Whether you take group fitness classes, enjoy running or walk regularly, hiking can be a great way to change things up and keep your exercise routine interesting. Plus, there’s the added benefit of spending more time in nature, which has been shown to improve mood and contribute to overall health. Here, 10 tips to help you prep for summer hikes so you feel confident on the trails:
“The best way to start if you’re new to hiking is to set a smart goal that sets you up for success,” says Wesley Trimble, program outreach and communications manager for the American Hiking Society. For example, “pick a local hike you’d like to do and build up your experience and comfort level with being out on the trail. Once you feel confident, you can opt for a longer hike with more challenging vertical at a national park,” he says.
KNOW WHAT TO EXPECT
Just like ski runs, hiking trails are graded as easy, intermediate or difficult. Easy trails are typically flat with no obstacles, intermediate trails have some uneven terrain and small inclines and difficult trails have tricky terrain and steep inclines. “It’s easy to think, ‘I spend an hour three days a week in the gym, I should be able to do X-number of miles or this trail with X-feet elevation gain,’ but it’s really hard to see that correlation until you experience it. You’re using muscles that you may not be working in a gym environment, especially on more mixed terrain.” So start with something easier and more flat to allow your body to more easily adapt to being on trails.
STRENGTH TRAIN FOR HIKING
While you want to focus on improving cardiovascular fitness, building strength in the legs and core helps when the terrain steepens. Incorporate squats, deadlifts, kettlebell exercises and pushups into your training routine. Make sure you’re using proper form before you increase the weight or reps.
HAVE A BACKUP MAP
Download a map of your trail or, if there’s a map at the trailhead, take a photo with your phone. You can lose your way, even on well-marked trails that seem easy to follow. Also consider printing out a map, especially if you’re going on a longer hike. “Technology is excellent until it doesn’t work,” Trimble points out. “If you drop your cell in the creek or run out of battery, then you’re out of luck with your map.”
MAKE A GAME PLAN
Know not only the trail you’re hiking but also where you’re parking, how long you expect to be gone and when you will turn around (if it’s an out-and-back trail) so you’re not out past dark. Then share this with someone who is not hiking with you. Some apps offer live tracking and can be used as a great way to track your exercise, too.
DRESS THE PART
Make sure to check the weather so you know how to dress, says Trimble, who adds that “the weather can change pretty quickly in summertime and a lot of places will experience severe thunderstorms.” Don’t go off what the weather predicts for the local town either. “The higher up in elevation you are, the greater the likelihood that the weather will be different,” he explains. Make sure you wear sweat-wicking clothing and pack a light raincoat. You should also wear proper hiking footwear to avoid injuries.
Staying hydrated is important, especially when it’s hot outside and you’re sweating more. You can use a regular school backpack or similar pack for shorter, easier hikes, says Trimble, who suggests bringing half a liter (or 16 ounces) of water for every hour you hike.
BRING HEALTHY SNACKS
Even if you only plan to go out for an hour, bringing healthy fare is smart. You never know if you might take longer than expected. Nonperishables like trail mix, packets of nut butter, nuts, dried fruit, energy bars and jerky are all great options.
DON’T FORGET A FEW EXTRA ESSENTIALS
The American Hiking Society also recommends having a compass, flashlight or lamp, whistle, first-aid kit, Swiss Army knife, sunscreen and sunglasses. Reapply the sunscreen as directed. Coming home burned is sure to ruin an otherwise spectacular day.
WARM UP WITH A SLOW START
Warm up by starting slow and acclimating to the trail. “It’s super easy to get to the trailhead and feel pumped to take off. But then 20 minutes down the trail, people start to lose steam and that initial excitement and energy wanes,” says Trimble. When you’re fatigued, it’s not only easier to slip or trip, but you may feel miserable and never want to hike again. Instead, ease into it and, chances are, you’ll not only experience that breathtaking view and a great workout, you’ll also be motivated to do another hike again soon.
Originally published June 2019, updated July 2023
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