The reasons for either can be endless and the list can be as short and as extensive/exhaustive as you want, however if there is one thing I must name as the most important for hiking, it would be ‘A hiking soul’. Yeah…a bit philosophical ain’t it? But literally the most important. I mean you need to have that passion to climb, excitement to explore the unexplored and treading the unknown path and the known. If you are the sort of person who has all the hiking gear in place, has a list of hikes to do, are a part of many hiking groups on social media, like and comment on hike related posts, have conversations around the topic BUT also hear yourself saying these often “the weather is not right” (like all year round?) “I feel guilty going hiking while I should be with my kids” “Grocery shopping” “need to finish a report by weekend” “nobody to hike with” “what if a bear comes!!” “what if it’s boring” “Don’t have time for this, I’d rather….” And let’s say you end up going on one and you come back all tired and frustrated rather than rejuvenated and happy, then this may not be the activity for you!! If it is not priority, then either learn to make it or invest your time and money in something you love doing. You need to first figure out the ‘Whys’ …is it because everyone else is doing it or you genuinely want to. Unless your SOUL YEARNS for it, my suggesting don’t.
- So, once that box is checked you should go ahead and plan your hike. They are normally classified as ‘Easy’ ‘Moderate’ & ‘Challenging’. My take on this is that don’t slot yourself based on these classifications…they are pretty misleading most of the time. I recently went on a hike which read “Challenging” “Not for first time hikers” but it was more like a walk in the woods with some elevation for fun, my friend’s 7 year old daughter could do it!!
- Pick a type based on terrain. Flat/elevated/Rocky/muddy/through a forest/through a river/on a mountain et al. Assess your stamina based on these. Let’s take me for eg. I love mountain climbing with high elevation gain with some bit of rock climbing involved. I am in my mid-30s, have two kids, gyming has never really been on my everyday to-do list or any to-do list…my only form of exercise before I started hiking was a bit of yoga in the form of suryanamskars and pranayama every day and running around kids, spending endless hours walking for shopping purposes. I took to hiking like fish to water and If I can do it, I think everyone can do it😊. (To be honest I used to hike as a kid, back in India, but that was gazillion years ago!).
- I suggest, challenge yourself, start with a moderate to tough hike…see how you feel as you go…you can always stop at any point, can return at any point, but at least you’ll know where you stand. You wouldn’t be able to do that on a trail which say’s “Easy”. My first hike in the US, after ages, was ‘Storm King Mountain’ in NJ, moderate to strenuous 4 mile hike at approx. 1300+ elevation gain. I had gone with a bunch of experienced hikers who suggested that I should not attempt this as I have not hiked before and that it is not for beginners. Being me, I had to do this as I like to challenge myself. The hike has a rocky and steep start from the word Go and that stretch continues for a while., you are perpetually climbing rocks for the first 30 minutes or so. It was indeed tough, but not impossible. We hiked in winters that made it tougher. Not once did I feel like turning around, or not once did I question my own judgement. I felt so happy after reaching the summit that I can’t explain. Everybody in the group thought I was kidding about being a first timer and that I am a pro. Everyone has their own threshold and you know yourself best, so, don’t get thrown away by terms like tough and strenuous or what others have to say. Push yourself and go anyway.
- Good thing about hiking here is that every trail is clearly marked(color coded) according to the level (easy, medium and tough). At the beginning of each hike, in the parking area, there is a map of all the trails on that mountain/in the park and you know exactly where you have to go…chances of getting lost are next to none, unless you don’t know how to read a map!! There are quite a few good hiking phone apps available for trail maps, Always good to download before you start. Here are a few:
Once you have the time, inclination, passion and energy to hike then go ahead and buy basic hiking gear. Don’t start with expensive cuz not everything that is expensive is good…it’s called Marketing…don’t fall in that trap. I have hiked in very basic sneakers and cotton leggings and a T-shirt and have come back alive and happy!
- BUT, for tough/rocky and muddy terrains, hiking boots are required. I recently purchased mine, Oboz, waterproof boots from REI and am loving them. They cost $150 and are pure bliss on the go…. you need to buy special wool socks to go with these boots, they are additional $14.
- For pants I wear anything from cotton leggings to yoga pants/active wear which can cost anywhere starting $50 and upwards..So far I have been ordering from Amazon and Target and believe me my legs aren’t complaining (Of course weather depending). This wouldn’t work in snow!! REI though is the best place for all things outdoor.
- For top, always wear material that is breathable, light and airy, I don’t like wearing very tight Ts or sports bras.
- A cap/hat is a must for me. Don’t ask me why…maybe cuz it suits me and it’s my thing😉
- I don’t use a hiking pole, somehow, I find it a hassle carrying it. Plus, it’s more fun trying to hike without any crutches. I see almost all hikers carrying it, even on flat terrain, I wonder where’s the need? maybe on snow, but not otherwise. The other thing I like in case I need support along the way is pick any sturdy stick on the way…I find loads of them…In fact I am starting a collection of sticks and will give each one a name. That’s MY hiking thing!
- The biggest yet, a backpack. Don’t invest too much on flashy expensive bags just coz you saw some experienced hikers carry them or bloggers endorse them. I bought mine from Walmart for under $50 and am super happy with it. It holds everything I need, has many compartments, is light as hell, shoulders are nicely padded for comfort and looks great too.
- Inside my backpack, I normally carry, water, of course, a light snack, like a protein bar/banana/Trail mix etc. toilet roll, wet wipes, hand sanitizer, extra pair of T-shirt, first aid box (you can get customized medkits in REI), my Canon DSLR(Not for every hike though). Other stuff depending on the weather.
Here’s a sneak peak into some of my hikes.
Bushkill Falls, NJ. Went hiking with my babies (not all are mine;-). Fun hike with awesome views of waterfall.
Here’s the waterfall in question!
A pond on the way, I thought was beautiful! Baldpate Mountain hike! Hoping to go back to this place in Fall.
I hope this will help first time hikers. I‘ll be happy to know what other hikers carry other than an awesomely positive attitude!!
Keep hiking keep exploring!!