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  • Shengying Zhao

Hit the Trails Running: Essential Hiking Tips for Your Next Adventure

As the spring season unfolds, the high mountain trails are thawing, marking the beginning of another exciting hiking season. If you've never explored hiking before, you might feel a bit daunted by the idea. You could be worried about your fitness level or concerned about getting lost on the trails. But fear not—there's a hike suited for everyone.

Venturing outdoors during the shoulder season demands preparation for various conditions. Spring is known for its spontaneity. Just as you might feel the sudden urge to pack a daypack and escape work for a while, a sunny April day can swiftly turn cool with a brisk breeze or light drizzle. Yet, it's this very spontaneity that makes us feel truly alive during this time of year. And the reward of hiking past the first wildflowers along the trail makes the extra planning for spring outings all the more worthwhile. This guide provides you with all the essentials to kickstart your hiking journey, covering everything from packing necessities to preparing for a day hike. With a bit of preparation, you can ensure a safe, comfortable, and enjoyable hike.

How to Prepare Physically for Your First Hike

Rolled and sprained ankles are among the most frequent hiking injuries. If you're new to hiking or haven't hiked in a while, it's essential to do the following basic exercises to elevate your heart rate:

  1. Train on Sandy Terrain: Practice running or walking on sand to simulate uneven surfaces, which strengthens muscles around knees and ankles, crucial for stability during hikes.

  2. Enhance Mobility: Use a tennis ball or balance disc to improve range of motion, preparing you for varied movements like jumping or sidestepping obstacles on the trail.

  3. Strengthen Your Core: Incorporate crunches into your routine to fortify your core muscles, essential for maintaining balance on rugged terrain.

  4. Squats and Lunges: Incorporate squats and lunges to build leg strength and enhance core stability. Make sure your back remains straight throughout each movement.

  5. Boost Upper Body Strength: Enhance your upper body strength through push-ups, facilitating easier carriage of a heavy backpack during extended hikes.

  6. Cardio: Getting your heart rate up by walking or cycling can improve lung capacity so you can hike longer.

  7. Step-ups: Before hitting the trails, strap on your fully loaded backpack and do some step-ups. This will help ensure you're prepared to carry it comfortably throughout your journey.

What To Pack For Your First Hiking Trip

Preparing for a short hike doesn't require packing too much. You'll be carrying everything with you, so the lighter, the better. But for a full day on the trails, here's what you'll need to keep your trail weight low and your camp comfort high:

  1. Adequate Water: Hydrate before and during your hike. It's always wise to carry a full water bottle and a backup one to ensure you stay hydrated.

  2. Adequate Food: Keep your energy up with snacks. Pack extra high protein bars and dehydrated backpacking meals to replenish yourself for breaks near mountain stream.

  3. Clothing and Rain Protection: Pack a lightweight poncho or dress in layers for unpredictable weather.

  4. Safety Items: Regardless of your expectations for the hike, it's essential to pack a fire starter, flashlight, and whistle in your safety kit for emergencies.

  5. First-Aid Kit: Customize first-aid kits with essentials like blister treatment, bandages, adhesive tape, antibiotic ointment and gauze pads.

  6. Multi-Purpose Tool or Knife: A versatile knife comes in handy for various tasks on the trail, from cutting fabric for bandages to starting fires.

  7. Sun Protection: Always pack sunscreen to shield your skin from sunburn, especially when hiking trails at higher elevations with significant sun exposure.

  8. Trash Bag: Keep the trails clean by packing out your trash. A zippered plastic bag works well for containing wrappers and other trash until you return.

  9. Bug Spray: Protect against ticks, mosquitoes, and other pests using insect repellent, and remember to reapply it frequently. Opt for a citronella spray or other kid-friendly alternatives instead for children.

  10. Toiletries: For hikes far from public restrooms, prepare for bathroom breaks with toilet paper, hand sanitizer, and waste bags.

