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Always wanted to take up hiking but unsure of something’s and too afraid to ask? You’re in the right place. Hiking is great but plenty of hiking sites contain lots of words that don’t quite make sense. Words like spur trail, through hiker, blaze.
Yes, hiking is walking in nature. How hard can it be? There are many factors to weigh when choosing a trail and how to stay safe while on the trail. I’ll start from the very basics so you can feel confident once you hit the trail.
Types of hikers
- Day hiker – self-explanatory. Just out for the day with no overnighting.
- Overnight hiker, or overnighter- someone hiking and sleeping on the trail for only one night.
- weekend hikers (weekenders)
- Backpackers: Hiking and then camping along the trail, having carried your tent, sleeping bag, stove, food, etc. in your backpack. The following are all types of backpackers:
- Backcountry hikers spend at least one night in the wilderness far from the nearest road.
- ultralight (UL) hiker- try to have lightest packs for long-distance hiking, typically 10 pounds or less
- section hiker (part of a long trail like AT or PCT)- hike smaller sections of a longer trail at one time.
- thru-hiker- completing a long trail in one go.
Slackpacking: Hiking a long-distance trail, or a section of a trail, carrying just a daypack. Every day you get dropped off where you finished hiking the previous day. Your gear and luggage are transported by shuttle service to the next place you’ll spend the night.
Blaze (pictured above): this is a mark (eg., paint spot or arrow) often on the side of a tree to identify a trail. The photo above has 2 blazes, red and white. Some trails are poorly marked though.
Types of trails
- interpretive trail (nature trail): Short trail primarily to provide an opportunity to walk and study interesting or unusual plants. Interpretive signs or numbers corresponding to descriptions in a pamphlet. These descriptions provide information about features along the trail.
- hiking trail: trail with the primary function of providing long-distance walking experiences of a mile or more.
- single-use trail: Trail designed and constructed for only one use (i.e. hiking only).
- multiple-use trail: A trail that allows more than one user group (equestrian, hiker, mountain bicyclist, etc.).
- backcountry: Isolated and remote regions that may be difficult to access. backcountry trail: A primitive trail in an area where there are no maintained roads or permanent buildings.
- access trail: connecting or side trail: Provides additional points of access to major trails. Any trail that connects the main trail to a town, road, or another trail system.
- out-and-back trail or destination trail: a trail where you go to the destination then come back the same way
- loop trail: Trail route is a closed circuit connecting a number of points of interest
- spur trail: A trail that leads off of a main trail to a point of interest such as a viewpoint.
- Find the right hike- check out sites like Alltrails.com or theoutbound.com. They have tons of trails with all the important information: trail distance, elevation change and if loop or out and back trail. Don’t pick a trail with a huge elevation change. Hills are tough for all but a beginner maybe forever deterred by this challenge. For a beginner, I would recommend a local park you know well. Start with a 2-4 mile hike rated easy. Also, pick a trail that is well trafficked. So if you have an issue, someone should be along shortly.
- Check the weather- for a first hike, I would recommend a sunny, not too hot day. Don’t want to have to worry about the rain while in the woods. (I know there are lots of hikes not in the woods, but where I’m from there are always trees while hiking). I prefer to go first thing in the morning but that’s up to you and your schedule.
- Find a buddy- better to try things out with a friend if possible. If you go alone, TELL SOMEONE your plans.
Always practice leave no trace principles https://americanhiking.org/resources/leave-no-trace/
Some other rules to know:
- yield to uphill traffic
- walk on the right, pass on left
- always have your pet on a leash- some trails do not allow dogs so please check before
- on multi-use trails, hikers yield to both bikes and horses
Gear and clothing
DO NOT wear COTTON- especially blue jeans. Wear synthetic fabrics, such as nylon and spandex, because they dry quickly and often wick away moisture.
Wear clothing you can easily move in. Wear comfortable shoes. It’s OK to wear tennis shoes. You’re just getting started and there is no need to rush out to buy new hiking shoes or boots. Waiting lets you figure out what you’re looking for in a hiking shoe.
One of the first items to get if you want to start day hiking is a backpack with a hydration bladder. You can get other stuff as you continue and feel the need to.
It does NOT have to be a super expensive backpack.
This item is similar in style and price to what I’ve been using for years. Outdoor Products Mist Hydration Pack with 2-Liter Reservoir, 14.3-Liter Storage, Dress Blues
What to pack
- water ALWAYS take more than you think you’ll need
- bug spray
- first aid kit
- fully charged cell phone
I like having a paper map, but you can use your phone as a gps (at least in most areas).
I know this sounds like a lot of stuff for a few hours hike. I get it. But I always tend on the side of caution, even though my husband sometimes laughs at the amount of stuff I bring.
- turn around! sometimes a great view is behind you.
- look up. when hiking I always spend a lot of time looking at my feet because of tree roots. But remember that part of the fun is in the scenery.
- if going early in the morning, be prepared for spider webs. I take a walking stick (not poles) that help me when climbing but more importantly break up spider webs ahead of me.
- it’s ok to go slow. Hiking is about the journey more often than the destination.
Once you go on your first hike, you’ll have a better idea of how much you can go for in your next hike. Don’t be discouraged and don’t overestimate how much you’re capable of.
Go out and hike! Always remember to stay safe and have fun!