Hiking Tips for the Beginner By Karen Berger
Which of the following statements describes your
fitness level over the last few months?
1. You've been religious about going to the gym,
you can run a few miles without making a big deal out of it, and the idea of a
quick 15-mile day hike sounds like fun.
2. You've considered going to the gym, you can
run a few yards if someone's chasing you, and the idea of a 15-mile day-hike
gives you the hives.
If the former, good for you! When you finally
take that well-earned hiking vacation, you're all set to enjoy it from day one.
If the latter, you may want to reform your habits before putting on a backpack
and heading uphill.
But no matter which group you fall into, breaking
into hiking does take a least a little getting used to. There's the matter of
boots and feet (see
"Conquering blisters" on GORP.com) not to mention
carrying a pack on your back. And face it, no matter how fit you are, your
daily routine probably doesn't involve hauling 40 pounds up and down mountains.
A little know-how can help you break in more easily.
First off, choose a hike that suits your fitness
level. The ideal trail is one that you can hike comfortably. Watch out for
elevation gain because steep, long climbs can make one mile feel like three. I
like to keep total elevation gain under 2,000 feet for at least the first
couple of days; what works for you may be different. (Think of it this way: The
Empire State Building is a bit more than 1,000 feet tall.)
You can figure out the elevation gain by counting
contour lines on a profile (topography) map if one is available, or consulting
a guidebook. Don't forget to tap into local resources such as park rangers,
information staff at ranger stations, and local trail clubs.
Once you're out on the trail, set a pace that is
sustainable for you. Of course, your pace will change with the terrain. On
steep uphills, try the "rest step." As you put one foot forward and down, you
pause for a second or two while the weight is still on the backward leg. Then
transfer the weight to the forward leg, take a step forward, and pause again.
This gives you tiny little breaks with each step.
Once you get used to the rest step, you'll be
able to set a comfortable pace and move uphill without having to climb 10 steps
and stop to gasp for air, then climb another 10 steps and stop and gasp
A few other reminders:
- Climbing takes a lot of energy, so
replenish calories and liquids often.
- Don't forget to take breaks. Ten minutes
of rest for every 50 minutes of walking is a good rule to follow.
- Make sure you drink before a big climb.
- Carry enough water so you can swill as
much as you like when you get to the top. If you feel your muscles seizing up,
do a few stretches during your rest stop.
- On descents, use a hiking stick to help
take pressure off your knees.