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Urban Hiking: Getting Fit in the City

Updated on October 17, 2015

When you think of hiking, chances are you conjure up images of trudging through the woods or climbing rocky hills. Unless you live out in the sticks, this requires a drive before you can even start. But what if your hike starts just outside your front door? Welcome to urban hiking.

Trekking the urban landscape.
Trekking the urban landscape. | Source

What is Hiking, Anyway?

To some people, hiking is pretty much the same as walking. That’s probably a stretch. But whatever you call it, you can make it as demanding as you like.

The Difference Between website details two distinctions: 1) hiking implies a change in elevation, whereas walking tends to take place on more level terrain; and 2) hiking usually requires more effort due to the nature of the great outdoors. If you translate this to urban areas, your hike should incorporate hills and steps, and you should expend more effort than you would if merely walking through the city.

Get good shoes.
Get good shoes. | Source

How Far Should You Hike?

A hike can be whatever length you like. If you’re not used to walking, start with a short hike—perhaps a mile—and see how you feel. Block lengths vary, but a rule of thumb is that there are 16 to 17 blocks per mile. Work your way up to longer sessions. A big advantage of hiking in the city is that you can stop if you reach your limit and return home in a cab or bus.

Hardcore hikers can rack up dozens of miles in a day. You don’t have to do that. A typical hiking gait is 2.5 to 4 miles per hour, depending on terrain. Say you’re walking 3 miles per hour. Then a two-hour hike will cover perhaps six miles. Plan a route that takes you three miles from the starting point, and then turn around. Alternatively, you can determine a roundabout route that brings you back a different way than you came.

Planning a Route

You can map your route and view elevations with an app on your smartphone. MapMyHike uses the GPS on your phone to track your route. This app will track your pace, elevation, distance and calories expended. It's a free download for iPhone, Android and BlackBerry phones. Trail Tracker GPS is a similar app that allows you to color-code your routes and share them with friends. It's a free download for iPhone only. Unlimited tracking will cost you $1.99.

Don't do this.
Don't do this. | Source

Keep some essentials in mind when planning a route. You’ll probably need to use a bathroom at some point. Plan a route that passes by a public restroom every hour or two. Similarly, you may want to hike past a restaurant or snack shop midway through the day.

Try to hike in car-free areas, such as parks and designated paths. Bike paths are great for hiking, but you need to follow a few rules at all times. Stay to the right so bikes can pass easily. Never, ever stop suddenly on a bike path; it’s like asking to get hit by a speeding bicycle. Neither should you stand still; step off the path if you need to stop for a minute.

What to Wear

Walking on city streets isn’t as tough as hiking on a trail, so you don’t necessarily need rugged boots with ankle support. But you want a shoe or boot that fits well, offers support and doesn’t bind or rub.

Ridgemont Outfitters sells a line of shoes specifically designed for urban hiking. Shoes in their Monty line have a heel stabilizer for off-trail hiking and look better than the typical hiking shoe. They're made with nylon and oiled suede.

Think about safety, especially if you’ll be out in darkness or dim light, or if it might rain. Look for clothing with reflective elements.

Get socks with some cushioning that aren’t going to bunch up on you as the day wears on. Pack an extra pair if it’s going to be a long day. Sweat, dust and dirt can build up in your socks over the course of a day and cause blisters.

Picking a Pack

You’ll want a backpack, even if you pack light. A small pack that holds 3,000 cubic inches or less should be fine for hiking around town. To give you an idea, 15” wide x 10” deep x 20” long is 3,000 cubic inches.

A pack without waterproofing will get soaked pretty quickly in a rainstorm. Remember that umbrellas don’t always shield backpacks from rain. You can purchase a waterproof cover for rainy days, but these sometimes fit poorly, leaving the top of the pack exposed to the rain, so take care when buying one. It will be much better to just buy a waterproof pack, in which case the problem is solved and there is no need to pack a cover.

Look for a pack that can be easily adjusted for comfort and fit. You want a pack that’s comfortable when hanging on your shoulders, and feels good on your lower back, hips and waist. Your pack should allow freedom of movement and it should be built from sturdy materials.

An Urban Hike

What to Pack

You’re more likely to find food and water on a city route, but consider packing snacks and refreshments, just to be safe. Bring your phone—fully charged, of course, and strongly consider a paper map as a backup.

Pack a raincoat if you think you might need it. You can easily pack a lightweight raincoat that has a hood and can be securely fastened to keep the rain where it belongs, on the outside.

Toss in some simple first-aid supplies, such as bandages for raw feet. It takes almost no room, right?

Take the steps.
Take the steps. | Source

Hike, Don’t Walk

Remember that a change in elevation is part of hiking. Keep that in mind when you plan your route. Watch for opportunities to climb hills and steps. You can expend half again as many calories climbing stairs compared to walking.

Stairs often connect public streets, so you can easily integrate them into your route. Watch for stairs that are frequently found behind “dead end” signs. Google Maps show many stairs, and you can even find websites devoted to them.

You don’t have to always take stairs for their own sake. You might have a theme in mind for a hike. If stairs don’t fit the occasion, then so be it.

Build Hikes into Your Day

You can build exercise into your day by leaving the car at home and walking to the store. Need to do some quick shopping? Don your backpack and hike on over to the grocery store or pharmacy. You might enjoy it more than you figured. While you're at it, you save on driving expense, not to mention aggravation.

Cover New Ground

Much of the fun of urban hiking revolves around seeing new things. You’ll clearly see more if you plan a circular route rather going straight out and backtracking to the starting point. Try to plan routes that introduce new sights. It’s more interesting and it helps you learn more about the town.

Most important of all is to enjoy the day. Plan well, be ready for surprises and have fun on your urban hikes.

© 2015 giocatore

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    • Happy Moment profile image

      James 18 months ago from The Eastern Bypass

      You have thoroughly explained the difference between hiking and walking. I believe I was not the only person not differentiating the two. Thank you for your educational artivle.

    • ChandlerBlack profile image

      Chandler 18 months ago from US

      Great guide. Gonna try once using these tips.

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