How I Plan a Day’s Hike and Why You Should Do More Hiking
As many of you may know by now, I am extremely passionate about hiking and exploring. There are countless physical and mental health benefits – and best of all, it’s free! I remember when I first started getting into hiking, it all seemed a bit overwhelming, where do I go? What kit do I need? Will it be difficult? What’s the weather going to be like?
In this article, I hope to give you the tools and understanding to motivate yourself to go and try a day’s hike, and to make sure you are fully prepared for it!
The Benefits of Hiking
First things first, why should you consider incorporating hiking into your life? Here are my top reasons.
Physical Benefits of Hiking
- Lower your risk of heart disease
- Improve your blood pressure and blood sugar levels
- Boost bone density, since walking is a weight-bearing exercise
- Build strength in your glutes, quadriceps, hamstrings, and the muscles in your hips and lower legs
- Strengthen your core
- Improve balance and coordination.
Mental Benefits of Hiking
- Hiking has a positive impact on combating the symptoms of stress and anxiety. (1)
- Hiking can decrease negative, obsessive thoughts. (2)
- Hiking can alleviate insomnia – exposing yourself to daylight is more in line with our circadian rhythms.
People often forget that being in nature is ingrained in our DNA, living in large cities is unnatural. In my opinion, many of the stresses that people are dealing with on a daily basis are because we are so far removed from our natural way of living. Hiking and immersing yourself in nature is a way of resetting our bodies, balancing out our hectic city lives.
Going Hiking – Where to Begin?
Before you decide to go out for a decent hike, you will need to make sure that you have some basic equipment. Here are the top 5 things I take on every hike. This list doesn’t include an OS map of the area and a compass.
It’s crucial you find a shoe that fits properly and is right for the conditions you are heading out in. If its summer you could probably get away with wearing some running shoes, if it’s winter and very wet, you may want to invest in some waterproof or Gore-Tex boots. I am not a big fan of traditional hiking boots, I prefer something which allows my foot to work the way it should, but after years of strength training I have strong ankles and knees which means I don’t need added support. If you know you have weak legs, it might be worth getting some traditional hiking shoes that can reduce your risk of injury. Currently, these are my hiking shoes.
The backpack you choose is crucial, it must be fit for purpose and it must be comfortable. A waist strap is essential, it will take the load off your shoulders and encourage better posture. There are many different brands out there, I suggest a 10-30 litre backpack for a day’s hike. Here is my daypack.
Depending on what country you live in, a waterproof layer can be essential to you staying warm, dry and comfortable – which is key if you want to hike safely and efficiently. You don’t necessarily need to pay up for Gore-Tex, many brands sell cheap, lightweight waterproof layers that can sit in your daypack without any troubles. My waterproof jacket.
A Warm Layer
Again, you need to make sure that you are ready for any situation, the weather can change and being cold, wet and uncomfortable can increase your risk of injury or getting lost. A decent fleece does the job nicely. My mid layer.
A Water Bottle
Hydration is key. You can survive for up to a month without food but only a few days without water. The size of your bottle will depend on your age, sex and weight as well as weather conditions, on a hot summer day you will sweat a lot more which means you need to replace those lost liquids. I would suggest having at least 1L on you at all times. I like using lightweight aluminium water bottles. Here’s mine.
There are obviously other items that you will need for a hike, but these are the top 5 that I will have every time. Other items vary depending on the season, weather and location.
Planning For Your Hike
Now that you know what equipment you need, it’s time to start planning. Firstly, there are three things you need to consider.
Current Physical Readiness
What shape are you in? Do you have any niggling injuries? It’s important to factor these into your planning – don’t bite off more than you can chew, it could get dangerous!
An obvious one, this will dictate what kit you take and how long the hike should be.
Are you following a signposted footpath? Or is it off trail? Do you need an OS Map or can you get away with using your phone as navigation?
What to Eat on Your Hike
I get asked about what I eat on my long hikes all the time. Many people presume that I don’t follow The 2 Meal Day because of the need of food for energy. In fact, I follow exactly the same routine as I do on a day to day basis. I walk until I start to feel hungry, which isn’t until 1-2pm usually.
Fat is the preferred fuel source for low intensity activities like walking and hiking. If you eat food continuously on your hike, you are ruining your chances of become more “metabolically flexible”. You are forcing your body to use the carbohydrates in food for energy and preventing it from using your stored body fat.
I have walked as far as 25 miles fasted before, I sipped on green tea and electrolytes the whole way. I am not suggesting you do this, but your body is an amazing thing if you allow it to do its job properly.
Of course, if you have never tried fasting before than you should eat as usual, but if you have, listen to your body and eat when you first feel hungry, rather than loading up first thing in the morning.
It is essential that you do take food with you, I like to take calorie dense, high quality foods like:
- Dried Fruit – apricots, dates and raisins are my favourite.
Avoid high sugar foods which will make you crash after eating and do nothing for your health!
Top Tips For Your Next Hike
Now you have the equipment and you have the foundations of a plan and route. Here are my top tips for enjoying your day’s hike to the max (excuse the pun )!
If it’s your first proper full day’s hike, you’ll want to start somewhere that’s relatively familiar to remove the panic of getting lost. Grab yourself an OS map (1:25,000 – is best for detail) of your local area and look for green spaces and footpaths.
Stick To Footpaths
Going off-piste is part of the fun when walking, but if you’re just starting out you should save the exploration for later, especially if you want to remember the experience for all the right reasons. Only recently have I started using a map effectively and going off the paths, and I have a lot of hiking experience.
I have made the mistake of planning 20+ miles in a day’s hike. The issue isn’t fitness, I can easily manage that. However, I find it’s more enjoyable when you can take your time and take in all the sights, it can become a mindful experience, rather than just focusing on getting “X” amount of miles in and concentrating too much on the end goal. If you are planning your first day hike, I recommend around 5-8 miles. Once you have done that distance a few times you can start to increase the distance if you feel ready.
Have a Plan B
Always have a second option of getting home. A shorter route that leads to a train or bus station is always a good option. You never know what can happen on a day’s hike so you want to be prepared for any situation.
Bring Your Camera!
Photography is another big passion of mine, for me it makes me appreciate and notice things that I wouldn’t normally notice. You start to see the world in a different view, noticing slight changes in light, colours and even wildlife. You don’t have to have anything fancy, even smart phones have great cameras now!
Now You Are Ready To Go On Your Hike
Hopefully, you should now feel a lot more confident with not only how to plan your hike but also what to do when you are actually on your day’s hike. Using my top tips above are the perfect way to introduce hiking into your life. There are so many benefits you can get from hiking, both physically and mentally, and the best thing about it is that hiking is completely free! Once you feel confident about packing your bag, choosing a route and navigating your way, there is very little to stop you from experiencing some of the greatest wonders nature has to offer.