I’ve been lucky enough that I have been going hiking my entire life, to me it is second nature. I know what to do, what to pack, I know the lingo… it’s easy for me. It was eye opening for me to have a conversation with one of my closest friends who told me I should write a blog for people who have never gone hiking before. I took her on her first hike ever (Bears Hump in Waterton National Park, Canada) which then inspired her to do more hiking. She told me that if it weren’t for me she wouldn’t know lots of simple things about hiking, I thought this was a great idea!
How did I get into hiking? I was raised a hiker. I was going on hikes since the day I could walk. I look back and am amazed at the ability that I had as a child. It is my opinion that raising your child to hike mountains is a gift that your child will have for the rest of his/her life. When I was about 15 I didn’t want to hike anymore. My friends weren’t with me, it was a lot of work and it wasn’t “cool”. When I was 17 I made a new friend, Drew, who had never gone hiking before but thought it was so cool that I had. He got me stoked, and I took him on 3 mountain scrambles that summer. His first mountain summits. The passion the mountains brought out in Drew made me excited to start hiking again. I haven’t been off the mountains since. It is never too late for you to start, the online community is an amazing place to reach out for help, tips, suggestions and even a hiking buddy!
Ready for a quick English lecture? Here is your crash course on all of the hiking lingo that you need to know to get you started:
Hike vs. Scramble vs. Climb:
- A hike is classified as a long, vigorous walk on a trail.
- Scrambling is off-trail, route finding may be requires, rocky slopes sometime steep and loose, often requires use of hands, carrying amounts of “exposure”, stream crossings, bushwachking.
- A non-technical summit is one that is reached without the need for certain types of climbing equipment (body harness, rope, protection hardware, etc), and not involving travel on extremely steep slopes or on glaciers. However, this can mean negotiating lower angle rock, traveling through talus and scree, crossing streams, fighting one’s way through dense brush, and walking on snow-covered slopes.”
- Climbing requires proper training and equipment, do not attempt this unless you have both of these things!
Never do anything that makes you feel so turn back if necessary. It is not worth it!
Other important terms:
- Scree: Scree is very loose rock. When climbing up scree it can sometimes feel like you are taking 1 step up and 3 steps down the entire time. Scree can be intimidating for beginners but can be a lot of fun to go down once you are comfortable!
- Maintained Trail vs. Route Finding: A maintained trail typically easy to find and follow, is kept clear of obstacles like fallen trees, and nearly impossible to get lost on. Route finding involves more skill and knowledge. The trail may not be visible or marked and you may need to bushwhack and use navigational skills.
- Cairn: A cairn is a pile of rocks that are a sign of being on the correct path. There is usually a cairn at the top of a mountain summit – add a rock to mark your accomplishment!
2: Choosing a hike
It is important to take elevation and distance into consideration when choosing a hike as I mentioned above. Remember that lots of hiking locations are very remote and you will most likely not have cell phone service. Be sure to bring proper directions on your hike. The way is not always as clear as the books sometimes make it sound so always bring the book or a copy of the directions with you. It is possible to buy detailed maps for most hiking areas. This can help you identify where you are, where you are going and what you are seeing along the way. My bible is the Don’t Waste Your Time book. It comes with separate booklets to take on each hike. Be sure to consider what you want to see the most (lakes, alpine meadows, waterfalls, forest, mountain vistas etc…) and find a hike that matches the distance and elevation gain you want with what to see.
3: Distance and Elevation Gain
When picking a hike it is important to take into consideration the distance of the hike. A swift hiker walks about 4km/hr. This is fast! The average hiker walks about 2.5 – 3 km/hr. When you do your first hike time yourself so you know how fast you are and so that you can see how you improve. Elevation is another factor in choosing a hike. The higher the elevation, the harder the hike will be. 500m gain is a doable but challenging day hike for a beginner. 1000m is a hefty day hike for anyone. 1500m would be for fit, strong and swift hikers. If you are new to hiking or you need to work on your fitness level don’t take on a hike that is too far or too steep right at first. Keep it enjoyable. You can always go farther and higher next time.
4: Group Hiking VS. Solo Hiking
I myself would not recommend solo hiking, Especially not for a first hike! Hiking with a friend is always safer and a group of 4 is even better.
5: What to Pack
Check out my blog post here for information on what to pack for a hike and here for great food suggestions for a day hike. These two blogs should cover you on what you should pack. Important tip: remember to pack lots of layers for both bottom and top, this includes a waterproof layer for on top of your clothing incase it should rain. Don’t forget that the weather in the mountains can go from sunny and hot to cold and snowing in a matter of minutes so pack for EVERYTHING, no matter what the weather is like at the trailhead. Also, don’t forget to pack lots of water, a good ballpark is a minimum of 1 L per 3 – 4 hours out.
6: Proper foot wear
Sturdy footwear is a must. PLEASE do not wear Toms on the trail. Runners at the very least for easy hikes and if you are planning on doing anything more advanced than easy I
strongly suggest investing in a pair of hiking boots with proper ankle support. I have had many “close calls” that I am sure would have resulted in twisted ankles had I not been wearing hiking boots. Make sure to wear thick, wool socks in your boots (I wear Smart Wool, Icebreaker or Darn Tough).
Do some research on the wildlife in your area and know how to deal with an encounter. It is rare that you will run into an animal on the trail but it is crucial that you know how to deal with the situation should you see one. It does not matter how busy the trail you are planning on hiking is, always be prepared. As an example, where I do the majority of my hiking there are bears. When hiking in bear country it is important to make lots of noise so that you don’t take them off guard, carry bear spray and know how to use it, do not leave any garbage on the trail (doing this will attract bears and also littering isn’t cool) and remember that you are in the bears home so respect it! The more knowledge you have about bears and what to do in the event of an encounter can actually make you relax more while hiking in bear habitat.
This is a recap of everything I have just talked about. Bring lots of food/water, pack proper clothing, bring bear spray, know where you’re going, don’t push your limits, hike with a friend, bring proper directions. Don’t forget to have fun!