Hiking, as everyone knows, is a fun and healthy way to get outdoors and see some of the best that nature has to offer. As you also may know, it isn’t exactly a walk in the park. It is a walk, but it’s just on a mountain or through a forest instead. You know what I mean. Hiking is an excellent way to push your limits, but if your body isn’t ready or you don’t pack the right stuff, hiking can do you more harm than good. To make sure that you are prepared to explore the great outdoors with your own two feet, let’s take a look at some of the best ways that you can get ready for a hike in advance as well as on the day of.
The Buildup: How to Get into Shape for Hiking
As much as you may want to, you can’t just wake up one day and go on a hike if you don’t know how to prepare for a hike or haven’t been on one in ages. Your body has to be ready for the physical strain that hiking can cause. Failure to properly get into hiking shape can result in injury which can be, in some of the worst cases, permanent. Don’t spend the rest of your life with bad knees or a pinecone lodged in your head, turn your body into a trail conquering machine before you go.
The Best Exercises to Help Get You Ready to Hike
There are three main areas that you need to improve to make you ready to go and less susceptible to injury: cardio, strength, and flexibility. Each area has a unique role to play in shaping up your physique. We’ll go through each in turn and suggest some exercises for improving them.
Hiking is an endurance activity, so first, you have to make your body ready to go the distance. Your heart is going to get pumping, and your lungs are going to get put through their paces, so you have to shore up their strength and hit your target heart rate. Here are some of the ways you can prepare.
- Walking: The simplest way to prepare for a hike is to go on walks. They can be on flat terrain or hilly, as long as it isn’t too challenging. It isn’t time to push yourself just yet. Going for a walk every other day for at 30 minutes is a great way to get started, but try and increase your length every week. You should be able to walk three quarters the distance of your planned hike with no problem before you are ready.
- Machines: If you have no access to long walking routes or a decent sized pool, you can turn to cardio machines. Treadmills, stair machines, ellipticals and cycling machines are all viable options. However, these should be a last resort as they do not simulate hiking as well as walking outdoors.
Hiking often involves stepping or walking up steep slopes or pulling yourself through a trail. Your muscles have to be up to the task of carrying your weight, or they may buckle and send you crashing down hard. Here are a few exercises to strengthen those legs.
- Lunges: This is a great exercise that works your whole leg and requires no equipment. Alternate legs, resting after sets of 6-10 each leg. Quit before working yourself to failure, letting your legs give out won’t help. If you have a challenging hike ahead or are feeling up to it, you can strap on your pack and load it with weight before doing your lunges.
- Squats: This exercise is more challenging but also more rewarding. Stand with your legs shoulder width apart, bend at the knees and lower your posterior down while keeping your back as straight as possible. Stop when your knees bend at 90 degrees, stand up and repeat. You can do these with weight bars or while jumping, but get some professional advice beforehand if you are new to squats.
- Band Walks: If you have access to resistance bands, put one around your shins at mid-height and walk in a straight line. Make sure to keep tension in the band, never letting it fall slack and keep your hands on your hips.
Everyone has different limits when it comes to flexibility and balance, so it may be worth getting a personal trainer if you foresee it being a problem. On your own, you can take up yoga which is a great way to better your cardio and range of motion. As far as exercises:
- Figure Four Stretch: Lie down on your back and put the sole of your left foot on your right inner thigh. Bend at the waist forward as far as you can and hold for thirty seconds. Switch legs and repeat 6-10 times each.
- Leg Raises: Stand with your back parallel to a wall in case you fall and lift one leg up as high as you can. Hold for as long as you can, up to 30 seconds. Switch and repeat 6-10 times each leg. This exercise will help improve balance and reduce the likelihood of falls.
Just like you should not charge out there and hike right away, don’t throw yourself into working out hard every day. Alternate cardio and strength days while peppering in some flexibility and balance training. Give your body and mind plenty of time to rest and recover.
How to Prepare for a Hike: Day of the Hike
Now that your body is a well-oiled trekking machine, it’s time to get ready for the hike itself. There are two areas to focus on here: precautions and gear. There are some actions you must take before heading out, and there are some articles of clothing and equipment that you can’t go without.
Taking the necessary precautions can literally mean the difference between life and death. Make sure you do these things before you go.
- Get a Buddy: Hiking alone can be very dangerous, especially for unseasoned hikers. Always hike with a buddy or group if you can. There are online groups for nearly every hiking area where you can meet hiking buddies like this one in Washington.
- Log Your Hike: Make sure someone knows exactly where you or your group are heading on your hike. If it is at a national or state park, log the hike with a ranger. If that is not available to you, tell a friend or family member so that if you get lost, they know where to look. If there is a trail register, sign it.
Obviously, your attire depends on where you hike, but there are some cardinal rules to be followed regardless of where you are.
- Layer Up: Dress in light layers that can be easily removed. Even the desert gets cold at night, and you can quickly overheat in the snow if you are hiking hard.
- Guard Against Rain: If there is even a slight chance of precipitation, pack rain gear like a poncho.
- Footwear: Your shoes should be snug and comfortable while wearing supportive socks. There should be little movement of your foot in the shoe, and it should breathe well. If you are lost here, go into a hiking boot or shoe retail store, ask for advice and try stuff on to ensure a good fit. Bad shoes lead to hurt feet which lead to injury.
- Headwear: Hats are an excellent way to keep the sun and rain off your head and prevent you from losing too much heat. They are suitable for nearly any weather.
Again, your needed gear changes depending on your destination, but here is a list of essentials regardless of environment (yes, you need sunscreen in the snow). Research your intended destination for any specific gear needs.
- First aid kit
- Fire starting equipment
- Emergency shelter (e.g., a space blanket)
- A day’s worth of nutrition regardless of hike length (trail mix is easiest)
- Water and a water purification system (tablets or a filter)
- Navigation (map, compass, hiking GPS, etc.)
- Knife (of practical size)
- Knowledge of the area, either researched in your head or in book form
If you require any medication or have allergies, take the medicines with you regardless of hike length. Research your destination, so you know if you need to bring items to counteract animals like bear mace, hiking bells to ward off animals, or antivenom kits for snake bites. It may weigh you down, but it’s always better to have too much stuff than not enough.
Respect Yourself and Nature
Hiking is not something to be taken lightly, and neither is your health. Before you head out to see all that Mother Nature has to show you, make sure you know how to prepare for a hike both physically and mentally so you can overcome any obstacles she might throw at you. Then, equip yourself with all you will need to deal with any possible situation, even if your hike is planned to be a short one. If you prepare for the worst, you’ll be ready to see nature’s best.