5 Things First-Time Hikers Need to Know, from an Amateur, Non-Athletic Hiker
The Merrell, Columbia, ROX, and other related ads always show athletic people on adventures and overcoming physical obstacles. They never show someone like me conquering a mountain, but still, I hike.
As I read online travel stories and blogs about people conquering some of the country’s toughest trails and highest peaks, I started asking myself why am I not doing that when I know I can push myself to the limits.
The truth is, between my busy schedule, my non-athleticism, and my laziness, something like Mt. Pulag was probably always going to be out of my ability. I realized I was letting the thought that I probably can’t summit the third highest (and I’m guessing, the coldest) peak in the country keep me from tackling even the gentle hills near Manila.
I only saw the tallest mountains and thought I’d die trying to climb that. And for years, I let those keep me from trying even the smallest hill. Friends would invite me to go hiking with them, and even though I longed for the outdoors, I didn’t go with them, afraid I’d hold them back.
Finally, I had to say f*ck it!, I’m going hiking. If I die, I die. I started with Mt. Ulap, then somewhere along the trail conquered Pulag, and even trekked in China, with plenty of other mountains in between.
Slowly, I gained my confidence and strength, and now I hike once a month on average – mostly flat, lazy trails with some steep, rocky (and cold) mountains.
It wasn’t easy, transitioning from ‘a lazy slob who wouldn’t even walk to the store at the end of the street’ to someone who hiked consistently. But with a little patience and tons of self-confidence (er, kahnfidence), I’ve learned to trust my body’s abilities and know my limits – things that are good to have in various aspects of life.
Hiking for more than a year now, I’ve picked up a number of tips, lessons, and realizations along the trail. Hopefully, these can help you find your footing and in your first steps to conquering the trails.
1. Anyone and everyone can be a hiker
There’s no such thing as a perfect hiker. You can (and should) drop the idea of a gym rat blazing the trails with ease.
Hiking isn’t exclusive for top athletes or the gym rats. It’s a universal sport/recreational activity for anyone who wants to connect with themselves and nature – no matter your body size and fitness level.
All hikers are awkward and uncomfortable while on the trail. That’s the point of adventures – it pushes you. Preparation will help, but practice will never make perfect in hikes; every trail is new and different.
The outdoors, the terrain, and the weather will take you out of your normal comfort zone and into nature. Things will be different, tiring and even surprising, and that’s what makes the whole experience unique and worthwhile.
2. Do it often
You’ll never be comfortable hiking; every time you step onto the trail, you’re stepping out of your comfort zone.
Do it often enough, however, and you start trusting yourself that you won’t slip, fall of a cliff, or pass out due to exhaustion. The hours-long walks and assaults will get easier, and you’ll learn to appreciate the small triumphs where you stop to catch your breath and take in the breathtaking view at the summit.
3. Choose your own path and pace
“…Take one step at a time. There’s no need to rush…”, as Jordin Sparks puts it. Similar to how babies learn to walk, choose your own path, follow your own pace, and stand up when you fall down.
This can mean treating yourself like a baby, taking things easy until you feel you’re ready for tougher trails. So what if you’re trailing the rest of your group? You’re all headed towards the same destination, and more likely than not, they’ll wait for you no matter what.
Some days, you’ll be able to handle a long, uphill walk, and on others, you need to just sit down on the couch and rest. As you get more confident in your legs and lungs, you can slowly push yourself to conquer your local Mt. Everest.
4. Push yourself in any way you can
Going hiking might not feel great the first time, but like with conquering anything, you need to find your own inspiration and motivation to push you to the top. For me, the time spent with friends along the trail, the views along the way and at the summit, and spending some quiet time in nature are what pushes me to overcome the physical challenge.
Especially uphill, you’ll need all the leg power and push you can get. At some point, I was even literally pushing others so we can walk up the trail.
5. Smile and laugh
Every time I go hiking, I spend the first 20 minutes or so smiling and the next 20 panting and trying to catch my breath. But usually after that, I’d have found my rhythm and feel confident in my strides that I can focus on the scenes around me.
I usually can’t stop smiling for the first few hundred meters of my hikes. The weather is usually nice, the trail is lush and inviting, and my hiking buddies are often excited that I feel like I’ve wandered into a fairy tale. Our hearts are full of joy that laughter has to come out, even when we can barely breathe, in pain, or our legs are cramping.
Watch Ayn’s Pinatubo vlog and you’ll see what I mean:
Because really, there’s nothing serious about hiking. I go there for the fun.
Even when you see other hikers running the trail as if they were playing ‘Capture the Flag’, you have to smile and keep moving. Because that’s what keeps them going, what makes them happy. Again, #3: we’re all on a different path and you have to love the one you’re on.
Wherever the trail may lead you, the best tip I can give is to just enjoy every moment of the hike: the cramps, the breathlessness, the laughs, tears, the rest stops, nature’s sounds and views, and everything in between.
Have any tips? Share them below!