Hiking Techniques for the Beginner

Hiking is not exactly like walking in the park. Gravel and soft dirt, hills, creeks and other natural features make maintaining a good rhythm over a long distance a real challenge. Also, for anything longer than a few hour hike, most will want to carry a backpack. That makes hiking distinctly different from just a casual walk in the forest.

Getting prepared for the adventure involves getting fit. Once you’ve built up some leg and back strength, and jogged to get some endurance, you’re ready for the next phases.

Any hike longer than a few hours should entail some planning and preparation. Part of that effort should be to carry a loaded backpack around for at least several days prior to the hike. Experienced hikers don’t need to do this, beginners do.

Every good engineer will carry out tests and build a working prototype before putting their design into full production. Emulate their good example.

By carrying a pack before the hike you can judge how well it fits, test different loading strategies and watch for points of body irritation, pack wear or imbalance. At the same time, you’re building up those specific muscles and joints that you’ll need for the real event.

Take some long walks with the loaded pack around town whenever possible. Make sure part of that is on uneven ground – curbs, unmowed grass, over small boulders or children’s toys. Try to find some slanted surfaces to incorporate – city streets, long driveways, hillsides and so forth.

Experiment with different loading techniques and walking rhythms to find what works best for your body style and fitness level, with the boots and gear you will actually use.

When you start the real hike, preferably with an experienced partner, start slowly. Many beginners, even if they’re fit, try to walk too fast, too soon and take too few rest breaks. Take your time and enjoy the scenery. You’ll find you’re able to last much longer between rest periods, and you’ll enjoy the experience much more.

On long hikes, forego the desire to climb every small hill and cross every stream you come across. Walking up (or even down) hills requires much more energy than along a (moderately) level surface. To make your hikes last all day, you need to think more like a marathon runner and less like a sprinter.

Develop a steady pace. Beginning marathoners learn quickly that, even when the first mile or two is tough, if you get into a rhythm you can run for many miles without becoming exhausted. Emulate their wisdom.

From your practice hikes you’ll have ‘taught your body’ what feels comfortable. Try to maintain that, taking 5-10 minute rest breaks every hour or so. You’ll find you can easily do five miles or more even on your first hikes.

As you gain experience, and develop stamina, those hikes can become longer and longer with less risk of fatigue or injury. The longer you can last, the more of that great scenery you get to enjoy.

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