Here are some of the reasons you should be hiking, plus some ways to stay safe, happy and trail friendly next time you decide to upgrade your stroll.
1. Hiking is walking.
Literally, you are just walking. I used to be afraid that I wasn't hardcore enough for hiking. Excuses included: I'm not in good enough shape, I'm not super outdoorsy, I might look/feel out of place. Guess what? None of that stuff mattered. I was enjoying myself too much. The fresh air, the natural scenery and the calming sounds of birds, wind, a nearby creek... there's just something way more zen about walking on a trail.
2. Hiking gets you away from the hustle-bustle and into a natural environment.
All day every day you are inundated by noise: Traffic, talking, technology. If it's been a while since you've taken a few hours off from the endless Noise of Life, hiking is a great way to do that. You won't realize how much you need it until you go.
3. Hiking is better for your feet and joints.
Just in case you were wondering... the soft piney dirt of a trail gives you a natural cushion when you walk -- something greenbelts and paved sidewalks just can't do. Be kind to your feet. Be kind to your knees and hips. It all starts with the ground you walk on.
4. Hiking allows for some pretty awesome photo opportunities.
You know that One Friend? That one friend who always posts the most epic pictures exploring nature? You can be that friend. Go hiking. Bring your camera or smartphone. Selfie it up. Hashtag like there's no tomorrow. Say it with me: I am cool. I am outdoorsy. People admire me. I'm a hiker.
Some Tips for Hiking:
Yes, even if you've never set a foot outside the city, you can hike. But that doesn't mean you should take safety lightly. If you're new to an area or trail, do your research -- there's plenty of maps and guidebooks available in local bookstores and visitor centers. There are websites and reviews from others who have done the same hike you plan to do. Be smart. Hikers are smart.
Research your trails.
Be sure to make a game plan for how long you want to hike, where you plan to go and whether you'll need a map or not. Don't expect there to be signs on every trail. While some trails are well-traveled and well-marked, it's always better to assume responsibility for mapping out routes yourself.
Tell someone where you're going and when you expect to return.
If you have to go alone, go alone! Some of the most amazing hikes I've been on were solo hikes. But if you go alone, be sure to have a check-in buddy. Let them know where you plan to hike and when you plan to be back. If you don't contact them afterward, they'll know that you might need assistance.
Register at trailhead check-in sheets.
A lot of trails have sign-in boxes at the trailhead. Don't skip these! Signing in can seem silly, but it's proof of where and what time you hopped on the trail. If you don't come home after your hike, rescuers will know where to look for you first.
Be prepared with layers for varied weather.
Think base layers, waterproof rain jackets and convertible pants, along with snacks and water to keep you fueled up and well hydrated.
Get a hydration backpack.
Nothing says prepared (and super convenient) like a backpack with a built-in water reservoir. Plus, it will up your hiker status to expert in no time. One look at that handy-dandy straw attached to your shoulder and people will start asking you for directions.
Know what to do if you get injured.
I'm not too proud to admit I have fallen more than once on a trail. Lucky for me, I only got scuffed-up knees or a few bruises to show off later. But if something worse happens, I know that if I limp off into the woods I will be doing myself a disservice. See if your phone has any reception, yell out for other hikers and stay visible.
Be prepared for wildlife.
It's simple: you are not in your home. You are in a bear's home. Or a mountain lion's home. A badger's home. Wherever you hike, it's pretty easy to find out the kind of wildlife you'll be encountering and learn how to avoid it. Google is your friend. Even if they're cute, bears are not your friend.
*All photos courtesy Prairie Smallwood.
What hiking tips would you add?