No matter what area of the country you live in, you haven’t seen the best parts unless you’ve been hiking. Getting out in the wilderness, or even your local park, is one of the best ways to destress, center yourself and get in tune with nature.
Before you get anxious about venturing into the realm of bears, lions and Sasquatch, know I’m not proposing you conquer the Pacific Crest Trail or anything – simply meandering in your favorite little piece of nature will do the trick. There are a ton of different trails out there for all skill levels. Pick one out and become a modern-day adventure gal, taking in some epic scenery along the way. Oh ya, and did I mention hiking is also an excellent way to get in fantastic shape?!
The Benefits of Hiking
Hiking is not only beneficial to your mind and soul, it’s also amazing for your body. Whether you’re already in the best shape you’ve ever been in or you’re still trying to reach your goal, hiking will be a huge benefit to your training program.
Time spent hiking is generally spent on rough, uneven terrain. This may seem like a pain if you spend a large chunk of your trek tripping over rocks and tree roots, but it’s an effective way to target those small stabilizer muscles in your ankles, knees and hips – muscles you can’t hit with traditional training.
Aerobically speaking, hiking can elicit some pretty great improvements. There’s nothing like gasping for breath as you reach the summit to make you appreciate oxygen. If you’re training for an endurance sport, hiking is an excellent cross-training tool. But if you’re at the other end of the spectrum and would like to get into endurance-type sports, hiking can help you get there by building an aerobic base with lower intensity movements.
Weight Loss and Fat Burning Potential
If you’re looking to lose weight and love being outside, meet your new bestie: hiking. It may not seem like a calorie torching workout when you’re out for a leisurely stroll, and it really isn’t. However, when you throw in hills and/or a pack into the mix, voila!
Let’s take a look at the numbers, shall we. For a 155-pound person, walking at a brisk 3.5 mph burns around 267 calories per hour – not too shabby, but not very impressive either. Add in some uphill ascents and you’re looking at 422 calories per hour. Toting around a backpack will bump it up to 493. Chances are, you’d be torching well over 500 calories per hour if you take a pack while conquering those hills.
There you have it, a few days out on the trail every week and you’re bound to shed some of that winter fat that’s been hanging around all year long. What better way to burn fat and lose weight than to do it soaking up some nature?
Toning and Muscle Building Potential
While you’re busy taking in breath-taking scenery (and probably breath in general) and burning fat, you’ll also be building some of that highly-coveted muscle. Aside from those smaller stabilizer muscles we talked about earlier, those bigger, more visible muscles will also get stronger. Your calves, hamstrings, quadriceps, abductors and glutes will all be put to the test as you ascend and descend your favorite trails.
Donning a pack (always a good idea to take supplies, just in case), will force your back, core, chest and shoulder muscles to do their fair share of work. Walking poles will help re-direct some of the work from your lower body to your upper body – something to keep in mind if your ankles, knees or hips give you trouble.
Classes: What to expect; should I take them?
If the thought of heading into the woods or mountains alone is terrifying, you should definitely look into a hiking class or guided hike. Many counties/cities offer guided hikes – just contact your local parks and rec for details.
Taking a guided hike will help get your feet wet and make outings a little less intimidating. A hiking class will teach you the ropes – how to find skill-level appropriate hikes, how to read signs, how to pack/dress properly for a hike, basic navigation skills, and you may even learn some plant/animal identification.
There are also tons of resources online and in books that will enlighten you on everything hiking. You’ll probably glean more than you need, or maybe it’ll turn you into a hiking junkie (definitely not a bad thing).
Instructional Hiking Training Videos and Tips
As with many things in life, the only way to get more comfortable and better at hiking is to do it. However, before you embark on your first hiking adventure, take some time to review these videos and any other information you can get a hold of.
Hiking is the best way to get in shape for hiking, but that’s not always a possibility – especially if you’re an urban dweller. So, here are a few tips to prepare you for hiking before you actually step foot on your first trail.
– Walk. Simple as that. Walking is what you’ll be doing on the trail, so by simply walking to and from work, around your neighborhood, or following after your dog with a plastic bag on your hand, you’ll be improving your walking muscles and endurance.
– Take the stairs. This smart step (pun intended) mimics the movement of walking uphill, or at least uses the same muscles.
– Wear a backpack everywhere. If you’re planning on backpacking, it’s best to carry a pack over flat terrain first. Even a small pack can tax your upper body after a couple miles if you’re not used to it.
– Throw in a few lower body exercises to round out your preparation. Squats, lunges of all kinds, and explosive jumping movements (think plyometrics) will get those legs hiking-ready.
Clothes and Proper Attire
When it comes to lining out clothes and gear, hiking essentials can easily lead you down the rabbit hole. Trust me, if you spend enough time on the trail it’s easy to become a gear junkie. But for this conversation, we’ll stick with the basics.
