When I moved to Utah I just assumed everyone would be a hiker. With the mountains in such close proximity I took it for granted that everyone shared this simple hobby. I am amazed at the number of people I have heard say, “I would love to start hiking.” Or better yet, “I’m scared to start hiking.”
I did not grow up hiking. My parents would take my sisters and I on the occasional nature walk through the local nature center. Southern Minnesota, though, is not exactly known for its outdoor recreation. I remember my sisters and I would feel the most adventurous when the river was high enough that we would have to jump from cement block to cement block in order to cross it. We always looked forward to this, just hoping the river would be rushing!
When I started dating Kenon, he expanded my boundary of adventure further and further, and continues to do so. I never questioned whether or not hiking was “scary” or “difficult.” I just did it, step by step, learning the safety precautions as I went.
John Muir once said, “Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is a necessity.” You do not have to be a grand adventurer to experience the rejuvenation of going to the mountains. You can start simple. Here are five tips to help you take that first step.
1. Download AllTrails. AllTrails is the a great app to find information about trails. You can search for trails in your area based on criteria of your choosing. If you are nervous about hiking being too difficult, set the difficulty to “easy”, pick a short length, and a low elevation gain. I have a coworker who is terrified of wild animals and this fear keeps her off the trail. Choose a popular trail with heavy traffic where wildlife is not popular to maximize safety. The search is incredibly customizable so you can choose something that is motivating to you. Tell AllTrails to show you only trails with waterfalls or lakes so you have something to look forward to. Whatever will get you out there! Here’s an example:
AllTrails also has reviews from people who have been on the trail recently. This is a good tool for knowing what to expect for current trail conditions. Does a trail get muddy in the spring? Is it covered in snow? Have their been current wildlife sightings? Is it a good trail for kids? Read the reviews and pick something that suits you. Or at least drool over the posted pictures until you cannot stand it anymore and have to hit the trail!
2. Find a hiking buddy. This is the most important one. Kenon learned how to rock climb from a friend. He learned to love backpacking by going with friends. He is learning backcountry skiing from a network of friends. There has got to be someone out there crazy enough to take a hike with you. Text that person. Seriously, do it now. Better yet: Find the trail you want on AllTrails, click the share button, send it to that friend, give them a date and time, and tell them they are showing up. Take that first step!
3. You do not need hiking boots. A good pair of tennis shoes will work on most trails. Hiking boots are for designed for durability and to protect your feet on more intense trails. If you are just starting out on mellow, well-used trails your trusted tennis shoes will do just fine. You can add the hiking boots when you increase your intensity. Any sporting goods or outdoors store will be able to help you choose a pair that is right for your foot and your outdoor goals.
4. Pack all the best snacks. This is the best part about going in the outdoors: An excuse to eat delicious food outside. Think about it as a long walk to a picnic. My current favorite snack to pack is Honey Stingers. One of my dearest hiking friends always bring licorice to keep herself motivated. Kenon rewards himself with lemonade. Find your thing and stick it in your pack.
5. Go early morning. My first reason to hike early in the morning is very practical. This is generally the coolest part of the day. It helps morale tremendously when the temperatures are cool. My second reason is psychological. The longer the day gets, the more hours and to-do lists that get in the way, the more reasons you will find to convince yourself to not hike.
There will always be another reason to not hike. You just need one reason to start.