Hiking is a combination of walking and backpacking. If you’re not carrying anything but water, you are probably walking. If you’re carrying food in a pack you are probably hiking. Backpacking is hiking with camping added. If you are carrying a tent in your backpack, your are probably backpacking.
Hiking is good because it gets you out of civilization for short periods of time. It allows you to visit nature in its natural state. It gets you away from your computer, and if you travel far enough, you can get away from your phone. Really, you’re not getting away from your phone, but you might get out of the reach of phone service.
There is a lot to think about when you get away from civilization. You have to think about your basic needs in a more fundamental way. You carry your water and food with you, but you need to be aware of things that can go wrong, and have options to respond to those things. You may need to obtain water from the environment. You have to eat special foods a lot of the time, like trail mix and meal bars. You have to pay attention to where you are walking because sometimes stumbling or tripping can result in injury or death.
You have to learn new ways to find out where you are, because where you are is much more important in the outdoors than it is in the city. This is not entirely true because in the city you might find yourself in an unsafe neighborhood, and being where you are can be very important. However, in the wilderness, you can actually end up as food for some animal that is lower down in the food chain. You have to be able to look at trails and tell which ones are real, and which ones are made by animals or people who are getting of trail to take care of their biological imperatives.
Before you start hiking you need to have a good idea of the state of your physical health. High blood pressure, being overweight, being diabetic, being asthmatic, or having a family history of heart disease are conditions you will want to tale into account before taking up a strenuous activity like hiking. You should consult your physician to find out what your basic level of healthiness is before you begin hiking long distances or long hours.
Once you have decided that you want to be a hiker, and you have determined that you are able, you have to obtain the proper equipment. What you put on your feet is a primary consideration. Without proper footwear and proper foot care you may have to stop frequently to rest your feet, or to apply first aid to blisters, or you may be in for some intense suffering. Hikers are very aware of their feet.
Boots or shoes or sandals? It’s a tough decision. Short hikes on even surfaces might be easily done in sandals. There are sandals specifically designed for hiking. Usually a good pair of trail running shoes is sufficient for most people. When you start doing long hikes or multi-day trips, you will probably need boots, with support for your ankles.
Socks are also very important to consider when hiking. Wool socks are the ones that most hikers choose because they wick moisture away from your skin, helping your skin to stay dry. If the skin on your feet gets wet, it can break or form blisters. Blisters are not fun when you are hiking. Wool socks also dry quickly when they get wet. Being the material that keeps millions and millions of sheep happy and comfortable in all kinds of weather, wool is the best choice, unless you are allergic to it. Synthetic sock liners add an extra measure of protection for your feet when you wear them inside of your wool socks.
Depending on such factors as geography, climate, the seasons and local weather conditions, you may need special clothing. Short hiking and hiking in mild weather conditions does not require any special clothing. Usually, you’ll want to avoid cotton fabrics, but other than that, regular clothing will do just fine. Mostly what you are concerned with is staying warm or cool and protecting yourself from the sun and other environmental hazards.
You might have to decide between pants and shorts, but depending on the presence of noxious plants like poison oak and poison ivy, you may be forced to wear pants. Thorny plants and sticks and branches can scratch your legs so pants might be preferable in wooded conditions. Shorts are good for warm weather, and on well-worn trails. You can always get the convertible pants that have legs that zip off and on.
Shirts can be short sleeve or long sleeve depending on the weather, and whether or not you have sunscreen. Much of the time, just hiking will keep you warm, and so having long sleeves may be uncomfortable. On the other hand, long sleeves are great sun protection for your arms.
Hats are very important in the outdoors. The kind of hat you need depends on the weather. In hot weather you need a cap or hat with a brim to protect you from the sun. Some hikers wear a simple cap, and others wear hats with flaps on the back that cover their neck. Cold weather will require a stocking cap or a beanie. A rule of thumb is, if it’s hot put, on a hat and if it’s cold, put on a hat.
What kind of underwear you choose can have a large impact on your comfort. Some people are subject to chafing if they were the wrong underwear on a long hike. Many of the same rules apply to underwear as to your socks. Cotton may absorb moisture and keep it close to your skin, which makes your skin weaker and can lead to irritation and pain. It can become most uncomfortable and difficult to walk. Synthetic fibers like polyester make for better underwear in the wood.
Occasionally you may need gloves, and a good pair of gloves with fingers should be part of your standard pack supplies. You don’t have to wear them most of the time, and they are small and very lightweight, so they won’t add much burden. When you need them, they are very good to have. For warmth, mittens are fine, and for climbing up rocks and boulders, gloves with nice grip and separate fingers are best.
Given that you will need some sort of pack, you should decide what type of pack to carry. You need a place to put all the stuff you need to carry to keep yourself safe and prepared. There are different kinds of backpacks, ranging from belt packs to very small hydration packs to regular backpacks to very large backpacks. The smallest packs are used by bicyclists and runners, and hikers generally choose medium-sized backpacks for day hiking. The really large packs are for backpackers who hike many days in the wilderness.
A hydration pack is a pack that holds a water bag also known as a hydration bladder. The hydration bladder goes in the backpack, and a tube leads from the bladder to your mouth. You do not always have to have it in your mouth but it’s conveniently close. One advantage to hydration bladders is that your water is accessible at any time and you don’t have to stop to take a drink. The downside to hydration bladders is that sometimes they have to be cleaned or they can leave a bad taste in your mouth. Also a new hydration bladder sometimes may taste like plastic first couple of times you use it. Most hiking backpacks regardless of their size have a place for a hydration bladder and hydration bladders come in a variety of capacities, from 1 to 3 liters.
Some people will make the mistake of grabbing a book bag or some other pseudo-backpack, and this is okay for very short times. If you get serious about hiking you will need to invest in a decent hiking backpack. The size of backpack that you get will depend on what you want to carry, where you are going, and how long you plan to be out on any given day. Your backpack should be large enough to carry 2 liters of water and the necessary items that you may need to survive, like food and extra socks.
There are many good places to get backpacks. Most popular sporting good stores and outdoor supply stores sell good backpacks from a variety of manufacturers. You can buy online as well.Pick a good name brand and avoid generic backpacks. Quality is important.
So let’s go over that again: Good shoes or boots, wool socks and maybe sock liners, pants, shirt, a hat, good underwear and a nice backpack. Now you are ready to go hiking.