As the summer winds down, kids go back to school, and the heat of summer looses its cling to the air, you may think you've missed your chance to start hiking. Not true! Some of the best hiking can be in the late summer and fall. Kick-start your hiking dreams with these eight easy steps.
1) The Right Shoes
The styles of hiking boots available are all over the board. From traditional high top hiking boots to ultralight toe shoes, one could become frustrated and confused on this hiking topic alone. Unless you are a well-seasoned hiker who knows their needs and trails intimately, use these tips to help you select the right shoe for you.
Know your size. When hiking is your aim, the correct size matters. During a hike your feet will slide from front to back. While some movement is good, too much will leave you with cramped arches and blisters. Get your feet measured at a local store, and wear the socks you intend to use during a hike when trying on shoes or boots. For optimal room and fit, use the rule of thumb. There should be a thumb’s width between the tip of the longest toe in your foot and the end of the shoe.
Pick the right materials. If you plan to hike in multiple climates, you may end up with multiple boots. Hard leather boots and other water proof materials are good for colder and wetter environments. Softer, breathable materials are best for dry hotter hikes. For something middle of the road, go with a boot that has the two types of materials combined. These will allow some airflow and waterproofing to an extent. Don’t cross streams in these though, you’ll have a soggy socks.
Don’t neglect your soles. The stiffness of a sole, or midsole, is directly related to the weight you carry and your terrain. Toe shoes offer little protection from roots and rocks. While stiffer boots (some with steal plates) allow you to traverse rough trails with more weight, like a backpack for camping. For day hikes on well maintained tails, go with a ethylene vinyl acetate (EVA) material. This material is lighter and cushier and comes in varying degrees of densities for support.
2) Warm Up with Dynamic Stretches
Begin using dynamic stretches over static before a hike. Dynamic stretches are movement based and do not require you to hold a position. This type of stretch wakes up your muscles and prepares them for the different types of movements during a hike. Unlike static stretches, dynamic ones will not create the too elastic and less powerful feeling hikers sometimes experience.
To start, try 10 minutes of alternating knee lifts, squat to runners lunge, high kicks, and torso twists. Have fun with it! The point is to energize your body and prepare. Making it fun will put a smile on your face and put you in the right mood for the challenge ahead.
3) The Perfect Pants
There are a wealth of sport pants, capris, and shorts to choose from. Form fitting leggings such as the Rajak H Capri are perfect for hiking for three reasons.
First, the fabric generally used for this style wicks away sweat and regulates temperature. With the advancement of man-made fabrics and the introduction of alternatives such as bamboo, you can choose what works best for you. However, Polyester is the primary material for most leggings.
Second, the options for length allow you to choose full-length, mid-calf, or above the knee. Which length you choose will depend on the temperature outside and your comfort. Some experience hot calves easily, while others will want full-length year round for sun protection.
Third, when hiking your thighs slide back and forth across each other. The form fitting nature of leggings create a barrier between your thighs to help protect against heat rash and irritation.
4) Use the Stairs
Many advice columns will tell you to use the stair stepper when training. Seems straight forward enough. However, using a stair stepper leaves out a big part of hiking, going downhill.
When hiking downhill you use the same muscles as uphill, but in a different combination. The downhill movements and gravity place more stress on your knees and the tissues used as stabilizers to control your decent. According to a study published on pub-med.gov, the compressive forces endured by the knees during downhill walking were three to four times greater when compared to level walking. This is when illiotibial band pain is more likely to flare up (see #6 for more on illiotibial band pain). To prepare for the downhill, focus on two strategies.
Rather than spending hours on a stair stepper, find a set of stairs. Places such as Red Rocks Amphitheater are perfect for this. Taking the stairs both ways will allow you to reap double the rewards. Training this way will allow your body to learn these smaller muscle movements and build endurance. After a long hike up, your body is tried. Training for the downhill return will reduce the chance of injury.
To further reduce your chance of injury while hiking downhill, keep some simple tactics in mind. Never lock your knees, walk at a steady, slow pace, and keep the knees flexed. Use a zig-zag pattern when possible and avoid going straight downhill.
5) Layer Baby
You’ve got your shoes and pants, what about tops? Layering is the key. Start with a base layer such as the Maliha Tank, and add a top layer like the Profitability B Jacket. You want to look for three factors when combining your layers. First, does the top and bottom layer fit well together leaving room for movement and airflow? Second, does the combination allow you to create multiple “settings” for comfort? For example, if you are cold, you can zip up and use the hood. If you are warm, you’ll want to unzip the top layer to allow for increased airflow. Third, does the top layer provide some protection against the weather? When hiking in the mountains, the weather can change quickly. Be prepared for sudden showers by using a top layer that has some water proofing, or add water proofing with a spray on product.
6) Static Stretches
Your quadriceps are the workhorse of hiking. Located on the front of the thigh and dived into four distinct portions, they can become overworked and tire easily without proper care. Before, during, and after each hike, make sure that you stretch your quadriceps.
During a hike, your illiotibial band can become tired and sore at the knee. Also known as the IT Band, it is a length of tissue on the outside of your thigh that extends from the pelvis over the hip to the top of the tibia just below the knee. The pain you may feel on the outside of your knee after a long or strenuous hike could be due to this tissue rubbing against the outer knuckle of your knee and becoming inflamed. A 15-minute rest, off your feet, and a quadriceps stretch can help loosen your IT Band and reduce pain. If the pain returns soon after a break or does not subside after you are home, take steps to address this injury immediately. Turn back on your hike and move very slow on the return trip. Use the palm of your hand to rub the illiotibial band to loosen it up and schedule an appointment with a doctor. This type of injury can become chronic if not addressed swiftly.
7) At the drop of a hat
Hats have come in and out of style, but for hiking they are a must. This particular bit of advice is less to do with hiking itself and more about skin protection. A good long hike could expose your skin to hours of direct and indirect sunlight. You shouldn’t rely on sunscreen alone to protect you. Sweat washes away your shield faster than you think. Choose a hat that has a brim providing coverage for your face and chest. A ball cap will do, but a wide brim sun hat is best. In addition, the panama or classic fedora will achieve some of the same coverage. Keep that young, perfect skin looking beautiful longer by taking simple precautions. Grab a hat as you fly out the door to your next outdoor adventure, hiking or not.
8) Ready. Set. Go!
You can Google “how to train for hiking” or “how to start hiking” and you’ll find tons of information and training tips. However, hiking is about the simplistic enjoyment of nature and the slow pace of personal fitness. The best way to train for any activity is to do that activity. If you want to start hiking, get out there. Put on your clothes, stretch, and start slow. Forget about mileage or pace. Start with an easy walk around the lake, or in your neighborhood. Don’t push it and enjoy yourself. If you pay attention to your body and the trail, you’ll know when to turn around and head back. Allow yourself to become absorbed in the beauty of nature, and before you know it you will have covered miles of terrain.
Disclaimer: The advice in this article is not intended to replace the advice of a physician. Before beginning any new activity or exercise make sure to consult a physician.