We’ll begin with what you put on your feet, by all accounts the most important pieces of attire to consider when hiking.
Shoes – Hiking shoes range from huge clomping boots to minimalist shoes. For now, I would advise you to stay away from both – unless you’re already conditioned to minimal footwear you’ll wind up hurt and the big boots are more than you’ll need for a beginner-intermediate hike. Instead, opt for regular tennis shoes if you’re not committed enough to invest in new kicks.
If you are willing to spend some cash, a small light-weight pair of boots with ankle and toe support or trail running shoes are what I would recommend. If you do buy new shoes, make sure you break them in before hitting the trail or you’ll end up with some righteous blisters. There are plenty of stores like REI that have experts in fitting your for shoes-don’t be afraid to go and ask questions!
Socks – You want your socks to be thin and of good quality. The material should breathe and keep the moisture off of your feet. Here are a few more tips to keep your feet trail-ready.
What you wear on your body isn’t quite as important as what goes on your feet but you still need to dress appropriately – especially if you’re hiking in less-than-ideal conditions. Key tip: avoid cotton and go with wool or synthetics.
Top – Short-sleeved or long-sleeved t-shirts are a safe bet when hiking. You don’t need to have tech fabrics, although you can. Merino wool is my go-to when there’s a chill in the air. A light softshell jacket is always nice to have on hand.
Bottoms – Pants or shorts are both appropriate for hiking. Be aware of your hiking terrain – if the trail is bordered with prickly bushes or poison ivy, you’ll definitely want to wear pants even if the temps are high.
These include a few things that might make your hiking experience better but are not a necessity.
Hat – A ball cap or boonie hat will help keep the harmful UV rays at bay. And, of course, if it’s cold, opt for a beanie.
Sunglasses – I’m not a fan of squinting so I wear them all the time, but to each her own. If you would rather not have your gorgeous view of nature dampened by dark shades, leave them at home.
Trekking Poles – These are totally optional. As I mentioned earlier, they can help take the stress off of your lower body joints. They may also be useful if you’re not as sure-footed as you’d like to be by giving you additional stability on that uneven ground you’ll be trekking over.
Binoculars – Just in case you want to do some wildlife viewing from a safe distance.
What to Pack
Although you don’t need one of those backpacks the size of a small pony on your back, I would recommend taking a pack of some sort, even if it’s just a fanny pack (‘cuz we all know how awesome they are).
Water Bottle or Hydrapack – Always pack water with you, ideally more than you’ll actually need…just in case.
Sunscreen and Bug Spray – These are two items you should never leave home without.
Snacks – Because fresh air and physical activity often leads one to become hangry if not properly fed.
Charged Phone – You’ll want it for pictures at the very least and it may get you out of an emergency at the most.
First-Aid Kit – Just in case.
Camera – If you don’t have a camera on your phone or just prefer high-quality pics, bring along a camera.
Knife – This isn’t really a necessity if you’re just exploring your local park, but if you’re headed into the wilderness you should always have one with you. You never know when it might come in handy.
Mace or Pepper Spray– A small can can pack some serious protection against wildlife.
America The Beautiful Pass- An annual pass to more than 2,000 federal recreation sites pays for itself with just a few visits.
6-Week Hiking Program
Results and Success Stories
“I haven’t always been a lover of fitness… at least not in the normal sense of going to the gym, pressing play on my workout DVD at home, or jogging around the neighborhood.
But, I have always enjoyed being out in nature, breathing fresh air, and exploring the world around me.
So, naturally, hiking has been a great way for me to combine both my love for the outdoors and a way to improve my overall health at the same time.
Going for a hike didn’t sound quite as exciting when I was at my heaviest weight 3 years ago, but the more I did it, the more I could see the positive changes it was having on my physical, emotional, and mental health.
I have successfully lost 45 pounds since I first started getting up and moving each day, and I have kept it off by continuing to do what I love. Climbing mountain trails, wading through creeks, and simply making my way down the paths laid out in front of me.
Not only has hiking had a positive impact on how I feel, but I’ve even been able to rack up a long list of beautiful places that I want to explore more of.
Some of my preferred hiking destinations in the U.S. include:
- Badlands National Park, South Dakota
- Tent Rocks National Monument, New Mexico
- Fall Creek Falls State Park, Tennessee
- Fiery Gizzard Trail, Tennessee
- Nantahala National Forest, North Carolina
- Tahquamenon Falls State Park, Michigan
- Red River Gorge, Kentucky
- Mammoth Cave National Park, Kentucky
- Medicine Bow National Forest, Wyoming
And that’s just naming a few!
Hiking has opened up my eyes to a whole new world while also giving me the tools I need to stay in shape and keep off those extra pesky pounds I tend to accumulate when I sit on the couch all day.”