Today is National Trails Day. This annual event started in the early ’90s by the American Hiking Society to celebrate our country’s amazing trail system and introduce citizens to the variety of trail activities available, including hiking, biking, geocaching, horseback riding, bird watching, paddling and more.
There are more than 200,000 miles of trails in the United States! Many park staff and thousands of volunteers work hard every year to ensure these trails stay maintained and available for use by millions of visitors.
Besides my love of the outdoors, I enjoy hiking because it’s usually free (some parks charge a minimal entrance fee) and almost everyone can go. Many parks are creating easily accessible trails to enable strollers and some wheelchairs. It probably won’t surprise you that I also enjoy that hiking is ‘easy’ exercise to me, in the sense that I’m enjoying myself so forget that I’m burning calories and toning my muscles (that’s the BEST kind of exercise!).
One of my friends recently shared that she’s never been hiking on the trails in the woods, and she wouldn’t know where to start. It got me thinking that there only a few basic necessities if you’re going on a day hike. Here’s a short list of suggestions to get you started:
Sturdy shoes. Make sure you have good treads on your shoes to provide solid footing on loose dirt, wood chips and other ground cover. No need to get fancy hiking shoes if you’re doing short day hikes without a backpack, but if you plan to do more strenuous and/or frequent hikes, you might want to consider a sturdy trail shoe or boot. I love my Merrell trail shoes (I’m on my third pair!).
Dress comfortably. Wear layers as your body temp will most likely change as you start moving or the weather changes. Many people recommend polyester as it ‘wicks’ away moisture if you start to get hot (or it rains). I admittedly sometimes wear cotton if I’m on a day hike. I don’t recommend hiking in jeans as the denim tends to stay wet and dry slowly so if your pants get wet, it might get uncomfortable.
Sun protection. Slather up with sunscreen, even if you’re hiking in the woods. You’d be surprised how easily the sun’s rays can find you between the tree tops. Wear a hat if you’ll be hiking in the direct sun. Don’t forget sunglasses to protect your eyes.
Bring water. Staying hydrated is important no matter what you’re doing. You may think you won’t get thirsty if you’re taking a short hike but you’d be surprised. I carry a water bottle or use a water hydration pack for easy drinking while hiking.
Keep the bugs away. You’re in the woods so bugs are around. I’m not a fan of bug spray but I’m even less a fan of bug bites. I try to wear long sleeves/pants when hiking but sometimes in the summer weather, I need to wear less clothes. I carry a small bottle of my essential oil bug spray to keep mosquitoes and other pests away.
Food. Even if you ate right before heading to the trails, it’s good to carry a granola bar, protein bar, trail mix or some snack. You’re burning calories on the trail, plus you never know if something may delay you from getting back to the car later than you planned. You don’t want to get light-headed from lack of nutrition or turn into a diva because you’re hungry. I always pack a variety of snacks when hiking with my nieces and nephew (yep, that day pack gets a tad heavy when out with them!)…..one of our favorite parts of a hike is stopping to enjoy water, snacks and fun conversation (and it’s good bribery, er, motivation to keep them moving!).
First aid supplies. You never know a branch might scratch you or your niece will run her finger along a fence and get a splinter. For day hikes, I carry a small first aid kit (that I actually keep in my car on a daily basis) that includes band-aids, tweezers, alcohol wipes and Benadryl.
Know where you’re going. You can usually get a map of the trail system online or at the park’s entrance. Check it out before you leave the trailhead and pay attention to markers on the trail. It might seem hard to get lost in a small park/local trails but you should be prepared. You might carry your cellphone (on silent/vibrate please) but service isn’t always available in the woods.
Check out a local park’s trails. You don’t need to hike a mountain to enjoy the trails (although depending where you live, your local park may be in the mountains. In that case, I’m jealous!), or drive hours away from home. Odds are there is a park with trails somewhere near your home – you might not even know it! I recently mentioned the trails by my home to a local resident who had never visited it, but now plans to.
Enjoy yourself! Unless you’re training for a trip, there’s no need to race through the trails. You’re in nature to enjoy it so look around at the beauty, listen to the animals and trees, and breathe in the fresh air!
For more suggestions on what to carry on a hike, check out a “10 essentials” list as a starting point.
Now I’m off to take my friend hiking. Get outside and enjoy the day. Happy hiking!