Top 10 tips for hikers

Fitness tips to get you started in walking

Hiking is a great social activity that can help improve your body's fitness and health. It can burn off excess fat and can also improve the cardiovascular system. However, when starting out in hiking, it is best to take certain precautions for a healthier, happier walk. From map reading to choosing the right footwear, here's the guide to hiking success.

1. Learn to navigate before walking

Even if you will be walking with a group you should still learn the basics of route planning, navigation and how to use a map and compass yourself. After all, if the group leader should have an accident who is going to lead you off the hill? Rudimentary map reading skills are very quick and easy to learn, an experienced friend could teach you, or you could pick the skills up on a one-day course, or using Memory-Maps new tutorial navigation workshop DVD.

2. Preparation and planning before a hike

Take time to plan and prepare for your trip. This will be time well spent and the chances of you having a successful and enjoyable trip will be far higher if you have prepared well. Take time to plan your walking route and prepare your kit ... regardless of whether you’re going for a one hour walk or a four week expedition, some careful planning can make all the difference. As well as careful planning always check your walking kit before you leave ... it is no good being out on a hike only to find you left your lunch and coffee flask on the kitchen table!

3. Hiking footwear

Make sure you wear the appropriate footwear for your outing. It doesn’t matter if you are taking up hill walking for the first time or are an experienced mountaineer. Nothing will ruin your day more than an ill fitting pair of boots! If you are taking up hiking it is worth considering modern fabric boots which can offer more comfort than traditional leather boots. If your feet hurt when you first start hiking you will never pursue it any further! Visit a reputable outdoor retailer who offer specialist boot fitting service.

4. Prevent blisters when walking

It is a common misconception that blisters are an unavoidable side effect of walking but this is not the case! Feet can be toughened up by regularly dabbing on surgical spirit but also by simply going walking. Start off with short routes and then increase them in length as your feet toughen. Blisters are caused by friction or rubbing, so wear good-fitting boots and invest in decent hill walking socks. Keeping your feet dry also helps to prevent blisters which can be aided by wearing an additional pair of thin ‘liner socks’ which help wick sweat away from your foot but also provide an extra layer to absorb some of the friction. If you know you are prone to blisters then use strips of adhesive zinc oxide tape to protect your foot (available from most chemists).

5. Be safe when out walking

When taking up hiking it is a very easy and common mistake to underestimate the amount of time you will be out walking, meaning you could be caught out after sunset. A common reason for this is that inexperienced walkers often fail to take into account the much slower speed that can be achieved when moving over steep ground. Learn to use ‘Naismith’s Rule’ to accurately estimate the time your route will take. Always start off by planning short, easy routes and then gradually increase your route distances and severity as your experience and confidence grow. If you push too hard this is how accidents inevitably happen. Plan according to your ability and always to the ability of the weakest member in a group.

6. Food when walking

Eating ‘little but often’ is a top tip for hiking. Carry some sugary snacks in your pockets as these will help keep your blood sugar levels topped up, leaving you full of energy. Carefully consider what other food you will carry with you as it needs to be tasty, nutritious but lightweight! Always carry emergency rations, for example: high energy and low weight food bars.

7. Water when walking

Never underestimate the effects of dehydration which can still affect you on the wettest, rainy day! You will need to consume at least 2 liters (67.7oz) of water during any day of high activity, as this water will be lost through sweat. As with food, a good tip is also to drink ‘little but often.’ Hydration packs are an ideal answer, by enabling you to drink continuously whilst on the move through a hose connected to the hydration sack inside your backpack. Water is heavy so one option can be to invest in a light-weight water purifier which can filter water taken from streams and purify it for drinking or cooking. Another, lighter weight, alternative is chemical purification but this leaves an awful taste to your drinking water!

8. Observe the country code when out walking

It is well worth taking your time to familiarize yourself with the Country Code and codes of practice when crossing farmers land.

  • Leave gates and property as you find them.
  • Protect plants and animals and take your litter home.
  • Keep dogs under close control.
  • Consider other people.

In particular, be aware that some public rights of way may be closed at certain times of year, i.e. during lambing season. A little effort will go a long way and help keep open access land available to everybody to enjoy!

9. Emergency communications and first aid

Always take your phone with you (sealed in a waterproof bag) when you are out hiking. In the event of an emergency it will save valuable time if you are able to contact the emergency services immediately. Be aware that network signal strength can be non-existent in some remote areas so you may need to make your way to a public phone. It is well worth taking the time to invest in some basic first aid training as this is useful knowledge to have (not only for hiking and mountaineering). Courses are very affordable, easy to learn and short in duration but can prove invaluable at any time. Always carry a personal first aid kit (group leaders will always carry a more comprehensive kit).

10. Taking backpacks when walking

On short day walks the load you carry will be very light so select a day-sack that feels comfortable and will suit your needs. For anything larger than a day-pack, take the time to visit a reputable outdoor retailer and get your pack fitted properly as one thing you need to look after is your back. Just like boots, different packs fit different people differently since we are all different shapes and sizes! (There are different models available for males and females to accommodate the anatomical difference between us boys and girls!) Packs come in all shapes and sizes, depending on your needs and intended activities but most now incorporate an adjustable back system meaning you can achieve a more ‘tailored’ fit.

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