What We Look For in Apparel

Whether you’re going backpacking for two nights over the weekend or two months on the Appalachian Trail, you’ll need basically the same fundamental pieces of clothing for layering, with variations to address the specific weather or environmental conditions you’re likely to encounter. Layers are key. Even if you don’t initially wear all three layers, it's wise to bring them along on every excursion. You can always shed layers if temperatures rise, but you can't add layers that you didn't pack. Here's how to layer effectively:

  1. Stay protected from the elements with a long-sleeve rain jacket featuring UV protection. Keep cool while shielding yourself from the sun and bushwhacking.

  2. Don't forget to layer up! A fleece or synthetic midlayer is crucial for staying warm, even when you're sweating it out on the trail.

  3. Pack an insulation layer in case your clothes get damp from sweat during your hike. Slip into this warm layer when you're back at camp.

  4. When you venture outdoors, the ancient art of layering serves as your high-tech thermostat, allowing you to adjust your comfort level by adding or removing layers as needed based on activity or weather changes.

  5. Base layer (underwear layer): This layer wicks sweat away from your skin.

  6. Middle layer (insulating layer): It traps body heat to keep you warm in cold conditions. For cooler outings, we rely on an active midlayer like fleece to regulate our temperature during exertion.

  7. Outer layer (shell layer): This layer acts as a barrier against wind and rain. For example, rain jackets are crucial for safety, shielding us from rain and windchill.

What We Look For In Hiking Pants

When gearing up for a hike, opt for breathable pants that provide comfort and adaptability to varying temperatures. Avoid denim, as it can be uncomfortable for longer hikes, especially in warmer weather when it absorbs water and dries slowly. Instead, prioritize hiking pants made of moisture-wicking fabric to keep you dry and comfortable.

  1. Lightweight: When selecting hiking pants, we aim for lightweight pants, typically weighing between 5 and 16 ounces. Since our pants often encounter moisture on the trail, we opt for quick-drying materials like polyester to keep us comfortable.

  2. Durable: Considering the rugged nature of hiking, durability is paramount. Our pants endure a fair amount of wear and tear, so we seek out durable options that can withstand the thrashing of the trail.

  3. Comfortable: Comfort is key, and while it can be subjective, there are some universal factors we always consider. We prefer narrower pants to prevent them from swishing together as we walk and to minimize snagging on brush. Additionally, we recommend pants with low-profile waistbands that sit either above or below the pack's hip belt to avoid uncomfortable pressure points on the hips.

  4. Warm: In winter, layering is key for warmth—consider wearing leggings or long underwear beneath your hiking pants. In summer, opt for lightweight pants over shorts to protect against skin irritation and bug bites, particularly when hiking in wooded areas.

How We Choose Our Hiking Footwear

Choosing the right hiking footwear can spark a lively debate at the trailhead. The age-old dilemma between shoes and boots divides hikers: some swear by stable, mid- or full-height boots, while others opt for lightweight and agile shoes. Invest in sturdy and supportive hiking shoes or boots that fit well to protect your feet and ankles during hikes.

  1. Terrain: Consider the type of terrain you'll be hiking on. Light hiking shoes are suitable for mild terrain, while rugged mountaineering boots are ideal for challenging mountainous or snowy terrain. Backpacking boots with stiff soles are versatile and can handle various landscapes.

  2. Material: Choose the right material based on your hiking needs. Synthetic materials like nylon and polyester are breathable, lightweight, and easier to break in. Split-grain leather boots offer breathability and durability, while full-grain leather boots provide maximum durability but are heavier.

  3. Cut: Select the appropriate cut based on the level of ankle support and protection you need. Low-cut boots are lightweight and suitable for well-maintained trails. Mid-cut boots offer increased ankle support, while high-cut boots provide maximum balance and support for challenging terrain.

  4. Fit: Ensure a snug and comfortable fit by lacing your boots properly to prevent movement and blisters. Wear synthetic not wool socks for added protection. It's essential to break in new shoes before your hike and choose shoes that offer excellent support and ample room for your toes.

  5. Waterproofing: Consider waterproof hiking shoes if you anticipate hiking in wet or rainy conditions. Waterproof shoes will keep your feet dry and comfortable, enhancing your overall hiking experience.

  6. Time of Year: For most three-season day hikes, we prioritize non-waterproof footwear that drains well and dries swiftly. However, when tackling early spring or late fall trails, the game changes. In colder weather, we prefer waterproof footwear to keep our feet warm and dry.

