The lack of exercise or physical activity in any person's lifestyle can lead to obesity, weak physical capabilities, stress, and anger management issues. The straightforward solution that normally comes to mind is going to the gym to workout or buying expensive exercising equipment that can be used indoors. But even though these options may be the standard ways to get fit, they are very expensive. That is why some people are disheartened and ignore physical exercise at all. But there's one solution that proves to be scientifically and medically proven as an effective way to exercise, and that is hiking. It is mostly free, efficient, and very enjoyable.
Hiking is a favored fitness exercise among adults aged 30 and beyond. Still, it is also starting to get very popular with young adults. Not only is hiking an activity that can make for an effective weight loss activity, but being one with nature allows you to be spoiled with its wonders and the serenity that comes with hiking. That is one solid bargain that no one could ever say no to.
In this read, hiking will be explained in a nutshell that is easy to crack and understand. Further benefits of hiking for one’s personal growth up to the guidelines will be covered here—a one-stop shop for hiking 101.
Health benefits of hiking
Hiking is proven to be beneficial to anyone's health. It is not just mere hearsay, for these are scientifically and medically proven facts. The serene ambiance away from the buzzing city and air containing too much pollution is more appealing to health-conscious people. Choosing hiking as a form of physical exercise is proven to lower the risk of chronic disease and improve a person's bone density.
Hiking is a great way to improve cardiovascular fitness, which helps improve the health of a person's heart. Cardiovascular fitness, also called CRF (cardiorespiratory fitness), measures how well a person's body takes in oxygen and delivers it to the muscles and organs during a physical activity. Since hiking is done outdoors and within the wonders of nature, nothing beats this outdoor activity when it comes to oxygenating your heart and lungs while having an effective workout compared to doing it in an indoor gym.
Different kinds of hiking trails improve bone density efficiently as they require a person to move the joints with different kinds of force, pressure, and center of gravity depending on what kind of trail is involved on a certain hiking trail. Rather than a repetitive, singular motion of exercise done on gym equipment, this is far better and more effective at strengthening the bones.
In a Greater Good Magazine article about the benefits of hiking, it was said that hiking calms the mind and boosts creativity, which helps people think more clearly. Hiking can boost any person’s mood while making the body healthier, which is one of the benefits of hiking. One outdoor activity can have so many positive effects on a person's body and mind, which is unthinkable when it comes to traditional indoor exercise.
But every outdoor activity has its risks, and hiking is no exception to that. Accidents or even fatalities may occur during a hike. But these dangers can be prevented easily with proper preparation, such as having the right gear, supplies, and knowledge before going for a hike.
Preparing for a hike
To prevent such risks when hiking as mentioned above, here are the things you need to consider before hiking:
Choosing a trail is the first and most important of all preparations for a hike and must come first and foremost in mind. Choosing a local hiking trail is the highly suggested option for a newbie on hiking. Jumping straight onto a long and perilous hiking trail for the first hike is not mandatory.
Next is the source of navigation, whether the standard or modern way of navigating. Maps and a compass are the most trusted tools for navigation, as they do not require any electricity and don’t rely on an internet signal to work. Smartphones can still be used as a great navigational tool, but the common downfall of such a modern device is its battery and connectivity. Which will both often fail when deep in the woods.
Another thing to prepare is the right clothing for hiking. Hiking doesn’t require fashion, branded clothing, or anything extravagant. Convenience and comfortability are the main factors that should be considered when choosing what to wear on a hike. Regardless of weather or season, a hiker must keep both arms and legs completely covered to avoid minor physical injuries, wounds, and insect bites. Minor hiccups that can be avoided simply by having the right kind of hiking gear
Other must-have hiking gears are as follows:
Source of light: One should always have a flashlight when hiking and bring a spare, just in case. The most ideal is to bring a headlamp for convenience. Relying on a smartphone’s flashlight is not suggested as the phone will prove more useful on other things when the time calls for it.
A whistle: This is the most reliable and easy tool to seek help in an emergency.
Pair of hiking sticks: This is very important as it will give four points of balance instead of just two with your feet. It will reduce the risk of falling and stumbling on steep and slippery terrains.
