What is there to know about starting to hike? Slip into your comfiest shoes, step out the door, and off you go for a leisurely stroll. Sure, it's a simple, delightful way to start. Yet, if you yearn for something more adventurous — a day spent wandering through nature off the beaten path, guiding yourself or leading your family and friends to that amazing view, exploring unfamiliar terrains — the journey could however feel a bit more challenging and perhaps even overwhelming. Let's explore how to wipe these challenges off the table and get ourselves organized for an unforgettable outdoor experience.
Finding the perfect trail
Obviously, the journey to a pleasant hike starts with finding the right trail. The classic approach is going through guides or books about the region that piques your interest and select one which suits you. While traditional maps and guidebooks are useful for finding and navigating marked routes, it's important to be aware whether they're still up to date. This is especially true for lesser-known paths in less touristic areas. Maintaining trails and their blazes costs tax-payers money so depending on the region your mileage might vary. Speaking from personal experience, I've walked routes from guidebooks that were outdated or had poorly maintained markers, leading to a bit of frustration. Having to backtrack and figure things out is part of the adventure, but it can also lead to lost time and detract from a smooth, enjoyable hiking experience.
Don't get me wrong, traditional paper resources like maps and guidebooks are invaluable for hiking! Yet, when it comes to picking the ideal hike, I've found navigation apps like Alltrails and Komoot to be incredibly helpful. These apps offer the flexibility to search and select tours based on a variety of preferences, such as region, trail length, circular or not, difficulty level, terrain type, and scenic choices like riverside walks or forest treks. Moreover, and perhaps more importantly, these apps allow you to access reviews and ratings from fellow hikers. This feedback is a fantastic resource, helping you make a well-informed choice for your next great adventure without the need to improvise on the spot.
Circular or not
It may be obvious, but it's good to remember that hikes can either be circular or point-to-point (another property you can choose when searching online). With a circular hike, you end up where you began, which is convenient if you're parking your car near the starting point. An added plus of circular trails is the flexibility in choosing where to start. You can begin at any point along the loop, making it easier to locate a suitable parking spot.
Choosing a non-circular hike means you'll need to think a bit more about transportation if you need to return to your starting point. Using public transport can introduce the need to keep an eye on the clock, which might add a bit of stress to your outing. If you're hiking with a group and have access to more than one car, a practical solution is to carpool to the end point and then take one car back to the start. This approach requires some planning but can make your hike more seamless and enjoyable.
Total elevation meters
When planning your hike, it's crucial to consider both your physical limits and those of your companions. The total distance of the hike is an important factor, but often, the elevation gain – the total height you'll ascend and descend during your hike – plays a more significant role. It's essential not to underestimate this aspect or overestimate your abilities. Both climbing and descending can be physically challenging. For example, a 14km hike might seem manageable, but it can be quite strenuous if it includes a +600m elevation gain. Being realistic about what you can handle ensures a more enjoyable and safe hiking experience.
Regarding elevation gain, it can be helpful to understand contour lines on a topographic map. While many navigation apps provide a 2D view of the climbs and descents for a chosen trail, knowing how to read these lines is beneficial. This skill allows you to make informed decisions, especially if you need to stray from the marked path during your hike.
We already mentioned navigation apps like Alltrails and Komoot to select a trail. As you might have expected, you can also use them to navigate your hike by phone. This is super useful as it makes navigating the terrain pretty much a no-brainer. For these apps to be meaningful and featureful you will probably have to shell out a little bit of money to unlock all of their features.
While hiking, you may notice that cellphone reception varies depending on your location. In more remote areas, it's common to experience poor or even no reception at all. That's why it's essential to ensure you can download your trail map onto your phone in advance, so you do not rely on connectivity to navigate (GPS itself does not need cell/data reception). If your chosen hiking app offers offline maps as a premium feature, consider investing in it. Relying solely on reception for map access is not advisable. Instead, take the time to download your map well before your hike, and avoid doing it at the last minute.
When you're out on the trail, the last thing you want is for your phone to run out of battery. To ensure you stay connected and powered up during your hike, it's a good idea to close all those battery-draining apps and features like Bluetooth, wireless, and cellular data (offline maps remember). In addition, bring along an external battery pack to keep your phone charged, and don't forget to pack a charging cable to connect your phone.
Embarking on a hike together with kindred spirits can be truly satisfying. Experiencing together the beauty nature has to offer, sharing the satisfying effort of the journey and achievement creates and deepens a bond. There is however nothing wrong embarking on a solo trip. On the contrary. Being alone on a journey can be very fulfilling, healing and improve your self-confidence. In such cases, prioritizing safety is essential. Sharing the details of your journey beforehand with a trusted contact is necessary to ensure someone knows your whereabouts in case of an emergency. Details such as the start, finish, the location of your car, in which direction you plan to start and agreeing on a phone call or message when finishing are useful.
Additionally, navigation apps such as Komoot, have the ability to share in real-time your location (though it requires a data connection). Remember, safety should always be a top priority when exploring the outdoors.
Carrying babies, infants or toddlers
Bringing your little one along for a hike using a backpack carrier is a wonderful experience. Introducing your children to the joys of nature at an early age can be immensely rewarding and might even ignite a lifelong passion for hiking. I've personally found that the gentle rhythm of walking and the tranquil forest views, sounds and air can have an incredibly calming effect on your child.
Now, if you're planning to hit the trails with a slightly older and consequently heavier child to cary, it can present a bit more of a challenge. It's essential to become acquainted with the ins and outs of using a backpack carrier and make some trial hikes before embarking on your actual adventure. Depending on the weight you'll be carrying, those extra kilos can put a strain on your physical endurance, especially your knees during downhill stretches. Keep that in mind when selecting your hike. In this case, a walking stick can provide a welcome support during descends.
When it comes to hiking with children, one aspect that deserves special consideration is the weather conditions. Hot or cold conditions you're not used to, should be avoided. It's not because you're doing the walking and are thirsty that the little one on your back does not need to drink; keeping your little one well-hydrated is obviously important to keep an eye on. Additionally, don't forget to pack essential items like sunscreen and mosquito repellent, regardless of the weather conditions.
The fragility of children demands extra care and good preparation. Hiking should never involve taking unnecessary risks, especially when our little ones are along for the adventure. Furthermore, it's a wise choice to steer clear of trails that are labeled as difficult or challenging ensuring a smooth, enjoyable, and, most importantly, safe hiking experience for the entire family.
If you ever had the desire to go out on a hiking trip in nature, off the beaten path, but never came around doing so then I can only hope that these words inspired you to plan your upcoming trip and discover that it can be a truly enriching experience of connecting with nature and gain a deeper appreciation for the world around us.
and remember: "Not all those who wander are lost"
Happy trails ahead!