So you you’ve been following our Let’s Take a Walk in the Woods series in this space for the past month about becoming a hiker. You started with the basics, about starting your hiking career, you followed up with our report on basic gear, then last week checked out our recommendations for five great hikes for beginners. You’re smitten by this hiking thing; you could see this becoming part of your active lifestyle. But where do you go from here? How do you evolve from your apprenticeship to become a bonafide hiker?


There are people who go for a hike and there are hikers.
What’s the difference?
The question often arises, What’s the difference between a walk and a hike? There’s a pat answer, which can be defended: a walk is on pavement, a hike on natural surface. Quibble, but the definition can be defended.
Not the case when differentiating between those who take a hike and bonafide hikers.
Hiking a lot does not necessarily make you a hiker. Perhaps you have a lot of free time. Maybe you have a trail out your back door: plug into your iPhone and hit the trail for 45 minutes of cardio three days a week.
Some would consider that person a hiker; after all, three times a week? Many, though, would disqualify this fitness buff based on being plugged in and stressing exercise over escape.
Disqualifying someone based on those qualities would be equally wrong.
Maybe you’ve got the latest high-tech, lightweight gear, from your multi-weave, organic fiber technical hiking socks to the aerodynamically designed and vented hiking hat guaranteed to keep your glasses from fogging.
Then again, Grandma Gatewood hiked the Appalachian Trail three times carrying little more than a plastic shower curtain and a denim bag.
Maybe you can name every trail from Murphy to Manteo. Can you name even one of the medicinal herbs found on your last hike?
No big deal if you can’t.
Maybe you can only get out once or twice a month. Maybe those outings are the highlight of your month.
If you’re new to hiking, if you’ve been following our Let’s Talk A Walk In the Woods series over the past four weeks and have been testing the local trails, you may be grappling with this question: In August, I was a mall walker; could I possibly have evolved into a hiker that quickly?
We can’t answer that question for you. But we can help you find the answer. Here are three elements critical to your advancement:
1. Explore more trails. Exposure is critical to becoming a hiker. Just because you’ve hiked the Buckquarter Creek Trail doesn’t mean you know Eno River State Park (like the heart-thumping climb up Cox Mountain, the abandoned waterworks at Pump Station or the passage into the Southern Appalachians — complete with rhododendron, mountain laurel and galax — beneath Occoneechee Mountain). Our major metropolitan areas have a surprising array of diverse trails. Then you head to the mountains … .
We can help you find those trails. Our online hiking guide includes 60 hikes, some close to home, some in the mountains. It’s a good place to start.
2. Hike with others. If you’ve been on the trail once, you’ve discovered the restorative powers of hiking. And lord knows a little “me” time in the woods is just what we all need. But hiking with others is good in so many ways. Especially for newcomers, it’s a great way to learn about everything from where to hike, to gear, to the answer to that vexing question, “Just what do you do when you can’t find a ladies room in the woods?” Hiking in a group also helps rekindle the lost art of conversation. Being on the trail makes people drop their guard. You want an honest conversation? Take a hike.
Honestly, we can’t thing of a better group to hike with than our GetHiking! group. GetHiking! was launched two years ago with a two-fold goal: to provide a supportive environment for beginners (by leading hikes from the rear, ensuring that newbies won’t get dropped), and to provide greater exposure for more experienced hikers by hiking a wide variety of trails. With more than 3,200 members in Charlotte, the Triad, the Triangle and Greenville, we feel good about our progress.
Make sure the gear you’ve got is the gear that’s right for you. In her Wikipedia entry, Grandma Gatewood is quoted as saying this about gear: “Make a rain cape, and an over the shoulder sling bag, and buy a sturdy pair of Keds tennis shoes.” That was in 1970, keep in mind, when Keds were pretty high tech. Hiking shoes/boots are especially important. Perhaps we’ve grown soft since Grandma Gatewood’s day, but shoes that do not communicate well with your feet will turn you back into a mall walker pronto. You don’t need the latest, flashiest, priciest gear. You need whatever won’t detract from the experience.
So, are you a hiker?
There’s only one way to find out. Get out and hike.

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Here are five key resources crucial to any hiker’s happiness.

1. Carolina Mountain Club. Looking for others to hike with, or looking for hikes to do on your own? Either way, the 92-year-old CMC is a valued resource. The CMC’s experienced hikers lead multiple hikes each week, and their online data base includes more than 800 hikes.
2. North Carolina hiking clubs. Interested in hiking another part of the state but don’t have any idea where to go? Tap into one of these local hiking clubs, most of which conducted guided hikes.
3. Mountains-to-Sea Trail. North Carolina has a statewide hiking trail that someday will stretch 1,100 miles, from Clingman’s Dome on the Tennessee line to Jockey’s Ridge at the coast. Currently, about 680 miles of trail is finished. Learn more about the MST and where you can hike it by visiting the Friends of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail.
4. American Hiking Society. The nation’s hiking advocate — and a great source for all things hiking.
5. “The Complete Walker, IV,” by Colin Fletcher and Chip Rawlins. If you have a question about any aspect of hiking or backpacking you’ll likely find the answer herein. First published by Fletcher in the 1960s as the most comprehensive source of information on hiking and backpacking, it has managed to grow even more so. And with Rawlins aboard for the most recent update in 2002, it remains current (as of 2002, that is). There’ve been technological advances in equipment since TCW IV, but the general advice is timeless.