Maybe it’s just me, but it seems like when we’re discussing cool outdoor activities, hiking often gets overlooked. To be fair, “Walking up and down hills for the Hell of it” doesn’t exactly sound thrilling.
But hey, if you spend all your time mixing words around, you can make just about anything sound boring and pointless. After all, sushi is just “expensive, raw fish in rice”, and everyone seems to love sushi.
So, with that in mind, here are just a few reasons for you to get into hiking:
- It’s great for your health: And not just physically. Much like running, hiking is a great way of clearing your mind of stress. It’s also excellent cardiovascular exercise and helps release those sweet, sweet endorphins to brighten your mood.
- It’s can help you meet people: There are loads of hiking clubs across the UK that organise group trips several times a month. They also organise mini-social gatherings at local pubs in between hikes. Joining is generally very cheap (Often only around £10-£20 per year) so it won’t break the bank.
- Prefer to fly solo?: If you like being active, but hate that doing so means you have to interact with people, hiking is equally great! All you need to do is get out there, no team-mates necessary. Better still, brush up on your navigation skills and you can wander off the beaten track to avoid busy paths.
- It’s easy!: There are a few purchases to consider, but otherwise it’s easy to get started. Provided you have two feet and knees (and/or artificial versions of those things) you qualify.
Now, you may feel as though you’d like to give it a try, but don’t know where to get started. Well, here are some useful tips:
- Get a sturdy pair of hiking boots: These prevent injury and keep you comfortable throughout the day. Walking shoes are also fine, although they offer less ankle support. So if, like me, you have delicate ankles, you’ll want to stick with boots. Lots of people make the mistake of buying a pair of boots and not wearing them until the day of their first hike. They then blame the resulting blisters on the boots (and me for telling them they had to wear boots in the first place). Make sure you wear-in your boots properly before heading into the hills.
- Invest in some hiking socks: It’s a good idea to wear these while trying on your boots to ensure a good fit. A good pair of hiking socks can mean the difference between a comfortable day on the hill and an excruciating day of punishment for your feet. Bridgedale make great socks for all seasons, but they’ll set you back around £20.00 (For one pair!). Fortunately, most outdoor shops will offer plenty of cheaper alternatives.
- Ditch the jeans: Every time I take a group into the mountains, you can be sure we’ll pass at least one person strolling up in a pair of Russell Brand style skinny jeans and flip-flops. These are the sort of people that Mountain Rescue was created for. Don’t be this person! Aside from being very restrictive, jeans are made from cotton. Cotton is a terrible material to wear in the outdoors because if it gets wet (and we’re in the UK so, let’s face it, it will) it won’t keep you warm. That’s a recipe for disaster.
- Learn the layering system: Nobody likes being cold and wet. Unfortunately, that’s something the UK does very well. However, instead of limiting your hiking to the 2-week window of sun and warmth we get around June, you can overcome the issue with your clothing. The layering system includes a wicking base layer, a thermal mid-layer, and a wind/waterproof outer shell. Download this handy Hiking Kit List and Layering System diagram for more information.
- Grab a map and compass: And learn how to use them! Even if you’re hiking along a prominent path at a popular location, it’s possible to get lost. There have been countless times when I’ve been out and a thick layer of fog has fallen over what had been a clear day just moments before. When visibility drops below 10 metres or so, it’s easy to get completely disorientated. Few feelings are worse than watching the light slowly fade as the sun sets and you still have no idea where you are.
- Take a snack: One of the best things about hiking is that you can eat whatever you like. Simply put, your body needs the energy. Here are some of my personal favourites if you’re stuck for ideas:
- Jelly Babies-Your emergency morale. I’ve never seen a person stay miserable for long after chowing down on a couple of these squishy little miracles. Try to save these for when you really need a boost.
- Yorkie Bar-They used to issue these in military ration packs before swapping them for a crappier, off-brand alternative. Yorkie Bars provide a thick, dense chocolate treat and don’t melt as easily as many others.
- Trail-Mix- If you live in America, you can buy this glorious stuff from most supermarkets. In the UK we have to make it ourselves. Start with a base of mixed nuts, then add your favourite dried fruit and assorted chocolate bits (M&M’s work well.)
Hopefully you’re feeling a bit more confident about lacing up your boots (I know I got distracted by the mention of snacks, but we’ve pulled it back). The main thing is to make sure that you stay safe (Mountain Rescue is busy enough as it is). Make sure you pay attention to the points above and tell at least one person where you’re going in case you get stuck in a bog or something and need to be hauled out (This happens surprisingly often…Don’t let it put you off though!)