How To Plan Your First Hiking Trip:

While the thought of hiking might excite you, planning the perfect trip can be daunting. But fear not! With an array of online resources at your fingertips, crafting an unforgettable hiking adventure is easier than you think. Just keep these essential factors in mind, and you'll be hitting the trails in no time.

  1. Master Navigation Skills: Don't leave your hiking plans to chance! Before hitting the road, learn how to map reading and use compass. Familiarize yourself with digital navigation apps like onX Backcountry, Gaia GPS, or All Trails. These digital tools serve not only as on-trail navigators but also as invaluable aids in planning routes, allowing you to chart your course before hitting the trail.

  2. Time Management: Determine how much time you have available for your hike. Are you aiming for a quick excursion or a full-day adventure? Consider travel time to the trailhead and factor in the impact of elevation on your hiking pace. As a rule of thumb, add an hour to your trip for every 1000 feet of elevation gain.

  3. Fitness Assessment: Gauge your hiking experience and fitness level realistically. Starting with easier trails allows for an enjoyable experience and gradual progression to more challenging routes. Consider the abilities of your hiking companions as well.

  4. Distance Planning: Consider your comfort level with distance and terrain variations, as factors like steep inclines can reduce your pace to about 1 mile per hour. Start with shorter distances to assess your fitness level before tackling longer trails.

  5. Weather Condition Awareness: Prior to embarking on a hike, it's essential to check the forecast for your destination and pack accordingly, including layers and a rain jacket. This applies not only to mountain hikes but also to desert trails, depending on the season and time of day.

  6. Trail Characteristics: Familiarize yourself with the trail in advance. Review maps or brochures to assess trail length, difficulty levels, elevation changes, and terrain type, access points, parking details, and more. Identify parking locations and restroom facilities along the route, and consider whether a loop or out-and-back trail suits your preferences.

  7. Download Maps Beforehand: Even if you anticipate a heavily trafficked and well-marked trail, it's always wise to download maps beforehand. Alternatively, you can bring paper maps and a compass. Regardless of your chosen resources, ensure you're prepared before heading out and familiarize yourself with how to use them beforehand.

This backpacking checklist isn't exhaustive, and depending on your backpacking style, the terrain, or the weather, there may be items you won't need. However, safety and first aid kits should always be prioritized, along with essentials like water, food, layers, and most of the other items mentioned above.

Picking the Best Gear

Researching backpacking gear can sometimes feel like navigating through dense willow thickets with no clear trail in sight. That's why we've curated the selection for you.

1. Timber Ridge Backpacking Camping Chair

Backpacking chairs are excellent for minimizing weight on your trek. At 2 pounds, the Timber Ridge Backpacking Chair is light enough to bring on chill backpacking trips. Featuring a well-designed bucket seat, it offers comfortable lounging without being excessively deep, ensuring easy exit. Its stable square base provides confidence against tipping over.

2. Timber Ridge High Back Backpacking Chair

For backpackers seeking extra comfort on the trail, we recommend the Timber Ridge High Back Backpacking Chair. With its spacious seat, tall backrest, and unique headrest feature, this chair sets a new standard for compact and lightweight comfort. Weighing just 2.65 pounds, its generous size belies its portability. Plus, its unmatched comfort may just tempt you to sneak in a catnap.

3. Timber Ridge Backpacking Tent

For a backpacking tent that excels in weight, interior space, and features, consider Timber Ridge Backpacking Tent. It's a dome-shaped hub and pole tent, lightweight, easy to set up, and has handy features like mesh pockets. It provides storm-ready durability and hang-out comfort all while weighing just 6 pounds.

4. Timber Ridge Low Folding Camping Chair

The Timber Ridge Low Folding Camp Chair is a budget-friendly option that exceeds expectations for its price. Its deep-pocket seat ensures comfort in various sitting positions, preventing your backside from sliding forward. With its X-shaped structural design, it can support up to 300lbs, offering both comfort and stability.

Are you eager to escape the hustle and bustle, breathe in the crisp air, and reconnect with nature? We can't wait to see our gear accompany you on your adventures throughout 2024.

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