Firestarter: A lighter is the best bet for this as it requires no special skill to start a fire. Bring at least two, and pro tip; lighters in bright colors are best for hiking. Finding a bright-colored lighter can be easy, even under a bush or pile of dried leaves. It is also ideal for bringing waterproof matches, fire steel ( a metal striker and magnesium rod), and lighters.
Gorilla tape: No need to bring the whole roll. Just bring a roll that is enough to wrap a pair of shoes around twice. It can be used to repair a busted pair of shoes during a hike and can also prove useful in some surprise scenarios.
Marking tape: Never get lost on a trail by marking tree branches with marking tape. Just don’t forget to remove after to help the environment and other hikers mark their trails.
First Aid Kit: Must contain band-aids, sterile gauze, a bandage wrap, antibiotic cream, Ibuprofen or pain medications, a tweezer, and a safety pin. The tweezer and safety pin can be used when dealing with splinters. For sanitizing the wounds, Pro Tip: use hand sanitizer. It is less stingy, and it is made out of 75% of alcohol.
Paracord: At least 30 feet in length. A Paracord can be useful in many scenarios, especially during a long hike.
Emergency Tent: It will be best to come with an emergency sleeping bag. Not only useful as a place to stay for the night and protects you when the rain starts pouring during the hike.
A knife: There’s no need to go Indiana Jones mode and bring a huge bowie knife. A utility knife is good enough.
Hygiene Kit: Especially a roll of toilet paper or wipes.
A pair of glasses or eye contacts: If you wear these, bring a spare readily available.
Device Charging Kit: Bring charging cords for the smartphone and a battery pack to charge the phone, as there is no hidden power outlet within the trees.
Bottle of Water or Hydration Pack: Hiking involves a lot of walking, so always stay hydrated. Another Pro Tip, ensure you are well-hydrated before going on a hike to avoid ending up with empty water bottles before the hike even starts. It is also ideal for bringing a compact water filtration on a hike.
A very seasoned hiker and also a qualified scout discussed more about the correct pieces of hiking equipment needed on a hike in a YouTube video titled "Hiking 101 for Beginners" by the channel Helpful Knowledge. Based on my personal experience as a seasoned hiking professional, I can tell you how vital each of the above items is to being prepared for hiking.
Hydration and nutrition
Now that we have the right gear and equipment, we will talk about how to prepare for health and food while hiking.Staying hydrated is a staple for any physical activity, not exclusively hiking. Hydrating will maintain focus and strength to move further and finish any activity. That is why bringing a hydration pack or bottles of water on a hike is crucial. Any water source along the hiking trail is not guaranteed, so coming prepared is the best way to go.
During the hike, a hiker's food is important, but what they eat before the hike is even more vital. This will go a long way, as the body will be prepared for anything that may come on a hiking trip, including unprecedented ones. Before a hike, eat plenty of food rich in carbohydrates and protein, as the body will need a lot of energy during the hike. Avoid drinking alcoholic drinks or drinks with too much sugar before hiking, as this will make you dehydrate fast.
Always bring snacks readily available in your backpack for hiking trips. Ideal snacks are those wheat bars or protein snacks that are very compact and easy to carry but fill the stomach just about fine for extra energy. MREs are also great options, but they will vary based on personal preference when hiking.
Stretching and warm-up
The preparation is almost complete for the upcoming hike, but one must not forget the preparation of one's body. The most common reason people quit after trying to go hiking for the first time is the constant body aches due to the sores and injuries they get. But this can be easily avoided by stretching and warming up before a hiking trip. Also, stretching and warming up before a hike improves flexibility and range of motion in the body, giving you more movement to tackle any terrain on the hiking trail.
With that being said, are you wondering about what specific stretches can be done in order to have a proper warm-up for the hike? Do not fret, as all the best stretches will be discussed. These stretches don't need any special equipment to accomplish them.
These are the most common and best stretches before a hike:
- Calf stretch - Step directly back against a tree or wall. Place your hands on the tree trunk and point your toes. Hold for 30 seconds. Switch legs and hold for another 30 seconds.
