Hiking for Beginners: Taking on the 52 Hike Challenge
Have you heard about the 52 Hike Challenge? We are nearing the end of the winter, and spring is on the way, making it the perfect time to set a goal for the warm weather season. If you’ve been wanting to get out into nature, but are perhaps new to hiking and feel a little daunted by the idea of long, steep, isolated trails, The 52 Hike Challenge may be just what you need.
Many beginner hikers are initially discouraged by their own lack of experience. There are so many things to consider when heading out into nature—even for a short hike—and especially when taking on something like the 52 Hike Challenge.
Common questions include:
• What will the weather be like?
• Do you have the appropriate clothing?
• What if the weather changes?
• Do you have the right shoes?
• What are the right shoes?
• Do you have enough water and food?
• Could you get lost, hurt, or encounter a wild animal?
All are valid fears and concerns. And, if you are new to hiking, they might even stop you before you get out the door.
Let me reassure you that the 52 Hike Challenge does not have to be as arduous as it sounds. People often associate hiking with strenuous switchbacks and rough terrain. I’ll be the first to admit that steep switchback trails are not my favorite. Personally, I find all that huffing and puffing extremely distracting when I’m trying to relax and enjoy nature. It’s also hell on my middle-aged, abused knees.
Most novice hikers’ anxieties can easily be addressed by starting small and choosing a nearby, well-mapped hiking area. There’s no reason to add the stress of driving far from home and navigating rutted, dirt roads when launching your adventures in hiking.
Most urban and suburban areas have local green spaces and parks where you can find well-maintained and well-marked trails. Urban trails can be astonishingly wild. Carkeek Park in northwest Seattle, for instance, has 3.5 miles of trails and is home to pileated woodpeckers, bald eagles, coyotes, and salmon.
Sustaining through the 52 Hike Challenge
No matter how inspired you feel, don’t overdo it. Choose a trail that is a good match for your fitness level. Don’t feel up to a steep hike? Then don’t do it yet. A level trail along a meandering river or shoreline is just as beautiful as a steep hike and much easier on the knees. You know your body. You can work up to that grand vista.
If you’re not sure that you are up for or have time for an 8-mile hike, (how long will it even take to hike 8 miles?) then go on a short, one-mile hike. How far you hike doesn’t matter. It’s about the experience. You might be surprised how refreshing walking one mile in a natural setting can be.
After that first mile, you will have a feel for your walking pace, which will allow you to extrapolate the time you’ll need to complete a longer hike. Plus, short hikes allow you to test out your choice of shoes, pack, clothes, and snacks on a small scale, while getting comfortable with walking in the woods, eating lunch on the trail, and sitting on logs and listening to the birds.
Essential items for all hikes
No matter how short and close to home your hike is, remember to plan ahead and be safe.
The following are 10 essential items you should always have on you while hiking:
Method of Navigation
Map, compass, and/or GPS are used when planning your route before your trip, and if you need help finding your way during your hike. Know how to use a topographic or relief map, as well as your compass or GPS unit, before going out.
Many things could keep you out longer than expected: enjoying time by a stream, an injury, difficult terrain, or getting lost. Extra food will help sustain your energy and morale.
Staying hydrated is of the utmost importance! Water is heavy, but dehydration is serious, and can also leave you susceptible to hypothermia and altitude sickness.
Rain Gear and Extra Clothing
Here in the Pacific Northwest, beautiful hiking spots are plentiful and so are the rain clouds, so I never go out without at least another thin layer and spare socks. Dressing in layers allows you to adjust to changing weather and activity levels. There are two rules for clothing: avoid cotton (it keeps moisture close to your skin) and always carry a hat.
First Aid Kit
Pre-made kits are easy to buy and can always be modified to fit your trip and medical needs. Make sure to add an emergency space blanket if your first aid kit doesn’t come with one. You can also make a first aid kit on your own. You might even be surprised to find that you have the items you need just lying around your home. They include items like dressings, bandages, antibiotic ointments, aspirin and other common household items.
Have a flashlight, fire starter, and a whistle. If you should become lost, fires can help prevent hypothermia and be used as a signal for help. If lost, you’ll also want a whistle, as it is more effective than using your voice to call for help (use 3 short bursts, repeatedly). And, just in case you’re out later than planned, a flashlight or headlamp is necessary for reading your map and seeing where you’re walking. Trust me on this. I lost track of time while hiking with a friend and we had a very slow walk back to our car along an ever-darkening trail.
Repair Kit and Tools
A small roll of duct tape and a knife or multi-tool will be worth their weight in gold if your pack or shoe should break.
Folks often overlook sun protection when it’s not hot, but above treeline and in snow, the sun is deceptively strong. You’ll want sunglasses to prevent snow blindness and long clothes or sunscreen to prevent sunburns.
Comfort is key, but a good pack doesn’t need to be expensive or fancy (though I am a fan of pockets for organization, and I use external straps to hold my jacket). Keep your non-perishable essentials in your pack and you’ll always be ready to hit the trail safely.
Please remember to pack out all your trash, and any you find along the trail. Ziplocs are great for wet or messy trash. Picking up trash along a trail is sure to give you excellent hiking karma.
Before you go
One last thing before you embark on the 52 Hike Challenge: depending on where you live and where you plan to hike, you may need to purchase a use permit/access pass. In Washington, for instance, state parks require a day-use pass that can generally be purchased on site (annual passes can also be purchased), while county and city parks are usually free. Federal lands in Washington (Forest Service and BLM) also require an access pass but, due to their rural locations, those permits need to be purchased prior to reaching the trailheads. Do your research so you know if you’ll need a permit and where to buy one if you do. Most outdoor recreation stores should have the necessary permits for sale.
Now, what are you waiting for?! Grab a map, grab a friend, pick a trail, and get out there! You won’t regret it.