before you set out.
I hope I haven’t scared you off. A hike in the woods is sheer joy. It is even more fun if you pick a trail that ends at a waterfall or mountain lake. Take a picnic lunch, enjoy the silence and know that you are getting a good workout at the same time.