- Standing quad stretch - Stand upright with hip-width feet. Lift your right leg back, lift your heel, and grab your right foot with your right hand. Your left leg should be straight and your thighs aligned properly. After 30 seconds, switch legs.
- Shoulder rolls - Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Start huge shoulder circles forward. Repeat for 15 seconds, then backward for 15 seconds.
- Hamstring stretch - Stand with your left leg bent and your right leg extended in front of you. Straighten it. Tilt your hips forward until your extended leg stretches. Hold for 20 seconds and switch legs. This position can be done with hands on hips or on extended leg.
- Wrist stretch - Right arm forward, palm down. Pull your right hand toward your body with your left hand, maintaining your arm straight. Maintain this stance for a few seconds, then draw your left hand toward your body for a few seconds.
These stretches are based on an adventurer’s article from a top-notch site for backpackers and hikers, BACKROADS. A website made specifically for backpackers, hikers, and the like who love an outdoor adventure.
After all preparations have been made, it is now time to talk about the hiking itself, which is the hiking techniques. Proper foot placement is one of the fundamentals of hiking that even the most experienced hikers overlook. Sure, finding your center of gravity when standing and walking is easy. Still, nothing is more convenient and guaranteed than using hiking poles when hiking. It will give four points of ground support instead of two; by numbers, it is easy to tell which is better.
Going uphill, whether hiking or not, is not an easy task. The solution is to take a zigzag path rather than walking straight ahead on a steep path. It is easier and safer this way. Don’t forget that there’s no rush when on a steep trail. This is not a race; this is hiking. Always keep your heart rate in mind and take rest steps when needed.
The same goes with going downhill—the slower, the better, and the safer. Put more force on your back, hips, and knees, and avoid leaning forward. Downhill trails are most commonly taken for granted, especially by those who are unseasoned hikers. They see it as easier than uphill trails. But downhill trails are the most dangerous ones. Just one little mistake or act of negligence will cause a fatal accident. Remember to respect the terrain and pace yourself at your convenience. Again, it is not a race; this is a hike.
Monitoring your heart rate
Hiking is one of the best cardiovascular exercises that doesn't require an expensive membership fee but comes with a warning. One of which is monitoring heart rate during the hike. A seasoned hiker always pays attention to their heart rate while on the trail to avoid sudden health issues that may lead to serious accidents. Also to prevent serious medical problems that may occur to one person in the case of previous heart complications and a history of medications.
The optimal heart rate when hiking should be 40–60% of their maximum heart rate. To compute the estimated maximum heart rate, subtract 220 from the current age. The sum will be the maximum heart rate. For example, a 25-year-old has an estimated maximum heart rate of 195. Multiply that by .50 to get the 50% heart rate. This means 97.5 beats per minute should be the target heart rate mark for a 25-year-old person hiking to get the optimal benefits of the exercise. This computation is based on an article made by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC, on their website.
A heart rate monitor makes it easy to keep track of your heart rate while hiking. If there is none, place your fingers on your radial (wrist) or carotid (neck) arteries to estimate your heart rate. This manual method is backed by a medical professional, Edward R. Laskowski, M.D., of the organization MayoClinic.
Aside from ensuring the heart rate’s safety level, the trail itself will require awareness of safety. By following the rules for hiking, people have been able to keep themselves safe and healthy.Also, there is the etiquette of any trail when hiking. The most common is to never go to an area that is prohibited. Regardless of whether it is very near the hiking trail, one must follow the rules no matter how tempting it is to break them. Warnings are there for a purpose. It is there to keep you safe from hazards or breaking the law. Also, hiking is an activity where people get close to nature and enjoy its abundance of wonders while getting healthy exercise. So please don’t litter around. Clean as you go.
In an emergency, it is always best to keep calm, stay still, and be quiet. Being quiet makes you hear a lot better if other people are nearby talking or if there’s the sound of any vehicle that can lead onto a road. Once you hear there are people nearby, grab a whistle to alert them of your whereabouts. If you hear a vehicle, try to reach where it is coming from if possible and safely. It will lead you on the road for sure to ask for help.
