Summer is the time for traveling into the forest to hike, but for many of us, taking on a hike can be emotionally and physically challenging.
The REI commercials never show someone like me conquering a mountain, yet still, I hike. As I read Wild by Cheryl Strayed, a story all about hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, I got jealous of her body's ability to function in a way mine couldn't.
The truth is, between my asthma, stomach, and immune issues, something like the Pacific Crest Trail is probably always going to be out of my ability. But I was letting the fact that one of the longest, hardest hikes in America was out of my reach keep me from tackling the hills near my house.
I saw the biggest mountains and knew I couldn't make it to the top, and for years I let that keep me from trying even the smallest hill. My friends would take off hiking and invite me, but even though I longed for the woods I'd never go with them, afraid I'd hold them back. Finally, I had to say $#@! it, I'm going hiking! Little by little, I gained my confidence and now I hike at least twice a month, everything from steep, rocky mountains to flat, lazy trails.
It wasn't easy, transitioning from someone who looked at hikers with jealousy to someone who hiked consistently, but with a little patience and a lot of self-love I've learned to trust my body's ability and know my own limits - two very important skills to have in all of life.
Here are some of the tips I've learned from hiking over the years. I hope they help you gain your footing. I'm always looking for more, so if you're a hiker, please share your own tips!
Here are my top hiking tips for those of us that don't look like the REI commercials:
1. Give up your preconceptions of what makes a hiker.
Practice will never make perfect in hiking, every trail is new, every day different. There is no perfect hiker, so let the idea of being a svelte machine easily traversing the toughest terrain go.
I've got a secret for you: all hikers are awkward and uncomfortable while hiking. That's kind of the point. Hiking takes you out of your normal comfort zone and into nature, where things are weird and different and that's what makes them unique and special.
Embrace the difficulty! Go into a hike knowing you can take as many breaks as you want. In fact, the breaks I take to catch my breath allow me to pause and see the scenery more than those who never have to stop! I used to feel self-conscious hiking with my super athletic ex, but she actually liked that my slower pace allowed her to slow down and appreciate the hike more.
2. Hike often.
3. Choose the path you're on and take it one step at a time.
4. Get the right gear.
In the hiking world, there is the famous "10 Essentials" list that you should have with you at all times. That list is a bit outdated, so REI came up with this more modern one:
- Navigation (map and compass)
- Sun protection (sunglasses and sunscreen)
- Insulation (extra clothing)
- Illumination (headlamp/flashlight)
- First-aid supplies (especially an antiseptic cream)
- Fire (waterproof matches/lighter/candles)
- Repair kit and tools
- Nutrition (extra food)
- Hydration (extra water)
- Emergency shelter (space blankets are perfect for this and sound cool)
- A comfortable, supportive pair of shoes (I added this one)
That list sounds like a lot, but really, when you're starting off you only need this to cover it all: your fully charged phone if it has navigation (assuming you're starting somewhere in cell phone range, which I highly suggest doing) and a flashlight feature, sunscreen, a sun hat, sunglasses, walking or running shoes, a sweater, a couple bandages, a couple alcohol wipes, a protein bar or some nuts, a water bottle, and a backpack to put it all in. I bet you have all of that around your house already!
For examples of the clothes I wear while hiking, check out this post.
5. Put your phone and camera away.
But when I'm out of breath, in pain, and on the floor having tripped for the third time, I also have to laugh. Because really, there's nothing serious about hiking.
Even when you see those ultra-marathoners with water bottles hanging off them, the ones who rush past as if they're on a mission to plant their flag at the top before anyone else, you have to smile and keep going. Because while that's great for them, that's not you. Everyone is on a different path, love the one you're on.
Bonus helpful tips:
- If you're hiking uphill, lace your shoes more loosely to allow for blood flow and circulation to keep you cool. When you're going downhill, lace your shoes more tightly to keep your feet in place and not rubbing the toes of your shoes. It's also smart to take baby steps downhill to keep your gravity low and reduce the risk of losing your footing on loose rocks.
- For longer hikes, it's good to rest every hour or so and elevate your feet for 5 -10 minutes to help the blood recirculate through your body. This makes a big difference in how the rest of you feels, and in how long you can hike for!
- In cooler climates, it's great to have a bottle of water with you to sip at regular intervals. It's easy to get dehydrated even on a short hike, and the bottle gives you a chance to rest and take in the scenery. In warmer climates, and especially in the desert, a camelback-type hydration bladder is almost necessary. It makes constant hydration easy, and replenishes the water you're losing without even realizing it.
- It's wise to take layers no matter where you live, no matter what time of year. Being able to strip down is important, as is being adequately warm. Having a windbreaker can be a lifesaver at the top of the hill.
- Snacks! Hiking makes you hungry and some of my favorite snacks are dried fruit like unsulfured apricots, home-dried prunes and dried mango - yum! I also like to snack on protein, so jerky or a Tanka bar can be just the thing. My stomach doesn't handle protein bars very well, so I tend to bring a container full of nuts, chocolate covered blueberries, dried fruit, and jerky with me, and then a snack for when I'm back in the car.
Are you a hiker? Share your tips with me below!
This post originally appeared on LaurenMarieFleming.com, where you can read more about how Lauren is taking the guilty our of pleasure and helping others find joy, decadence, and fun in their bodies and their lives.