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Take a Hike: Tips & Resources to Take with You

May 10, 2017 02:00PM ● By Becca Newell
By Becca Newell

Now that summer is in sight, we’re making a conscious effort to enjoy more of the great outdoors, particularly all of the hiking trails throughout our state and beyond. For those who aren’t frequent trail travelers, it’s important to know there’s a major difference between a leisurely hike along a paved route and hiking—rigorous walking, and sometimes scrambling (more on that later!), along a dirt and rock laden path.

Before my trip last fall to Old Rag Mountain (located in the Blue Ridge Mountains of the Shenandoah National Park in Virginia), I was unaware of the latter. A hike, to me, was basically a walk in the woods. And while that definition is fitting to some outdoor excursions, it’s not always entirely accurate.

With appropriate preparation, both types of trails are safe, fun, and encourage physical (and mental) health and fitness. Here’s our know-before-you-go guide to hiking—whether it’s along an asphalt pathway or scaling a mountain.

What is Scrambling?

While it’s not technically considered climbing, scrambling is far from walking. Typically occurring amongst rocky terrain, scrambling involves maneuvering through a trail with the use of your hands to help pull, or push, your body through—and along—a steep gradient. For the most part, ropes and other climbing gear aren’t used.

Other Terms to Know

Hiking has more subsets than just scrambling. Below are other terms you might’ve heard.

Mountaineering – Generally speaking, mountaineering is hiking or climbing in a mountainous environment. Winter mountaineering, also known as Alpinism, refers to more difficult climbs along higher altitude mountains, typically covered in ice and snow.

Trekking – A combination of hiking and walking over multiple days along an undeveloped, often mountainous, area.

Hillwalking – Most common in the United Kingdom, hillwalking describes a walk through a hilly countryside.

Bouldering - Climbing short boulders without the use of ropes or harnesses. A safety mat is placed under the climber in case of a fall or, in some cases, the climbing occurs over water.

Free Climbing – Climbing a rock face with only your hands and feet, however, pegs (placed in the rock face) and ropes are used to protect against falls.

Free Solo Climbing – Also called Free Soloing, this takes free climbing one step further and removes the use of a harness, rope, or other safety equipment. Falls can result in fatalities.

Hiking for Health

An hour of moderate hiking with a backpack burns about 500 calories—although that number could easily increase by hiking at a greater intensity, whether that entails a faster pace, a steeper level of incline, or carrying a heavier backpack. Research suggests frequent exercise, including even the mildest hike, contributes to reducing the risk of heart disease, lowering high blood pressure, preventing obesity, reversing the negative effects of osteoporosis, and decreasing anxiety.

Forest Bathing

In 1982, the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries began promoting a practice called Shrinrin-yoku—or “forest bathing”—that is said to promote a general feeling of wellbeing, among other health benefits. The discipline involves being outside (whether it’s a forest or park; any place that isn’t an urban dwelling) and consciously absorbing your natural surroundings through sight, smell, and sound. A 2010 study across 24 forests in Japan found that the forest environment promoted a lower pulse rate and lower blood pressure than a city environment. While forest bathing is a separate entity from hiking, recognizing and appreciating your natural surroundings while getting some physical exercise is sure to offer similar psychological and physiological perks.

Check out our favorite trails!

What to Pack

Since you’ll be carrying everything with you, it’s important to pack light. Stick to essentials only and be sure you’re comfortable with the weight of your backpack before you hit the trail.

  • Water (rule of thumb: three quarts per person per hike, with extra in the car for your return)
  • Food (non-perishable, calorie-dense, high-protein snacks)
  • Tissues
  • Plastic Bag (for trash, even the biodegradable kind!)
  • Sunscreen
  • Chapstick (with SPF)
  • First Aid Kit

Wherever you choose to hike, remember to research the area before you go. Old Rag Mountain, for example, warns against the potential of encountering black bears. Although none were spotted along my route, it’s good to be aware of your surroundings. Most state parks have ample information available online.

Other reminders:

  • Before hiking, check the park’s website and social media pages for any trail closures or alerts.
  • It’s also beneficial to take a look at any park maps and/or guides.
  • Plan for the hike to take longer than suggested.
  • Follow the markers; stay on the trail.
  • If taking your pets, be sure the trail is dog-friendly.
  • After your hike, check yourself thoroughly for ticks

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