Incorporating strength training
Seasoned hikers are no strangers to making hiking their main regime to develop strength. Actual outdoor activity veterans such as a website called Voyageur Tripper back up these kinds of claims, along with their longtime members and authors who are all highly experienced backpackers and hikers. Hiking involves using a lot of core strength and leg endurance. That is why it is important never to skip the leg day if there’s a planned hiking trip ahead.
Squats and jumping jacks are the easiest and most effective exercises you can do at home to strengthen your core and leg muscles. When done regularly, it will also raise your stamina, which will prove useful for hiking and other daily physical activities.
Hiking will make you do a lot of exercises that are beneficial for you without even noticing it. Walking with a backpack full of hiking gear and other bits and pieces will do you great cardiovascular exercise with some weight training. Uphill trails can help you get stronger in your core, and downhill trails can help you improve your balance and leg strength. All of which will develop fat into muscles by doing hikes often.
Doing physical development activities outside is more appealing, fun, and satisfying than doing them inside. Hiking in nature is the best way to get more oxygen to your lungs and heart than going to a gym indoors where the air is recycled by an air conditioner.
Recovery after the hike
Strength training while hiking is beneficial but also has its own drawbacks. That is why post-hike recovery is very important to avoid the never-ending pain of soreness and misery at the end of the hike. The best way to recover fast after a hike is to rehydrate. Eat before you get thirsty, and eat before you get hungry. Self-massage is also best to relieve aching muscles and avoid muscle stiffness.
Aside from these easy remedies after a hike, stretches are also proven to help a hiker's recovery after a hiking trip. These exercises are very easy and straightforward to do, even in the comfort of your home, and don't require any special equipment.
These are the best post-hike stretches:
- Standing saddle stretch
- Runner’s lunge
- Ragdoll pose
- Ankle stretches
These tips and exercises are from New Zealand's number one outdoor brand and have been shown to help muscles recover in the right way. Other tips from professional hikers include eating protein-enriched foods, as protein helps repair damaged muscles. Do light exercises to avoid sore muscles during the recovery period. Sleep plenty to recover faster, so binge-watching is a no-go for now. Last and most important, always rehydrate. Doing all of these will ensure not only avoiding post-hike injuries but also that the body will be prepared for more hiking.
Hiking for weight loss
Aside from a great strength training regime, hiking is proven to help weight loss. The claim has been supported by medical doctors and nutritionists over the years and is known to be successful. One of the major supporters backing this claim are the medical professionals from the website, healthline. The amount of walking involved on a hiking trip is surely enough to lose some pounds when done correctly and often, which means hiking once a year is not beneficial. The advantage of hiking versus regular walking exercise is that hiking has a goal. It is not just plain walking on a straight road and doing repetitive laps. Hiking has a starting and ending point with different kinds of terrain in the middle, giving it a bit of a challenge. Plus, the healthy environment of hiking in the great outdoors, surrounded by nature and great scenery, is very pleasing and motivating to exercise more often.
These are routines that can increase weight loss further while hiking:
- Short sprints between walks can burn more fat than a hike with pure walking.
- Carrying a heavier backpack for every next hike can be effective weight training.
- Doing simple exercises such as squats and jumping.
- Choosing rugged trails for hiking paths
- Uphill challenges on hiking trails
- Using ankle weights on a hike
With a healthy diet combined with frequent hiking, results in weight loss and health improvement can be seen almost immediately. But a healthy diet will not only make a person leaner and healthier but also improve hiking skills and compatibility as well. Healthier food and lifestyle can give a more significant and longer hiking experience than it did the first time.
Mental health benefits of hiking
But not only is hiking beneficial for weight loss but also for mental health as well. The National Park Service website says this is true, and research from Stanford University backs it up. Also worth saying is that these claims are also mentioned in an award-winning documentary about hiking. Hiking can be life-changing for people suffering from stress and anxiety. Hiking is an activity based solely on a personalized pace and place. This means that the basics and rules of hiking still apply, but how to execute them varies from person to person. A person’s experience on a particular hiking trail can differ from the person next taking that trail. It all comes down to perspective.
Having this kind of control in a serene and secluded place while hiking empowers a person. Empowerment leads to confidence and self-esteem, which overpower anxiety and stress. Seasoned hiking veterans claim that hiking makes them find their inner selves while enjoying the wonders of nature. And what it has to offer while being healthy at the same time.
