Before you head off in your hiking boots, here’s a few tips that might help you conquer the trails.
Where to go
Start out easy with trails or hikes near you. Gorp.away.com lists all the possible trails in the United States as well as other countries. Go to the trail finder for all the information. They’ll also answer questions like “What can I do about a tent mangled by a falling rock?”
Don’t expect it to be easy
Learn the definition of acclimation. Even fit individuals coming from lower elevations may experience altitude problems, meaning it is unlikely you will climb effortlessly. The effects of altitude sickness can include headaches, dizziness, nausea, shortness of breath, insomnia and rapid heartbeat. It’s generally nothing to be afraid of; it just takes a few days for your body to adjust, and sometimes weeks to become fully acclimated. Instead of exerting yourself a day after arriving in terrain thousands of miles above sea level, stick to less aerobic activities for a few days before you tackle a mountain.
Don’t be that kid
The higher the altitude, the higher the risk of sunburn. Ultraviolet radiation is a threat at high elevations, so take the necessary precautions with sunblock, a hat and sunglasses. Bright sunlight can also wear you out during a long hike, so to ensure your safety, break out those shades. Don’t forget you will be outside most of the day, and you don’t want to be the kid in all the photos who clearly forgot sunscreen.
H2O is my friend
Hydration is key because thin air actually results in increased water evaporation from your lungs. Water or sport drinks are vital to your health and success on that long hike. Beware of lakes, streams and snow, which may carry the microscopic organism giardia. It lives in the digestive system of wildlife and humans and enters surface water when an animal or human defecates in or near the water. It can cause diarrhea, cramps, bloating and weight loss. Boil that water or bring your own!
Don’t slip through the cracks
Like any sport, invest in good equipment if you plan to consistently pursue the activity. Rubber-soled leather boots might be your best option, but for the one-timers, decent tennis shoes should be fine unless you want to avoid sneers from fellow hikers along the way. Mountain folk are good people, but the occasional snob of the slopes makes an appearance.
Watch out for hypothermia
What might seem like a hot and clear day can turn into a cold and possibly snowy day as you climb higher. If you are prepared, you won’t be caught off guard when you suddenly find yourself trudging through old snow piles that have not yet fully melted. Expect the occasion rain shower (most are short-lived), and consider packing a rain poncho in a waterproof backpack. Hypothermia, which is brought on by exposure to the wet and cold, is the lowering of the core body temperature to a level that impairs normal muscle and brain activities. It can be a fatal condition that may cause loss of judgment or coordination, drowsiness, slurred speech and uncontrolled shivering. Prepare for sudden weather changes with extra layers of clothing.
Binoculars and cameras will help you to make the most out of your venture, and stay out of trouble by familiarizing yourself with the local wildlife and the park regulations. Bring a compass, maps, insect repellant, matches and extra food (just in case you wander off the path into what looks like Narnia). For more detailed information, visit www.nps.gov/romo/visit/park/hiking.html.
Now you’re ready to go hiking.