“Hiking” can be an extremely broad term. It can encompass leisurely strolls on a well-maintained path, pacing up and down rolling hills, and traversing rocky and uneven terrain with a constant uphill grade (though, perhaps that’s better put into the “scrambling” category).
I’ll admit that I used to greatly overestimate my own status as a hiker. I lived my first 23 years in Newfoundland — an island off Canada’s east coast with a high point of 814 metres. My hometown has points that are below sea level. When I did get into hiking in university, my biggest hikes were on the East Coast Trail. Now, these sections aren’t all strolls on boardwalks, but they aren’t exactly like climbing mountains in the Rockies. I thought I was getting pretty good at longer hikes, but my first big hike after moving to South Korea really put me in my place. Since then, I’ve learned a lot about being humble, preparing yourself, and how important it is to really push your own limits.
If you’re a beginner to hiking as a hobby, or just have never gotten past casual walks in the woods, then here are a few things that might help you get through some of your tougher hikes.
1. Keep a steady pace and take few breaks.
I have to start with this because it is probably the most common mistake I see hikers make. People push themselves to go fast, only to take constant breaks because their bodies can’t keep up.
On a recent hike in Peru at high elevation, a girl in my group, I call her the Sprinter, was constantly passing me, then taking a break so I’d pass her, and then passing me again — over and over and over again. I’m not exaggerating when I say this happened over 10 times in the first half of a 6-hour hike. The Sprinter was treating the trail like an opportunity for some high intensity interval training, meaning she was burning herself out to get there fast. And it was pretty irritating to have to constantly move to the side and interrupt my own pace to let her pass again and again. In the final two hours, she slowed dramatically and was one of the last of our group to finish the hike.
I go pretty slowly when I hike, but the number of breaks I take is low. I might stop to take off my outer layer or grab some water, but each time is less than a minute, and often more like 10-30 seconds. I’ll take a break of several minutes at a peak or halfway point to refuel, but other than that I go steady. This means that I finish faster overall.
2. Bring carbs.
Hypoglycemia (or low blood sugar) can occur when you perform strenuous activities. Even if you don’t feel hungry, you need to realize when your body needs fuel. Physical activity and altitude can both suppress your appetite, so the trick is bringing something that you will actively want to eat. I’m not a trail mix or granola person, but I’ll certainly eat some chocolate or a sandwich, so that’s what I bring. A couple chocolate-covered almonds or espresso beans can be a wonderful thing when you start to feel a little shaky or lightheaded.
3. Don’t underestimate the handiness of trekking poles.
Casual hikers never seem to bring trekking poles with them on hikes. And, sure, many times they aren’t particularly necessary. However, they can take a lot of weight off your joints and come in handy when you’re dealing with uneven terrain and early-season ice patches. As someone with pretty bad balance, I can attest to the usefulness of having extra points of contact with the ground.
4. Learn proper trail etiquette.
There are a few things that are common sense when it comes to etiquette on the trails. Here are a few points to remember:
Don’t make a ton of noise. Talking is fine, but roaring laughter or playing music loudly can really take away from the outdoor experience for fellow trail-goers.
Stay to the right on wider trails and pass people to the left (that’s the way it is here, maybe it’s the opposite in other parts of the world — let me know!). If you meet someone while you are going downhill and they are going uphill, let them make the call about who stops (they may want a break, or they may want to push through a tough section without being interrupted).
Don’t stop on the trail. If you need to take a break, try to move out of the way. If you meet someone you know and stop to chat, definitely move out of the way. It’s very frustrating for anyone who comes along and needs to maneuver around you.
If you are hiking in a group on a narrow or busy trail, always hike single file.
Let people know what to expect. If you come to a section where the trail has been closed off, is ice-covered, or is just generally hard to get past, be courteous and let anyone who comes behind you know as you head back.
Stay on the trail. Leave no trace.
These are just a few of the common points. If you are really keen on practicing pristine path politeness (please forgive me), try reading a few articles and blogs before you head out. A quick Google search will yield plenty of good resources.
5. Push through until you get your next wind.
I go through phases when hiking where I feel just drained. Luckily, I know that the endorphins will kick in again and give me another boost in a few minutes.
Pushing your body is hard, but that’s what it takes to build strength and endurance. So, the next time you are about to call it quits and turn back, give yourself a few minutes and see if you get a resurgence of energy and motivation. You are an athlete, and if you give yourself enough time, you can finish any hike. Remember that.
More on hiking? Try these:
- 10 Truths About the Avid Hiker
- 6 Diverse Hikes to Experience in New Zealand
- 3 Reasons Why I Failed My First Thru-Hike
- When should I go hiking in Canada?
- 10 National Parks to Add to your bucket list
My experiences with specific hikes:
- Hiking the Quilotoa Loop: Itinerary and Video
- Sólheimajökull: Hiking on Iceland’s Sun Home Glacier
- Hiking the Plain of Six Glaciers, Banff National Park
- Hiking NZ’s Rob Roy Glacier Track
- Hike in NZ: The Ben Lomond Track
- Hiking Mount Esja in Reykjavík
- On the Trails to Two Historic Sites in Newfoundland