Hiking is a great way to enjoy the outdoors while giving your body an excellent cardiovascular workout. It challenges your heart and lungs, and works the lower back and abdominal muscles. According to the American Hiking Society, an average 140-150 lb. woman can burn approximately 300 calories during a 40-minute hike at a moderate pace of 2 to 3 miles per hour. Carrying a light backpack will increase your caloric expenditure by at least 15%.
If you’re out of shape or are a novice hiker, begin with a regular exercise program that includes walking. Take walks around the neighborhood or on flat nature trails. Ask an outdoor outfitter where to find the best trails in your area.
It’s best to start below your fitness level so you can comfortably complete your hike. The fitter you become, the more you can do; meanwhile, you’ll be able to adapt to the terrain both physically and psychologically. Don’t attempt hills on the first day unless you’re accustomed to them or have been exercising regularly. Be sure to include lower body stretching and strengthening exercises in your routine.
For best results, stretch your calves, hamstrings, quadriceps and lower back before and after hiking. Be sure to get the blood circulating in your muscles before you stretch by walking slowly for 10 to 15 minutes. Don’t ignore the upper body–hiking uses both arm and leg movements. A strong upper body may help you do more advanced hiking, allowing you to tackle rocky trails or steep inclines. Target the chest and shoulders when stretching the upper body in preparation for a hike. Stretch within your own range of comfort and flexibility. Never stretch to the point of pain. In addition, stretching after a hiking and backpacking helps alleviate muscle fatigue and soreness.
During a hike, you can go from hot and humid conditions one minute to rainy and cold conditions the next. For this reason, proper gear and apparel are essential for safety and protection.
Purchase good hiking shoes in a sporting goods or reputable shoe store. You need three things to find the perfect hiking shoe: time, patience, and socks. Try boots on at the end of the day, and you should be wear the sock combo you’ll hike in–preferably a thin liner with a thick sock, for an accurate fit. Hiking shoes should be a half-size larger than regular shoes to allow for toe room (versus toe smashing) on downhill trails. This space will also trap warm air and allow for an extra pair of socks when it’s cold. With the boot unlaced and your foot moved forward, you should have room to slip your forefinger down the back to your heel. Look for a high ankle for stability and a good tread to prevent slipping. All boots require waterproofing.