Being one with nature, even briefly, while hiking is life-changing. Not only will you be away from the noise and air pollution of a city, but you'll also be able to enjoy the calmness of everything around you—a healthier body, mind, and soul wrapped into one trail.
Hiking with a group
Hiking with a group is never a bad idea for this outdoor activity, and it is also supported by an award-winning hiking documentary posted on the YouTube channel Nikola Horvat - Tesla. In hiking, a man is not a man without other people. One benefit of hiking is getting a chance to socialize with other people while being healthy. Hear different life stories while being comforted with respect by fellow hikers. They say a person is most sincere when out in nature, where no social ranks are involved.
A hiker can find a hiking group instantly on common hiking trails, where there are mostly camps or lodges that offer a place to stay pre- and post-hike and hiking guides. And thanks to our modern age, social media platforms are also a good option for finding groups to hike with. Just remember to always stay vigilant by ensuring you communicate with real people and not fake identities of other people.
When going on a group hike, it is highly recommended to have at least one member of the group who is very experienced in hiking or have a professional hiking guide. The entire group will learn a lot from that person regarding hiking, and it is also a great way to ensure the group's safety. It is great to hike knowing there is a person who knows what to do in every hiking scenario.
Hiking with pets
If the thought of hiking in a large group makes you uncomfortable, consider taking your pet(s) on a hike instead; they will enjoy the fresh air and exercise just as much as you will. Respect the needs of other people on the trail by picking up your pet's waste and putting it in the right place. Experiencing dung as an unwelcome foothold on the path is not fun.
If you plan on going on a hike with your pet, don't forget to pack a way to deal with their waste. Every hiker who follows you will have the same great experience you had because of your efforts.
Also, ensure the safety of pets while hiking. Rotten fruits and decaying animal carcasses are a common sight in the woods and must be avoided before being eaten by your beloved pets. A shorter leash is the best way to ensure your pet's safety. A short leash with enough length for the pet to comfortably walk beside you without strangling will prevent your pet from coming into contact with unwanted stuff found in the woods. This will also keep your pet from becoming entangled in branches or having an unusual slip on some edges and holes, which can result in injuries to both the pet and you.
Hiking during different seasons
Whether hiking with a group, with a pet, or going solo, different seasons bring different experiences for a hiker. There are tons of hiking tips for different seasons available on the internet. Still, it will only provide general tips for hiking. But upon asking a well-seasoned hiker, all that matters is the temperature. Is the season cold or hot, or will it rain a lot? These are what matter.
A hiker's knowledge of the season’s temperature will help him choose the right gear to bring and clothing to wear. If it’s a cold season, it is highly suggested to wear clothing in layers. Wear a simple, cool, long-sleeved top and loose-fit pants for comfort if it is warm or hot. If it is a season where rain is to be expected, bringing a better and more durable tent is better. If it is too hot and the rain is heavy, it is better to skip the hiking trail for safety.
Different seasons affect personal gains when hiking. If the main goal is to lose weight more efficiently, hiking during warmer seasons proves best, especially for weight loss.
All the information above is based on a journal kept by an experienced hiker and posted as an article on the Blue Ridge Hiking Company website. A journal is made to picture the experience of hiking in all four seasons as vividly as if you were there personally. A journal published on a website made for hikers was featured in the New York Times.
Hiking for all fitness levels
Hiking is indeed for everyone and can be a daily activity as well. All that's needed are shoes, some proper gear and food, and a pair of hiking poles. But a hiker should consider their fitness level before taking on a particular terrain. Not only for safety but to ensure you are gaining health benefits, not pain and danger.
Taking into account your current fitness level before hiking will help you get the most out of its benefits instead of getting nothing at all.Every hiking trail has its own level of difficulty that requires certain knowledge and experience before considering it to be the next hiking spot.
For beginners in hiking, hike local trails. Avoid going for the rugged trails for the first hike. Start from the most accessible hiking trail and hike a shorter distance. Gain the experience you need from there first, for starters.
