Learning to walk may sound easy: Just put one foot in front of the other. But anyone who has raised kids knows, it’s a lot harder when it’s new to you, or if you’re recovering from a physical set-back. This is true of any physical activity, even those that seem simple.
Take hiking, a wildly popular activity, especially in a state rich in natural beauty like Colorado.
Hiking is a great activity for people of all different levels, and a wonderful way to improve your fitness. In addition to improving balance and strength, studies have shown that being outside may have a variety of health benefits.
But for those getting started, hiking can be intimidating. How do you pick a trail? What do you need to wear? What do should you bring with you? We’ve got a quick guide to help you get out into the great outdoors, and on your way to a healthier you.
Crowdsourcing suggestions from your friends is a great way to find a good hiking trail, since your friends will likely have a good idea of your physical abilities. It also may inspire a group outing!
And let’s not forget the trusty Internet! A simple Google search will return plenty of local results, or download the AllTrails app, which allows you to search local trails through proximity and level of difficulty. AllTrails also has reviews from hikers, making it kind of like a trekkers Yelp.
If you’re new to hiking, it can be intimidating to think about venturing out on your own. So, don’t. Find a friend who shares your interest, or if you want to make new friends, REI Outdoor School is a great resource for classes and events. Online groups, such as MeetUp, also have hiking groups for various levels of hiker.
Put the right foot forward.
For many well-traveled trails, tennis shoes with a good grip should be fine. For more challenging hikes, especially those with a rocky terrain, you may want to invest in a good pair of hiking boots with a heavier sole, ankle support, and maybe even water resistant materials.
Layers. Layers. Layers.
Even the city-dwellers in Colorado know our weather is unpredictable. For clothing, you’ll want your environment and time of year to inform your decision on what to wear, but in general, your key words are: comfort and layer. You will want clothes that protect you from the sometimes erratic elements of the Colorado high-country, and that regulate your body temperature, since temperatures can vary greatly throughout your hike. Try for lightweight undergarments made of a naturally wicking material, like merino wool. For your outer layers, synthetic fabrics are fine! A waterproof jacket is essential (and will also give some protection against wind n those peaks.) For colder hikes, a knit hat and fleece gloves are great to have in your pack.
Depending on your skill level and physicality, you may want to invest in various accoutrements, like hiking poles, hydration packs, or compression garments. Talk to your doctor and visit an outdoor outfitter retailer to explore your options.
Once you’ve picked your trail, be sure to check the weather (and keep checking it.) Temperatures in the mountains tend to be cooler, winds tend to be stronger, and afternoon thunderstorms are frequent and sudden. Weather in the mountains is even crazier than in the flat lands, and can turn dangerous quickly, so be prepared.
On high-altitude hikes, you’ll run a higher risk of getting a sunburn, so be sure to apply sunscreen to any exposed skin (don’t forget your ears and scalp if you’re going hat less) and reapply. And remember that you’re at risk for sunburns even on cloudy days!
You’ve done the prep-work and found the appropriate gear. Now, it’s time to get to those Colorado trails. If you’re new to hiking, focus on easier trails and build to more challenging ones. No one is expecting a newbie to hike a fourteener their first summer out. The mountains will be there whenever you’re ready and able!