“Of all the paths you take in life, make sure a few of them are dirt.” – John Muir
With the sun shining, the flowers in full bloom and the fresh summer air, now is the perfect time to head outdoors and get some exercise. Going on a hike is a great way to enjoy the warm weather and, when done regularly, can reduce arthritis, ease joint and knee pain, boost bone density, improve cardiovascular health and increase circulation. But the benefits don’t stop there – according to a University of Minnesota study, hiking can also result in a decrease of depression, isolation and loneliness, and can boost your sense of purpose.
But before you start thinking that hiking may be too difficult, don’t worry. Hiking doesn’t mean tackling Mount Everest; it’s absolutely okay to start small. You could just take a stroll through your neighborhood bike path or bring your dog on a nature trail walk. As long as you’re out in nature, you’ve gone on a hike. So, have we convinced you to try it yet? Well to get you started, we’ve spoken with Road Scholar instructor and expert hiker Jim Beeson to let you in on a few tips for getting out on short trails.
1. Check with Your Doctor
Before setting out on a hike, or any physical activity that’s out of your norm, you should always check with your doctor to make you are cleared for exercise.
2. Prepare Appropriately
After you’re cleared, make sure you ease up to the hike. If you haven’t walked a lot lately, start going for strolls, making each one a little longer every day leading up to the hike. Stretch before you embark on your journey, and start on smaller trails, eventually working your way up to something longer.
3. Choose the Trail That’s Right for You
As Jim says, “hike your hike.” You should never feel pressured to go beyond your comfort level, and don’t feel the need to try to keep up with your friends. If you’re hiking with someone else, do some research and choose a trail that is a good pace for both of you. Listen to your body, and don’t feel bad about taking breaks – it can be a great opportunity to take in the beautiful landscapes.
4. Check the Weather
There’s nothing worse than expecting a bright, sunny day and getting a torrential downpour. To avoid any unexpected challenges, always check the weather before you depart. Then pack everything you need for your adventure, but also don’t be afraid to cancel your trip if the weather is less than ideal. Your safety always comes first.
Did you know? Road Scholar can help you prepare for the weather on any adventure. Check out our weather predictor on any program page under “Dates & Prices” to pick the perfect time of year for you! See it in action →
5. Wear the Right Clothing
What you wear can make or break your hike. After checking the weather, make sure you have whatever the day calls for, such as sunscreen, a hat, bug spray, a raincoat and sunglasses. Dressing in layers is also a good idea because you tend to heat up when you’re hiking uphill and cool off when you’re going down or taking a break. Make sure you’ve got the right hiking boots as well. Jim suggests wearing about a half size bigger so your toes don’t jam up on your shoe when you’re going downhill. Not sure which boots are right for you? Check out what other active Road Scholar hikers are suggesting here.
6. Tell Someone Where You’re Going
Especially if you’re hiking alone, it’s always a good idea to tell a friend or family member what trail you’re going on and where you’ve parked. Be as specific as possible, including estimated start and end times, and leave the number of any hiking partners as well.
7. Use a Walking Stick or Hiking Poles
Hiking poles make a big difference in improving your overall balance. They become another point of contact with the ground and allow you to gain better footing along the trail. Even if you think the path will be mostly flat, having a pair of poles won’t hurt, and most are lightweight and easy to carry.
8. Carry an Emergency Pack
Even on a short hike, you should always be prepared in case of an emergency. Pack a lightweight emergency kit with first aid supplies, extra food and water and a way to start a fire (like waterproof matchers or a lighter). You should also make sure that your phone will get service wherever you go, or that you have a way to contact someone if you don’t get service in a particular area (flares, GPS, etc).
9. Drink Plenty of Water
Hydration is key for any level of exercise, especially a hike. Make sure you pack enough water, and then some extra, so you don’t find yourself dehydrated in the middle of the trail. If you’re worried about not having enough water, Jim says it’s a good idea to purchase some kind of water filtration system, like a Lifestraw, that allows you to drink directly from streams or lakes.
10. Hike in a Group
When in doubt, hike in a group. Solo hikes are great, but hiking in a group fosters camaraderie, and there’s nothing quite like the feeling when you and a bunch of your peers reach the top of that mountain. Gather your friends or try an organized group with Road Scholar, where a hiking expert will accompany you along the trails.
Have you been on any good hikes lately?
Let us know in the comments! And check out all of Road Scholar’s Walking & Hiking Adventures!
About Jim Beeson
As President of the Roanoke Appalachian Trail Club, Jim Beeson is dedicated to maintaining the Appalachian Trail and has a lot of experience hiking through its woods. In 2016, at age 61, Jim hiked the entire Appalachian Trail from Springer Mountain, Ga. to Mt. Katahdin, Maine – over 2,000 miles and 14 states in just 5 ½ months. He’s currently a Road Scholar instructor for several hiking programs, including Hiking the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia.