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How to Start Hiking
I think hiking is one of the greatest activities on the planet because there is so much you can do with it. On the one end you can start with little more than shoes and a neat place to explore. On the other end you can spend hours, days even, tinkering with gear, weighing your pack, planning your trips and researching the next best stuff to buy and places to go. The best part of it all is that you can you can have a really good time hiking no matter where you are on the spectrum.
Steps to start hiking
I said before that you can just start walking out in the woods and you are basically hiking. Sometimes this is a great way to get out if you're short on time or you don't have any gear with you. There are a few steps you can take to make sure your hike is a really good one.
1. Get the right shoes
Hiking isn't any fun without comfortable shoes. Ill-fitting shoes can rub on your feet and give you blisters as well as just be plain uncomfortable to wear. You don't have to go out and spend $300 on fancy new hiking boots but you do have to find something comfortable to wear out on the trails.
2. Find some hiking buddies
Hiking alone is a tough one to recommend. It can be very peaceful and satisfying to wander the trails by yourself or with your dogs. That said, the most fun and fulfilling trips I've been on have been with good hiking buddies. Make sure your hiking partners are people that you get along with. Trips can quickly turn into an uncomfortable situation if you don't get along with your partners. I'll go into more depth later with tips for choosing your hiking partners and good places to find them.
3. Research a cool place
Before you go hiking, you need to know where you are going! You may have heard about good places to hike from other hikers, folks at the local outdoor store or from good local websites online. There are many good sources for leads on new and exciting trails to try out. Be careful with the information you hear though, a lot of it can be second hand and inaccurate. Ever play the game telephone when you were a kid? The more people the trail information goes through, the less accurate, it's likely to be. Try to double check your information as much as you can with books, websites, friends or other people you know so you know what you're getting into. Trails can be tricky things to find and it's good to have as much information as you can get before heading out.
4. Go explore
The most important step in the whole process. Exploring is the reason why a lot of people hike. It's hard not to feel free to do anything you want, to think whatever you want to think, to feel optimistic about the moment and the future. You'll probably want to pay attention to where you're going though. I highly recommend taking some sort of map with you when you go hiking, even if it's around a place that you know well. Who knows when you'll decide (voluntarily or involuntarily) to take a different track or go somewhere you haven't gone before. Any number of things can change when you're out in the woods and you'll never know when you really need that map to get home. Don't let that scare you though, with a map and a few good habits to get into on the trail you'll be adventuring around unexplored territory and making it back safely in no time.
5. Get home safely
Mountaineer Ed Viesturs has a saying that has kept him alive over many years of dangerous hiking and mountaineering in the high alpine. Getting to the top is optional. Getting down is mandatory. You may not be summitting 8000 meter high mountains but any hike you can on can become dangerous if you're out in bad conditions and you're not prepared. As satisfying as it can be to reach your objective and take in the beautiful sites, they're not worth anything if you don't make it back. Make sure you always keep your priorities in the back of your mind when you're out hiking and you shouldn't run into any problems.
7. Share your adventure
Aside from exploring beautiful unknown places, my favorite part of adventuring is sharing the trip with others. With websites, blogs, forums or email it's so easy to share photos and writing about your trips. Many people will find reading your stories and looking at your photos exciting. They may not be able to get out there themselves. Hopefully those that see your stories and photos will be inspired to go hike the trail themselves and then share their story. By sharing your information with everyone, you'll be passing on first hand knowledge of the places you've been which is extremely valuable information to the next person that wants to visit that place. The next time you're looking for information about a trail or place, take note about what you found. If it was extremely hard to find maybe you should add it to an easier to find place for next time.
Now you've seen a few steps to get you started hiking. You don't necessarily have to do every single one (getting home safely is required) but it helps to at least think about all of them before you head out on to the trails next time.