More and more I see the topic of hiking being something rather easy and possibly obvious to talk about, but time and time again I see people on the trail horribly underprepared for the hike that they are on (wait, wait, wait….did I just see that gal wearing Keds?….KEDS!?). But, it also seems like a good topic to talk about for a lot of people this time of year. Seattleites are emerging from their ‘summer-winter’ cocoons and looking at taking advantage of our mild spring by hitting the trail. I have a few thoughts on what may make your day hike loads easier and much more enjoyable.
Don’t. Wear. Keds.
Okay, thats not the only tip, but I obviously feel very strongly about it.
As a kid, I was fortunate enough to grow up half in the city, half in in the Teanaway area. We snowmobiled and skied in the winter, then explored the woods and swam in the river during the summer. There were many memories of my mom, aunt and grandma taking me out to the woods and teaching me how to hunt for Morel mushrooms. My dad would teach me how to fish rainbow trout in the river and take me cross country skiing through the woods. As a kid I also remember having zero fear of running as fast as I could along the deer trails that criss-crossed the side of the hill of my grandparents property. My cousins and I would run all over the property all day long, only needing to come home for meals. So I will admit, I had a bit of head start on this hiking business.
With that said, I had never done a ton of backpacking or long distance hiking till a few years ago. As I would go hiking with a few of my fellow Patagoonies, I started to realize that hiking around the majority of Washington is a little different than the hills around Teanaway. And there was a little bit more red tape to get through (not too much….just more details like passes, when its okay and and not okay to have dogs, etc.). The other thing I learned fairly quick is that hiking is much like running for me. It’s so painful and horrible for the first mile. I want to quit, I complain, every part of my body groans and I wonder why I even bothered to do this stupid outdoor activity anyway. Then, boom. A second wind kicks in and I’m usually cruising the rest of the way.
I also have started to learn that going for a simple day hike does wonders for my mind. During the stress of the work week, I feel like a soda can, all shook up and ready to throw a fizzy, carbonated fit. As soon as I start to drive out of the city towards whatever trail I’m headed to, the further I get, the more relaxed I become. By the time the hike is over and I’m back home, you would have thought I had hung out in the back of a van with a bunch of dead-head hippies all day. I’ll let anything and everything just roll off my back, not a care in the world. To me, this why I think kids and adults need to make more of an effort to get active and get outside whenever they can.
Hiking got me here. – Bean Peak
So, with that, here are a few things I would suggest if you’re looking to start hiking.
Get some good hiking shoes or boots.
Don’t. Wear. Keds. (seriously, I say this because I once ran into a girl on a snow-covered hike up Mt. Pilchuck wearing bell bottom jeans and Keds. Just….no, go home.) Although wearing tennis shoes can be okay for some moderate trails, they won’t serve you any good for anything with any type of major elevation and/or wetter weather. I personally am Merrell Brand faithful. They have hiking footwear of all types. I also prefer to have a supportive but more minimalist feel to my hiking shoes, and they fit the bill.
Find a buddy to go with you.
Solo hiking is totally fun too, but having a friend to chat with along the trail is always a good time. Make sure to assess what both of your activity levels are as you don’t want one of you to be wishing they were knitting and watching a Star Wars marathon while the other is frockling through the forest. (p.s. knitting and Star Wars always sounds like a good time to this girl).
Yellow Aster Butte
Find a hike that is best for you and what you want get out of it.
Washington Trails Association had been my go-to resource for finding hikes for the last 2-3 years. They have a great filtering system so you can find hikes at certain distances, elevations, with specific natural features, etc. There are also trip reports, directions on how to get to the trailheads, and information on what type of pass you’ll need, photos, etc. They also have an app for your phone that you can download here. Some other resources that are for the more advanced hikers are summitpost.org and nwhikers.net.
So much quick and easy information, right there.
ALWAYS check the trip reports.
