Getting Started with Hiking

Hiking sounds like, to use a very old phrase, a cakewalk – something easy. You lace up some boots, slip on some shorts and a shirt and you’re on your way. What could be easier?

Certainly, some hikes are that easy. And they should be. Not every hike has to be a three-day outing in the peaks of Colorado. Not every journey involves navigating through forests, across rivers and over mountain passes. Sometimes you just want some fresh air and a little exercise.

But once you expand your horizons, what do you do?

First, get in shape. Take those shorter, more level hikes near your home or someplace a short drive away. Especially if you’ve been sedentary, work up to more rigorous hikes slowly. The single major reason for anyone to not stick with any kind of exercise plan is pain. They try too hard too soon and overdo it. That leads to injury and pain, and they give up.

The legs, obviously, will get most of the initial burden of a hike. Though you’d be surprised at how many muscle groups are involved – all of them! Start with a short, daily routine of some leg squats and thrusts.

Bend at the knees, arms outstretched to the front or side, then rise again. Try some thrusts by standing feet together then moving one foot out about 18 inches and kneeling part way, then rise. How far you extend the foot and kneel down will both depend on your leg length and general condition.

Take a few short jogs to build up your cardiovascular and pulmonary (heart/circulation and lung) systems. You’ll need plenty of oxygen capacity and a stout heart to complement muscular stamina.

Get some basic gear. Get the right boots by researching online. Make sure they fit with some thick, sturdy socks that wick away moisture. If you’ll be hiking near brush or trees, seriously consider pants rather than shorts. Infections from scrapes are common. Wear a sturdy shirt that covers your arms for the same reason.

Try to hike with at least one other person unless you are familiar with the area and the terrain isn’t very challenging. GPS and other navigational tools can help, but if you injure yourself or become very ill that may not do you much good.

Until you have an intimate knowledge of plant life, don’t eat anything along the way. Mushrooms are a common concern, but many berry-looking plants can be very unsettling at certain times of the year, too.

Similarly, avoid drinking water from natural sources. TV commercials may make creeks look ‘natural and refreshing’, but just as often ‘natural’ means ‘unhealthy’. Nature in the wild can be harmful. Even in the absence of man-made chemical pollutants, bacteria and other organisms can turn water toxic.

Stay on clearly marked or visible trails until you know the area or have more experience. Getting lost is one of the most common ways that amateur hikers turn a pleasant two-hour hike into a two-day search-and-rescue effort.

Maps can be helpful if you know how to read them, but these days a GPS is probably more useful for most people. But you need to spend a little time learning how to use it. Some numbers or a digital arrow pointing in some direction isn’t helpful unless you know how to interpret what they mean.

Start slowly, get familiar with some well known hiking trails and pretty soon you’ll be ready for those all-day or overnight trips. Then you really begin to see the great adventure in hiking. There’s nothing like sitting under a bright blue sky and looking out over the heavily forested Rockies from 2,000 feet up.

Ok, get started.

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