The pandemic pushed us outside, but now we think we'll stay.
One day in March, we were all sent home. The next morning, we woke up and found ourselves looking at a place we hadn't seen in the daylight for a long time: the outdoors. Whether we were looking for a respite from the monotony of the day, a refuge from a full house, or the last social space available to us, we can't deny that the outdoors has called to us and made new enthusiasts of many people.
I myself am suddenly a hiker and am on the brink of maybe becoming a camper, too! Every time my husband and I go hiking, though, I see a great number of people who, though I respect their efforts, look unprepared and uncomfortable, especially if they are pushing themselves to do something more intense than they bargained for.
First, you should set yourself up for pleasant hiking conditions. You should take some time to check the weather beforehand, as well as grab a trail map if it is available to ensure that you select appropriate trails. On the day of the hike, especially in the summer months, I strongly recommend getting up early. Hiking offers the great benefit of retreating from clutter, noise, and commercialism, and if you want to enjoy some solitude, the best times to go are weekdays or weekend mornings. In the summer heat, it's partially a matter of health and safety, too. I would aim to arrive at your hiking destination between 8 and 9:30 a.m. so you can avoid hiking in the heat of the day, and so you can maintain social distancing more effectively.
Second, it is important to wear appropriate footwear and clothing. A t-shirt, athletic shoes, and gym shorts will do in a pinch. However, shoes and breathable clothes made specifically for hiking are likely to hold up better and keep you more comfortable over a longer hike. I like to wear a shirt made of athletic fibers (rather than a t-shirt) to keep myself drier, as well as hiking shorts, which are made of sturdier material and less likely to rub or ride up.
I also really value my hiking boots and wool crew socks. Did you know that wool naturally regulates the temperature of your feet? Just for fun, I tried wearing running shoes on a hike one day, and I couldn't stop thinking about how much better my boots support my feet.
A hat is also a must. In my experience, sunglasses simply aren't enough to provide real protection from the sun, so I usually wear both. Finally, I complete my preparations with a good SPF and an insect/tick repellent. One application note: don't forget the backs of your hands and your neck! Spend enough time outside, and they, too, will be thoroughly exposed to UV rays.
Aside from what I wear, I also carry a day pack. Again, if you don't have one or would prefer not to buy one, a cinch sack will work, but trust me, you will appreciate a more structured bag. I use my bag primarily to carry water, and in the summer heat, I make sure to bring lots of it. I also bring foods that don't require refrigeration: usually a light snack I can eat mid-morning, a PB&J for lunch, and some dried fruit or nuts in case those don't do the trick. Although I don't usually need much else, I like to bring some wipes, tissues, hand sanitizer, and a mask in case I encounter other people on the trail. A towel and a rain coat might also make it into my bag if rain is in the forecast.
Finally, I cannot stress enough the importance of stretching both before and after your hike. It can be easy to underestimate the rigors of hiking. After all, it may seem like glorified walking, but if you're doing a challenging hike, that could mean anything from rock scrambles to treacherous hills that don't quit for miles. It can be rough on your quads, knees, and calves, and you will thank yourself for taking care of them.
Likewise, you should pace yourself. Don't be afraid to go slowly. I hike for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is to marvel at the intricate profusion of nature, so if I ever find that I'm going at a pace that doesn't allow me to enjoy my surroundings, I know I need to slow down.
Are you a quarantine hiker? What advice would you give someone who wants to explore the activity more? Leave your comments below!