With the warm weather finally here, it’s time to take to the trails. So grab your pack, your walking stick(s), water bottles, snacks, hiking buddies, and go get some quality time with Momma Nature!
In my younger days, I was a bit of a hardcore hiker, putting in serious mountain miles in upstate NY, Vermont, even (as a Boy Scout) at Philmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico. That lapsed some during child-rearing years, and the lack of exercise began to show in my girth and fitness level. So last year, my wife and I decided to start regular weekend hikes (sometimes weekdays too!). We found some great trails in our region, the Lower Hudson Valley, and we quickly racked up a lot of miles. Some favorite hikes we did last year:
- Bear Mountain State Park (Major Welch Trail to Perkins Drive)
- Anthony’s Nose (Peekskill, NY)
- Fishkill Ridge
- Ward Pound Ridge Reservation – particularly the Leatherman’s Cave Trail
Of course, I was amazed at how the equipment available for modern hikers differs from what I had been used to years ago. From shoes/boots to backpacks and daypacks to walking sticks to GPS devices…it seemed someone out there was constantly trying to seduce my credit card to obtain high priced stuff…just to get out and walk?!?
In trying to make decisions about what to get, I put the items into categories from most to least important. Here was my result:
Shoes – Invest the most here…it’s where “the rubber meets the road”. I bought a pair of Merrell half-height hiking boots for a walk up Mt. Washington in New Hampshire about 8 years ago. They are still my goto boots (several repairs later!). Dry, wet, rocky, smooth, their stiff sole and soft uppers are the most comfortable walkers I’ve ever had. Of course, they are not appropriate for winter or extremely muddy conditions…for that, you need high uppers and extreme waterproofing. But these will suffice for most common hiking applications. And to think I used to trek miles in those heavy sweaty Boy Scout boots!
- Clothing – for good weather conditions, regular activewear is fine. When it’s cold, go for layers as opposed to a heavy shell. Sweat wicking materials are best for warm conditions, not cotton. Cotton gets heavy with sweat. If you are follicly challenged like I am, you NEED a good hat. My favorite hat for hiking is my Tilley hat which I bought in Nova Scotia. It’s light, and keeps the sun off my face, ears and shoulders (be sure you get one with a snap-up brim). And Tilley hats come with t LIFETIME GUARANTEE! For all the best clothing choices, get advice from an outfitter like REI.
- Bags/packs/daypacks – You can spend a fortune here! Yes, the better names are generally higher quality, with more robust construction and lightness. But keep in mind how often you will be out there: are you planning an eight month trek up the Appalachian Trail, or are you a weekend warrior (like me!)? The more affordable options will likely last a long time, unless you’re planning a long trip that would beat your equipment up quickly. Here’s what I bought: for short day hikes, an Osprey waist pack from REI that features 2 water bottles, and enough space inside for snacks, wallet, etc. For longer day hikes: an inexpensive Denazo daypack with 2 side pockets for water bottles and plenty of interior space for extra clothing, tools, food, etc. I was even able to retrofit an old bicycling hydration system into this pack!
- Hiking poles – So, my concept of poles used to be “break off a branch”. Now, though, there’s a plethora of reasonably priced poles that vary in weight, length, adjustability, grip quality. etc. Some even feature shock absorption! Here’s what I got: Powertrek adjustable, collapsible hiking poles, inexpensive, durable (I’ve got lots of miles on them already), and they really help, particularly going DOWN! One thing about this type of metal poles…be sure not to hyper-extend them. I did break one by having it extended beyond the indicated length. Their strength comes from keeping them within the recommended length limits.
There are a few additional things you should keep in mind:
- Hike with a group, or at least a buddy. Things can happen (trips, falls, injuries, etc.) that can be more easily dealt with if you have another person with you to assist or get help.
- Always pack a first aid kit, with alcohol pads, bandages, disinfectant cream, pain killer.
- Bring a well-charged cell phone with extra battery if possible. Even better – a smartphone with GPS capabilities.
- Getting lost sucks, so have maps with you when you are on unfamiliar trails.
- If you are planning a hike in a tick-prone (Lyme disease) area, wear long pants tucked into your long socks.
All this said, the most important thing is to simply get out there! And be sure to stop and enjoy the view (see picture above!)