Walk This Way

Walk This Way: Five Tips to Prepare for Your First Hike

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Prepare for Your Hike ~

Wanna take a walk in the woods, find that hidden waterfall or follow your friends on their next hiking adventure, but know that you can’t make the trek?

Over the years my son and brother have spun tales of their hiking escapades, fueling my desire to follow their footprints. So, what stopped me? I knew that I physically could not travel the miles, let alone keep up with them, even if they adopted the motto “you are only as fast as the slowest hiker in your group”. But this was an obstacle that I could overcome with a little effort and commitment.

Why don’t you walk this way with me, so we don’t have to be left behind? Follow these walking tips for beginner hikers, and you’ll be prepared to hit the trails for your first hike.

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1. Start Small

Lace up those shoes and start walking, huh! Sometimes, if you are totally out of shape, starting an exercise plan, even one as low impact as walking, can seem like a daunting task. If it seems far fetched that you’ll ever be pounding out those miles on the trail, don’t be discouraged. Don’t compare yourself to avid hikers that are completing long distance hikes. Don’t be intimidated by them!

Start small, but start. If you can only walk for ten minutes, well, walk for ten minutes. Every week add more time and distance to your walks. The most important thing at this point is to get moving. Just starting is often the hardest part of ANY new venture, so you’ll already be doing more than the  person that is doing NOTHING. Starting small also reduces the risk of injury and pain, which would only slow you down more.

2. Set Goals

Okay, so you’ve started walking and have an idea of how long and far you can walk right now. It’s time to set some goals. Be realistic but set the bar high enough to give yourself a little push. Your goals may be different than mine depending on each individual’s physical condition.

How much can you increase your time and/or distance walking in the next two weeks? This is a good time to pick a local, beginner friendly day hike you would like to be able to do and use that trip as an incentive. Every week when you reach your goal, set  a new one, keeping that trip you have planned in mind.

Believe Quote

3. Vary Your Route

In my opinion, changing your walking route is one of the best ways to prepare and condition for your hike. If you only walk on a flat track at the local park, you’ll probably be in for a surprise when you venture out on your hike. I know a mile is a mile distance wise, but let me tell you, in the foothills of north Georgia where I live, there is a big difference in a city park mile and a country mile that meanders around our rural roads!

With that in mind, find some other routes that include hills. Better yet, find a route with various terrain other than smooth pavement. I do occasionally walk at the local track and use that time to increase my speed since it is flat and easier for me. I also walk near my home, up and down the hills where I feel the workout and tell myself that I a getting ready for the mountain trails! Sometimes I make laps around my sloping yard knowing that I am working different muscles walking on the grass and roots in the field. If you have access to a sandy beach that would be another good option.

4. Start Climbing

It is not unusual for trails at state and national parks to include stairs. Lots of stairs. Wooden stairs built to provide access to certain natural attractions and steps made of dirt, stone, and timbers make up many trails. To prepare for those trails, it is time to start climbing.

If you don’t have stairs at your home, the bleachers at a local ball field provides all the steps you need. Remember the routes with the hills I mentioned looking for? Why not walk JUST the hill for your routine sometimes? Try walking up and down the hill over and over for a specific amount of time. I definitely slow down walking hills and stairs and usually stretch afterwards because my muscles feel the burn!

Climbing stairs

Speaking of stretching, don’t forget the importance of a good stretching routine. I know I feel silly stretching before I walk like I am a super athlete getting ready to bust some moves. Stretching can prevent injury and make a difference in how sore you are later, especially if you are just starting to get moving and becoming more active.

5. Add Weight

Once you are walking regularly and climbing those hills and stairs, consider adding some weight. Add weight?? If you are like me, you are hoping to lose weight with this walking routine! We don’t want to add body weight, but we can add weight that we carry.

I remember when walkers use to wear the ankle and wrist weights that looked like little sand bags. I’m not talking about those, although I think you can still buy them. If you plan on hiking and later going on overnight backpacking trips, it is a good idea to start carrying a backpack. Start out with a small, regular backpack that you have around the house or a lightweight daypack. Put some bottles of water, books or rocks in it to add the weight and start walking.  Don’t overload it; if you put too much weight in you’ll want a good backpack designed to carry the weight properly.

When my brother was conditioning for a backpacking trip in Europe he would walk the rural road near his home carrying a fully packed backpack. One afternoon, a motorist stopped beside him and offered him a ride. “No thanks”, my brother replied. “I live right down the road.” We laugh when we think about how my long-haired, backpack toting brother must have looked to this man. He probably thought my brother was crazy!

A Secret

Wanna know a secret? If you are walking a couple of miles a day and varying your routes, you are basically hiking. Maybe you haven’t took that walk in the woods yet or tackled a popular local trail, but you are ready and probably traveling just as far.

Hike sign

HIKE: an extended walk for pleasure or exercise, usually in the country or wilderness.

If you just want to head to the woods right away, find short, easy trails that won’t have you regretting the decision to start hiking.  Be sure to do some research so you don’t end up on a trail too difficult. Then keep preparing at home.

Related Post: Hiking Risks and the Mistakes Hikers Make

I hope these tips inspire you and help you prepare for your hike. I’d love to hear about your progress. See you on the trails!

prepare for first hike

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