Planning the Perfect Hike
"I went into the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived." Henry David Thoreau
Nature's calling, are you ready to answer? If you're in the mood to get away from it all, then I suggest you follow the example of Mr. Thoreau and venture into the solitude and peace of the closest forest or national park. Who knows? When taking the road less traveled and finding your way through the woods, you may just find yourself.
"Into the woods, it's time to go..."
After making a mental commitment to go hiking, consider what type of hike you'd like best. Although there are numerous terrains and locales to explore, not all of them may be for you. For instance, are you the type of hiker that relishes a gradual ascent over rolling hills and crags until you finally reach the precipice and see the world stretched out before you? Or, would you prefer to hike through flat, grassy knolls, following a babbling brook as it dances along the shoreline and towards an elegant end in a silvery waterfall?
Alright, all poetic description aside, my point is this: you should enjoy the journey as much (if not more so) than your final destination. After all, an ideal hike is one where you have time to admire the natural wonders around you. It's a chance for you to savor those things we miss while in our neon-drenched, digitized worlds. Be sure to choose a hike which satisfies your personal needs; read whatever information you can find in guidebooks, tour brochures, and AAA pamphlets. For example, here are a few elements of a hike to take into account when planning:
- If you haven't been hiking in a while, hike at a lower altitude to give your body a chance to adjust.
- Remember that if you hike during the winter months, higher altitudes will likely have snow, ice, and other forms of precipitation.
- Trail conditions
- Water sources
- Length and difficulty of the hike
- Location of established camp sites
- Weather conditions
- Any restrictions, rules, and/or permits needed to hike in the area
- An estimation of how long it will take to complete the hike. Unless you're an experienced hiker or with someone who knows what they're doing, make sure you can finish before sundown.
The folks at Colorado Hiking suggest comparing the gradient of the hike to the speed of one's progress to determine which hike is best for you:
Assuming a person is in reasonably good physical condition, and carrying a five to ten pound pack, the way to calculate the gradient of a hike is to divide the total elevation gain by the associated distance covered. For example, a 5 mile hike (one way) up a mountain with 4000 feet of elevation gain has a gradient of 0.15 (4000 / (5*5280)). Usually one can hike downhill about 20 percent faster than uphill, unless you're tired on your return trip and/or unsure of your footing due to lose rocks and steepness. Whatever you do, be safe; don't push yourself too hard at any point during the hike, and take your time.
"The way is clear, the light is good; I have no fear..."
Once you've visualized your ideal setting, use any and all available resources to make your fantasy a reality. As I've said earlier, AAA brochures and other guidebooks and Websites make excellent starting points; you can often find lists of national parks and other outdoor preserves that are just a short drive away. It's best if you find some place nearby because you probably won't have a very good hike if you're upset about how much money you shoved in your gas tank.
"Into the woods without regret; the choice is made, the path is set..."
When considering what things to pack for a hike, it is important to again think about your specific needs. In general, you should have a lot of water or some other hydration available, as it will refresh and greatly help you on your journey. Snacks are also a must, especially for long hikes. Remember, just like your car needs to guzzle gas to keep running, so too do you need nutritional fuel to keep your engine in tip-top condition (make sure to keep things in Ziploc bags so they don't get wet or gooey).
Here is a list of some other basic items to help get you started:
* Ground cloth/ something to sit on
* Water filter
* First Aid kit
* Chapstick (especially if it is cold, windy, and above all, really dry)
* Toiletries (unless you like the idea of communing with nature via large leaves)
* Maps, Compass, or GPS: Although some form of a map is always essential, knowing how to read one, and knowing its limitations is just as important. If you get lost, it is usually suggested to stay put and let yourself be rescued, but really, it's your choice. Ask yourself the following: How lost are you? Are you alone? If you're alone, when's the last time you saw someone else? What's the terrain like? How much light do you have left in the day? What's the weather forecast? Remember, every situation is different, so go with what you think is right after evaluating all your options.
* Appropriate attire:
Hiking Boots should be waterproof or have a waterproof breathable lining to keep your feet dry and comfortable. They also need a sturdy, lugged rubber outsole, and offer you adequate, all-round protection. Keep in mind that while hiking boots are lighter than ever thanks to technological advances, they will still probably be the heaviest shoes you own.
Hiking shoes are perfect for short day hikes that don't require as much support or stability. Don't attempt to backpack in hiking shoes. Lightweight, low-profile shoes with traction outsoles give you speed on the trail without sacrificing any of your footing. Remember, these shoes are more flexible than a hiking boot, but less flexible than a running shoe.
- It's always wise to bring a waterproof jacket with you on a hike, especially if the weather is fickle. Trust me on this one, staying dry is a big part of remaining comfortable. I once hiked in Yosemite when a sudden downpour soaked every inch of my clothing... I was not happy.
- Layer Up! Dressing in layers is a must. Although your body warms as you hike and you'll probably shed a layer or two as you're walking, higher altitudes mean lower temperatures, so you're going to want to put that jacket back on later.
- Wear pants; poison oak/ivy and other natural irritants are not pleasant.
- Carrying a whistle is also good if someone in your party is injured, gets lost, or if you need to make noise to scare a wild animal.
So, into the woods without delay, but careful not to lose the way. Into the woods, who knows what may be waiting on your journey?
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