Getting outdoors is one of life's simple joys. And taking a hike, whether short or long, easy or difficult, under sunny skies or cloudy, is a refreshing antidote to hours of sitting at a desk or in traffic, or watching the tube.
We tend to allow work, carpooling, errands, and chores around the house to consume our days off, rarely considering the benefits of just going for a walk. Try setting aside a morning, an afternoon, or even an entire day to get outdoors. It takes no more effort than saying, "Let's go!"
The beauty of day hiking is its simplicity. You don't need a ton of expensive equipment. You don't need years of experience or hours of prep time. At a mimimum, it's just you and your legs and a path to walk on. Hikes can be just a couple hours up a nearby trail, a loop in the closest city or state park, or an all-day affair up into the big mountains. Just getting out for a few hours can clear the cobwebs of the day, spark new ideas, and open the mind for discovery.
One of my best memories occurred while day hiking. I saw my first calypso orchid while on a day hike near my home. We leafed through the wildflower field guide we were carrying and identified it within minutes. We also discovered how rare it is to see these tiny flowers out in the wild. The find was exciting and who knew these delicate beauties grew so close to where I lived? I wouldn't have known unless I had made the time to hike.
If motivation is a problem, combine one of your interests with taking a hike, and consider going with a friend or family member. Look for hikes that feature the best wildflowers or places where you can bird-watch. Consider a walk along a river bank or beach. Get out for that last glimpse of fall colors. If you thrive on goals and measurements, monitor your heart rate and log your miles. Set a goal for making a weekly walk or hike part of your regime, and gradually increase your mileage. Here are several reasons why day hiking is such an easy pleasure:
- Day hikes require little time.
- The gear list for a day hike is minimal.
- The skill level for day hiking is also minimal.
- The chance for discovery is always great.
What to take with you on a day hike
How long you stay out will determine what you will take. Here are the minimum requirements:
- Footwear. You may not need big beefy leather boots, but wear something you will be comfortable with when walking through muddy sections of trail, over rock, and for long distances.
- Socks. Try a pair of specially designed hiking socks. These socks will wick moisture away from your feet, and the extra padding in the heel and toes will make the hiking miles easy. Avoid cotton.
- Rain gear. Sudden thunderstorms, especially in the mountains, can catch you by surprise. It is always best to carry rain gear with you even if the forecast is hot and dry.
- Hat and sunscreen. If it's not raining, it must be sunny. Protection from harmful UV rays is important even if you only plan to be out for a couple of hours. Wear a wide-brimmed hat that offers shade protection.
- Eye protection. Namely, sunglasses. If you're squinting, your eyes are taking a beating. Don't forget the kids need eye protection too!
- Water. I know I still don't drink enough water during the day, and when you're out exercising you need to drink even more water than normal. To make sure you take enough water with you, bring along extra water bottles, or if you know you will be out for several hours you might want to bring along a water filter to refill your bottles.
- Food. You don't need to carry a lot of food. Sometimes just snacking along the trail may be enough. But, for those long days that cover long miles, you'll want to carry a big lunch and even bring extra food to snack on.
- Guidebooks. I find it very frustrating to be hiking and see a flower or a bird I can't identify, and there I am left to only wonder. Field guides are small, easy to pack, and real handy to have along on the trail.
- Maps and a compass. The purpose of maps is to see where you're going - not see where you've been. Always carry a map with you on your hike. I see too many hikers buying their maps after their trip. That doesn't make much sense. Plus, if the urge should overtake you to leave the trail and bushwhack, you have the means to do it successfully.
- Packs. Whether you plan to hike all day or just for an hour, you will need a pack to carry your supplies for the day. For hikes lasting a few hours, try a lumbar pack without shoulder straps. The extra freedom of movement and lightness is a pleasure when hiking. For an all-day affair you will need a larger daypack. How you choose your pack is quite personal. Look for proper fit, features, and enough capacity to hold all you need for the day.
Day hikes can be as easy or as difficult as you like depending on terrain and distance. But just because the amount of time you will be out hiking is limited, this is no reason to leave common sense behind.
- Keep an eye on the weather. Being caught in a thunderstorm on a ridge is a lesson learned only once if you are lucky.
- Know what to expect on the trail. If you are in bear or mountain lion country, take proper precautions and know how to behave to protect both yourself and the animal.
- Practice "Leave No Trace" (www.lnt.org) ethics. Even on day hikes you can have a negative impact on the land, and certainly that is not our intention.
Day hiking is the pace of leisure. Fast or slow. Short or long. Get out and hike - you won't be disappointed!