For advanced hikers, seeking out more difficult terrain for a hike is more about trying to get the most out of the walk than the thrill it brings. Choose a trail with more uphill trails and rougher terrain for your next hike to make it harder. Once you feel strong enough and know enough about hiking, move on to a path with more downhill tracks. Hikers should take downhills last, as they require more skills and experience.
Safety is always first in hiking. Think with the brain rather than what people want to see on social media. Being mindful at all times and respectful of the surroundings and fellow hikers is an essential skill a hiker should develop.
Being mindful and respectful comes with following the rules, not breaking any laws, avoiding littering everywhere, and being responsible for your and your fellow hiker’s safety. If there’s a sign that warns of danger, regardless if there is a shortcut to get a snap of a breathtaking view, you should never break the rules.
For certain, there are some hiking experiences where there's a fellow hiker that is not mindful of himself or herself or even of other fellow hikers. This scenario can ruin the experience, but the best way to handle it is to be compassionate by sharing your own mindfulness with that person. Not only is it also a great practice of mindfulness toward others, but it is also proof of your development as a human being as well.
Showing mindfulness during a hike not only gains your self-respect, but hiking with a group goes a long way, too. People who see how responsible and mindful a hiker you are will want to walk with you on other trails in the future. A hiker with that attitude will grow into a very professional hiker someday. And as a leader and a genuine person in the eyes of the people.
Hiking for a cause
Most people remember stumbling upon an advertisement about hiking for a cause. Some foundations tend to hold donation drives like this to raise funds for medical missions, orphanages, educational funds for the less fortunate, food banks, etc.
It is effortless to search for a hiking for a cause program with the help of the internet and the media. But it is also easy to stumble upon a scam to raise money for a cause. Before you sign up for one, make sure the program and the organization running it are real and legitimate. Being vigilant before donating will guarantee that every cent you spend goes to the right people in need, not some scammer’s pocket. Burn calories with hiking, not your donation.
A website called Pledge It offers a lot of legitimate campaigns for hiking for a cause. The website helped organize a lot of hike-for-cause campaigns and helped various organizations with their donation drives. Pledge also offers to help you create your own campaign. They are proven legitimate and have raised over a hundred thousand dollars from their previous program drives. They also have the support of highly experienced hikers, which is a fantastic opportunity to learn more about hiking while supporting a particular cause.
Hiking for personal growth
With all the benefits of hiking discussed earlier in the upper part of this read, hiking undoubtedly comes with health and mental benefits. Both benefits affect personal growth. All claims are supported by veterans of hiking and even medical professionals who are studying and researching the benefits of all kinds of exercise.
Aside from hiking often, some recommended activities can enhance personal growth on the trail. Take, for example, taking your loved one or relatives along with your hiking. This will improve the emotional bond between you and that person, as they will surely realize that you also care for their well-being. Planting a seed or a tree sapling while hiking is also a great example. Not only are you conserving the hiking trail for future generations, but you are also helping the environment stay healthy.
But everything should be planned and well prepared. That is why setting a schedule for the next hiking trip is one way of setting personal goals if you are serious about hiking. Preparing everything needed for a hike is easy and hassle-free if it is planned. Also, upgrades to your hiking gear can be more realistic if there’s a schedule and the right plans for the next hiking trip.
To sum it up, hiking is one great outdoor activity for weight loss, health improvement, and personal growth. Regardless of age, it does not require a particular degree or training to get the most out of it. It is also a very inexpensive and highly effective exercise requiring only a few gears and a pair of shoes.
The hiking trip doesn’t have to be grandeur and doesn’t have to be out of town or country. Every person can find a local hiking trail nearby. It all depends on one person’s determination and willingness to undergo a healthier lifestyle and growth. This means hiking can be a daily routine for almost everybody as long as they are serious enough for a healthier change in their life.
Outdoor activities, including hiking, are great options to improve any person’s life. Getting one with nature while improving oneself is unbeatable and priceless. And the fact that it is almost free of charge. Why suffer from sketchy schemes, supplements with false promises, and weird, expensive, ineffective training programs? While there’s very natural hiking, proven effective, and requires no membership fees. And the perks of being spoiled with nature’s abundant beauty and experiences with other genuine people. All it does need—is your dedication.