Optimize your Hiking Experience
This should really be its own blog post topic, as the discussion on footwear is vast and so
many factors play into choosing the right footwear. The biggest things to consider when
choosing a hiking boot or shoe is the environment, your foot type, and the length of the trip.
Among those things, you also want to choose a shoe that is comfortable, lightweight, and
constructed with the appropriate materials for the expected climate. The best thing to do is go
to your local sporting goods store and try on several pairs to find the right fit. If the boot does
not fit your foot properly, you will develop hot spots in certain places that will lead to blisters -
Not something you want to develop halfway into your day long hiking trip.
Finding the right shoe or boot is certainly a personal preference but consider the terrain
that you will be traversing. A boot that is mid-cut height will provide more stability to your
ankle over a low-cut shoe. If you plan to be backpacking through elevation changes and uneven terrain, a more rugged style boot will be a better option. If you know the trail you will be hiking on is more groomed and level, a hiking or trailing running shoe might be an appropriate option.
Mid to High-cut Boot
Low-cut Trail Running Shoe
Like footwear, choosing your clothing will depend on many variables like temperature, terrain, and length of hike. Choosing the right pieces of clothing will be the difference between an enjoyable experience and a miserable one. Pieces of clothing should be thought of for function and designed around a layering system. Layering should start with a moisture-wicking base layer, insulating mid-layer, and a waterproof outer shell depending on the climate you will encounter during your hike. Always be prepared and anticipate weather changes to ensure your safety and comfort.
Technical clothing such as polyester, nylon, or merino wool are good moisture-wicking options that are light and help to move sweat off your skin and dry fast. Cotton should be avoided as it absorbs moisture and keeps you feeling sweaty in hot temperatures and chill you if it turns cold or wet. If you’re hiking in colder conditions, your mid layer will provide you most of your warmth. Choosing a light-weight fleece or a puffy jacket that can be compressed to fit into your day pack are good options. Having an outer layer that is waterproof is also a good idea depending on location and time of year.
Trekking poles enhance your stability and provide support on all types of terrain. They also help to reduce force on your knees and absorb impact. Properly sized trekking poles will put your elbows at a 90-degree bend when you hold the pole with the tip near your foot on flat ground. If your trekking poles are adjustable, you can shorten them when hiking uphill for better leverage or extend the length when going downhill for better balance.
Choosing the right backpack will depend on your activity and desired use. Most common needs will require a day pack, but some multi-day adventures will require you to investigate larger packs to carry more supplies for multiple days. Pack size will depend greatly on needs and activity. Most outdoor specific packs have a built-in hydration system and feature multiple pockets for organizing supplies. Finding the correct fit for your body proportion is important to minimize extra stress and possible chaffing. A pack should be fit to the size of your torso and comfortably fit snug around your hips. Finding a local store with many options is desired to assure you find the right fit for your body.
Proper hydration is paramount when participating in a physical activity to ensure optimal performance. A general recommendation for hydration is one half liter of water per hour of moderate activity in moderate temperatures. You may need to increase the amount of water you drink as the temperature and/or intensity of the activity rises. You will also need to drink more at higher altitude as you tend to not feel as thirsty. Drinking often will also keep you hydrated rather than chugging water infrequently.
Planning your hike will give you a better idea of how much water you should carry. You want to make sure you can carry the desired amount for the full outing. Having a water filtration system may be more appropriate if there is access to water from a lake or stream.
Early signs of dehydration include dry mouth and decreased energy or athletic performance. More serious signs include cramping, headaches, and nausea. One thing to consider is adding electrolytes to you water. Consuming high amounts of water without replenishing your electrolytes may lead to an imbalance that can affect your performance as well. Food can help with this, but adding an electrolyte supplement to your water that adds sodium, chloride, potassium, magnesium, and calcium can aid in keeping your body functioning optimally.
Fueling your body properly is a key part of any hike. How much and what kind of food you bring will depend largely on the length of the hike and how much you want to pack. Remember – a heavier pack equals more work, and more work equals more calories! Carbohydrates are the body’s preferred quick source of energy. Having easy to eat options will help keep you sustained throughout your hike. It is recommended having 30-60 grams of carbs per hour. Having protein with each meal is also desired and getting 15-20 grams of protein should be enough to keep you fueled, but not bog you down during your hike.
A few things to consider with food when hiking is the bulk and weight it creates in your pack. Finding dense options to maximize your nutrition for the weight is a small factor but adds to the total weight of what you’re carrying. When looking for options, another recommendation is to look for 100 calories per ounce. A calorie dense option if you have a full day planned and can stop for a lunch or planned meal is dehydrated meals. However, you must consider how they are prepared and if you need to have access to boiling water – adding more supplies to your pack.