Labor Day is coming up and for most parts of the country it’s the final opportunity for an outdoor getaway for the calendar year. Sure the beach is tempting, but you’ve done that all summer. Do you want to ring in autumn the right way? Plan a hiking trip.
Many people hear hiking and flashback to childhood memories of being tired, sweaty and covered in mosquitoes. Chances are if you haven’t gone out into nature lately it’s because you are looking at it from the lens of a kid who was forced into it. It became another burden like eating your vegetables or cleaning your room, even though as adults we now know those things are good for us to do. There is a strong body of evidence supporting the notion that being outdoors in the woods is good for your mental and physical well-being. In a time when we are constantly glued to devices, wouldn’t it be soothing to go somewhere without service, even if for just a few hours?
Many people hear the term “hike” and get intimidated, thinking it has to mean scaling 10,000 foot peaks with thousands of dollars worth of gear. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Sure, that type of hiking exists, but it can be much more accessible than that. Have you ever gone for a long walk outside? Then congratulations, you are a hiker. Bonus points for being on a trail and/or surrounded by nature while doing it.
Hitting the trails is an activity you can do for an overnight, long weekend, or just for a few hours one afternoon. You can plan a destination trip for it, but in reality you can likely find a trail within a few minutes of your home or office. Free resources like the app AllTrails are a great way to find local routes with guidance from those who have hiked them before. They include trails with varying difficulties, distances, elevation, etc. They also often include where to park and the location of on-site facilities like restrooms or visitor centers. You don’t have to plan an expensive getaway to the Grand Tetons to get a good hike in. Though the views may not be as famous, chances are you can find a physically demanding challenge much closer to home with a significantly lower price tag.
Don’t feel like signing up for an app? Most municipalities, counties, and states have park resources available to the public for free. These websites or trail guides often showcase footpaths, greenways and more elevated hikes in your area along with valuable information like where to park or costs for admission. Once you start looking, you’ll be amazed at just how many trails are available and nearby.
So you charted a weekend hike. What kind of gear should you bring with you? If you’re going for a day hike, you really don’t need to do too much purchasing. That said, one of the most important components of your trip needs to be your shoes. Hiking boots are well known, however, your better bet may be to buy a pair of trail running shoes with good grip or “lugs.” These are often significantly lighter than boots (which you’ll appreciate on longer hauls), often waterproof or water resistant, and usually come with a built-in toe guard and/or rock plate under the sole of the shoe to keep your feet protected from the technical terrain. What’s great about trail running shoes is that they are often cheaper, more packable and more functional than hiking boots and can easily be converted for snow hikes with a simple set of chains. In addition to your shoes, socks are of equal importance. Thankfully, most athletic socks with compression and wicking capabilities will do the trick, however, some opt for socks that provide ankle support (like those made by the brand Lasso) or they go for something that stands up to the elements better like those made of wool (Darn Tough is one of the highest rated we’ve come across).
After shoes, you need to look at a pack. In reality, this can be any type of backpack that sits comfortably on your torso without causing any imbalance or pain. There are affordable hiking specific daypacks out there (Osprey makes a fantastic and affordable “DayLite” pack), but any comfortably fitting backpack will serve the purpose, especially on hikes that don’t require carrying enough gear for an overnight.
As for what goes into your pack: water, dry clothes, and energy-based snacks rank at the top of the list. You can buy a water bottle or CamelBak, but the biggest tip we hear from serious hikers is to purchase a few bottles of SmartWater. These bottles are lightweight but sturdy, easily refillable, come with electrolyte infused water–and surprisingly–there are several water filtration devices that screw to the top of them seamlessly. The best part? You can find them almost anywhere bottled water is sold and they are way cheaper and lighter than a Nalgene or Hydro Flask (though both are great to have and cut down significantly on plastic waste).
As far as your nutrition needs, many bars are nutrient dense and easily packable. Lara, RX, Clif, Kind and Nature Valley all make for tasty hike fuel, however, we have found Lara and RX to be the healthiest of the lot due to their no sugar added options as well as their simple list of healthy ingredients. Another veteran hiker’s favorite piece of food? A simple peanut butter sandwich. Though add-ons like jelly or jam can make for a sticky summit lunch, peanut butter on bread is lightweight, easy on your stomach, and jam-packed with carbs and protein to carry you through your descent. Slice up a banana and layer it between the bread for even more complex carbs and potassium.
When it comes to an extra set of clothes, it’s highly recommended to bring warmer garments that are dry and can be easily layered or removed . This can include long sleeve shirts, pants, extra socks, gloves and a hat. Just because it’s in the 60s at the trailhead, doesn’t mean the weather will be that comfortable several thousand feet up under a tree canopy. These are also great to have if you get caught up in an unexpected weather event. A pro-tip is to keep your dry clothes in a plastic bag or a special dry-bag inside of your pack so they don’t get wet from rain or your own sweat.
So you have your footwear, food, clothes and backpack, what else should you bring? First off, we cannot emphasize enough the importance of a compact first-aid kit. Many are cheap and lightweight and can be found at most stores with an outdoors department. They’ll often include bandages and gauze and can be restocked easily. Sunblock and bug spray also go a long way. It’s great to bring a physical copy of the map or trail with you in case you get lost and lose service or battery on your phone. A flashlight, matches and cheap compass can be of great help as well in a dire situation. Additionally, a simple pocket knife or utility tool can be a lifesaver in the right scenario. We also highly advise you to bring an emergency blanket. These extremely small, cheap and lightweight pieces of foil-like fabric are often folded into a shape smaller than a wallet and can be thrown into your pack without taking up much valuable space or weight. In situations where a hiker is injured and stranded in the woods, space blankets have been proven to save lives, keeping their inhabitants warm and dry.
Worried about your fitness level before hiking? Good news–there are hikes of various distances and climbs usually within striking distance of one another. Don’t feel like doing a 12 mile out and back? Hike halfway and turn around. Don’t want to climb 4,000 feet but still want to hike to a summit? There are often multiple trailheads at varying elevations for you to start your journey. Best way to prepare for hiking? In the weeks leading up to your trek, try walking a few miles a day at a moderate pace. Strong legs and a strong core are integral to hikes as well, so feel free to mix in body weight moves like lunges and planks into your routine to really solidify your abilities.
There is a hike out there for everyone, you just need to do some looking–and a little prep.