On this page you’ll find the beginning of an extended discussion of hiking basics for beginners and anyone else with limited experience who wants to learn more. Some of what’s below may be of interest to those of you have hiked in the past but may be “rusty” and wouldn’t mind a refresher course.
Some of this information is adapted from Charles Cook’s book The Essential Guide to Hiking in the United States (Michael Kesend Publishing, 1992). Cook, as you may know, is the founder-director of Wild Earth Adventures.
This discussion is addressed not only to current and future members of Wild Earth Adventures, many of whom are already (or will be) participating in our hiking program, but also to those of you who live in other areas of the United States and elsewhere who will hike on your own, with friends, or with other organized groups.
An overview of hiking gear and clothing -- and what’s appropriate to bring on Wild Earth Adventures trips and other group hikes -- will be found on the What to Bring page, directly below this page on the dropdown menu. If you reserve for a trip with us, the e-mail confirmation you’ll receive before the trip will also include information about what to bring. Successive pages under the Trip Info & Fees dropdown menu offer a continuation of this discussion of Hiking Essentials.
If you’re a beginner, for maximum enjoyment and safety there are some things you should know before plunging in. Hiking isn’t at all a risky business if you know what you’re doing, but if you’re considering hiking alone or with inexperienced friends, it’s vital to know how to take care of yourself in the wilder places in all possible circumstances.
Whenever there’s a news story about someone being lost in the woods, or a hiking group having to be rescued, in the vast majority of cases you’ll find that the people involved didn’t have essential gear, or lacked appropriate skills, or exercised poor judgment. You can greatly reduce the chances of ever finding yourself in such a “fix” by learning a few outdoor skills and some hiking basics.
Hiking With Friends
If you’re fortunate enough to have a friend or friends who are seasoned hikers, you have an ideal way to learn the ins and outs of hiking. The right friend -- namely someone who hasn’t forgotten what it’s like to be a beginner -- can be a wonderful help in teaching you the essentials and getting you started on the right foot.
Hiking With a Group
If you don’t have friends who are experienced hikers, your best bet is to start out by going with a hiking club or other organized hiking group. Also, hiking with a group can be great fun, which is why some very experienced hikers belong to hiking clubs and choose to go with others more often than not. If you live in the northeastern United States or are willing to travel here, one of your many options would be to become a member of Wild Earth Adventures and hike with us (on the Trip Schedule page you’ll find listings of the hikes we offer each weekend year-round).
Solitary hiking is not for the inexperienced. There are too many things that could go wrong, or blunders you could make with potentially dangerous consequences, such as getting lost and being forced to spend a night in the wild without adequate gear or clothing. The wilderness, in particular, is a very different world from the one most of us have grown up in, a realm with different ways and rules, which on occasion can be merciless to the uninitiated or unprepared. It’s foolhardy to go far into a large park or natural area alone until you have developed considerable skill and experience in following trails, using map and compass, and taking care of yourself in the wilder places.
Some inexperienced hikers who go alone or with friends these days are unaware that cellphone reception is often poor or non-existent in many of the mountain areas. Never assume that if something goes wrong, you can simply call for help. Also, if you have to be searched for and/or rescued because you're inexperienced or used poor judgement, be aware that you could be charged for the rescue, which could be expensive indeed if aircraft is required to search for you.
Many organizations advise against ever hiking alone, period, for reasons of safety. A lone hiker who has an accident could be in serious trouble, to be sure. Yet some of us do sometimes hike alone, taking the greatest care to avoid any possible mishap. There’s risk involved, but it’s much reduced when you have the necessary know-how. We can all benefit from solitude at times, and solitude in nature can be a truly special experience.
If and when you do go hiking alone, it’s always advisable to let someone know exactly where you’re going and when you’ll be back (so if you didn’t return as scheduled, others would have an idea of where to search for you). But until you have truly extensive hiking experience, and are absolutely confident that you have the necessary skills to take care of yourself in all conceivable circumstances, it’s best to go with others.
Hiking makes some physical demands, of course. Even an easy hike can involve walking several miles over hilly terrain, requiring effort and exertion at times. Being in decent shape should be considered a requirement.
If you're physically active and fit, you shouldn't find hiking difficult. Those who jog, run, cycle, swim, or engage in other vigorous aerobic activity should take to it especially quickly, and won’t need any special preparation. Since your body will be moving in some new ways, however, don’t be surprised if you discover some “new” muscles on your first hike or two. Some initial muscle soreness is to be expected.
Hiking isn’t just for athletes and others who like intense workouts, however. Hiking is basically walking in nature, and it can be done on trails that range from extremely easy to extraordinarily steep and challenging. If you’d prefer to take it easy, that’s always an option, since it’s possible to hike in a relatively relaxing, leisurely way.
If you are somewhat sedentary and not in good shape but would like to try hiking, it’s advisable to first do some physical preparation. Your best bet would be to embark on a walking or other exercise program and work up to walking as much as several miles 3-4 times a week on sidewalks or local parks. Then start out with easy hikes.
Don’t attempt a long or challenging hike unless or until you’re in great shape. Going far into a wild natural area is risky if you’re not fit. Overextending yourself could mean exhaustion and difficulty in getting back out, plus a greater chance of an injury if you’re overtired.
In general, the more walking you do, the easier hiking should be for you. Engaging in aerobic exercise on a regular basis can’t be recommended too highly -- it’s certain to make a healthy contribution to your life and can only increase your enjoyment of hiking.
When you’re on a hike, just before starting, it’s good to do a little stretching to loosen up muscles and joints, especially any part of your body where you might feel stiff. That should reduce the chance of an injury, and you’ll be able to move more freely and comfortably.
[This discussion of Hiking Essentials continues on the What to Bring page].
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