First Hike? Don’t Freak

img_2746Of all the things that can stress us over the holidays, there is one thing we can help the non-outdoorsy among you strike from the list.

The family hike.

Families get together, they catch up, they play board games, they watch TV, they eat. At some point, someone (typically the host) suggests, “Hey, how about some fresh air?” To which someone (typically the family athlete) adds, “Let’s take a hike.”

At least she didn’t suggest “touch” football, you think relieved. Then a new dread sets in: a hike? In the woods? On dirt? With … wildlife?

Yes, fortunately, to all.

We are in the business of making the outside accessible. Over the next month or so we are going to do what we can to make hikers out of the non-hikers out there. We’ll talk about where to hike, who to hike with, what gear you’ll need (and what gear you’ll eventually want), how to dress, what provisions to pack.

Today, we talk about what to expect on that first hike and how to make sure it’s a memorable (in a good way) experience.

  1. Don’t go overboard your first time out. If you haven’t hiked, or hiked much, be firm about doing a hike that’s a comfortable distance. If you live in the Piedmont, for instance, the rolling terrain means you’ll probably be good for a couple miles. (Another approach: hike 20 minutes out, 20 minutes back.)
  2. It’s not a race. OK, for some it is, but don’t get sucked into another “friendly” family competition. Hike your own pace.
  3. Hike in a civilized park. By “civilized,” we mean a park that’s got clearly marked, easy-to-follow trails. A North Carolina State Park, for instance. Or a county or municipal park, where the trails tend to cater to newbies.
  4. Stick to clearly marked trails. Don’t let Cousin “Hey-watch-this!” Earl convince you to follow a tray path that leads to who-knows where. Know which trail(s) you’ll be on, know the color of the trail’s blaze (the mark, usually painted on, or affixed to, trees that guides the way) you’ll be following, know that if you’re suddenly crunching through knee-deep leaves that you’ve likely lost the trail and should retrace your steps pronto.
  5. Dress like you would for a walk. Comfortable clothing and decent walking shoes, which should have grippy tread. Dress appropriately for the weather, but otherwise, no special clothing is needed for your first hike.
  6. Take water. Yes, even if you’re just going for a mile. Staying hydrated is key to staying happy on the trail. Get used to taking water from the start.
  7. Take a snack. Who’s going to argue with packing one of memaw’s chocolate chip-and-bacon cookies? Don’t run the risk of running low on fuel.
  8. Take a device for recording the event. That likely would be your cellphone camera, which you  can use to document the hike and remind you later on what an awesome time you had.

And that you can’t wait to take your next hike.