I cannot stress this point enough. Trip reports by other hikers are super useful in deciding what hike to do. Some hikes may have snow, others may be super wet while another may have a ton of bugs. Where this ever changing information can be found are….dah dahdahdahhhhh….in the trip reports! These reports are usually at the bottom if the hike detail page on WTA. There are some times when no one has posted any recent trip reports. So if I find that is the case, I bounce over to the forums on nwhikers.net and see if anyone has posted anything there. Any and all information you can get will inform you about what to expect, what gear to bring, etc. It will make your life just that much easier.
look, trip reports!
Figure out what pass you’ll need.
Once again, this information is usually found on WTA. A lot of people still don’t know that you need passes in order to park around 99% of the trailheads around Washington. The two main passes are the Discover Pass and the Northwest Forest Pass. I purchase both every year as I always have needed them. You can purchase these at a lot of the stores around here as well as some gas stations. To find where to purchase locally, you can visit here for the NW Forest Pass and here for the Discover pass.
Wear comfortable clothing.
This is obvious, but man does it make a difference. I wear my workout clothes and always bring layers, depending on the weather. Sometimes I also pack an extra pair of socks or a rain jacket because you just never know what the weather will throw at you. You’ll sweat and possibly get wet, so maybe consider and alternative to cotton. And also…no bedazzled bell bottom jeans. If I see you wearing them, I may push you forcibly back down the mountain myself.
Bring a separate pair of shoes for the car.
I always pack either flip flops or a pair of Vans for the ride up to and back from the trail. I find there’s nothing better than comfy feet after a hike. I also sometimes buy myself a doughnut and leave it in the car as my after-hike reward. Yes, I’m a small child, I need rewards of sweet pastries…always.
Consider hiking poles.
I have had two ACL reconstructions and though I’m able to hike with no pain, hiking poles make coming down a steeper hike just that much easier on my cranky old lady knees. I only suggest these for any hike that has short and steep elevation gain and/or snow.
Poles! Yay! – Enchantments
Double check the elevation gain.
On WTA, they have the hike mileage listed as well as elevation. Some things to note:
2000 ft elevation gain in 1 mile = insanely steep (think extremely vertically steep stairs, I have to stop every 10 steps)
1000ft elevation gain in 1 mile = steady climb (lung a leg burner for sure, but a more steady paced climb, think stair master at the gym)
500ft elevation gain in 1 mile = will get the blood pumping, but you won’t want to die, totally doable. Think climbing a hill.
Knowing how steep a trail will be will also help you have a more enjoyable hike and you won’t, once again, wish you were home knitting with Han Solo.
Bring snacks and plenty of water.
Food is fuel so make sure to bring enough for the time that you’ll be out and about. And don’t ever underestimate the amount of water you’ll need. Pack plenty of it and drink lots.
Because sometimes, you drop your food and the animals get it instead. – Enchantments
Check the weather.
Most of the time, I rely on checking NOAA for the weather reports. I’ve found it to be the most accurate and you can pin point the area you’re headed to pretty quickly. Since we have to navigate the rain, NOAA can be super helpful in letting you know the exact hour predicted that rain or snow will start to fall. Makes it easier to plan your trip accordingly.
Cloud cover and lots of snow. – Mt. Pilchuck
Lastly, pay attention to time.
Make sure that you’re not going so far or leaving too late that you’ll be hiking in the dark in the way back. Unless you have a headlamp, hiking in the dark can be no fun, so just make sure you understand your limits. I suggest timing yourself on how long it takes you to get up (as well as down) from a hike. After doing a few, you start to understand your pace and how long a hike may take you, so it’ll make figuring out timing a lot easier.
So that be it my friends. I hope that this can help you get your butt in gear and hit the trail a little more educated than before. Allow yourself to start out easy and build up to longer and more epic hikes. It will feel good just to get yourself moving and outside on a beautiful day. Whether it’s just in an urban park that has trails or summiting a mountain, go grab a friend and hike your pretty little heart out!