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Growing up in Chicago, I considered myself a city girl through and through, a cultural connoisseur if you will. Our weekends consisted of checking out new bars and restaurants, going to a festival or show, and I’m embarrassed to say, even hanging out at the mall. Very rarely was getting outdoors part of the equation (although the weather and the flatlands of the Midwest may have had something to do with that).
But every place has its own vibe and Denver’s culture really is the outdoors. When I moved to Colorado, social gatherings were meet up for a hike and I had to learn to adapt. To be honest, I surprised even myself with how much I liked it and how much I now rely on nature to reset and recharge. What changed? And how can you learn to love hiking too? Let me tell you.
Start Slowly and Build Up Your Stamina – While it may seem intimidating, let me let you in on a little secret: hiking is just walking – anyone can do it. But it’s not a race so don’t expect to speed through it or do 10-milers overnight. I have a huge list of short hikes with epic payoffs and tend to choose hikes that reward you with a waterfall or incredible view that makes you feel like you earned it. Distance isn’t everything and there’s no shame in starting “easy” and pacing yourself. Humility is one of nature’s greatest gifts and there’s no better feeling than conquering something.
Choose Your Trail Wisely – Hiking is not like running on a treadmill at the gym – there are unpredictable variables like altitude gain or rugged terrain that only add to the thrill. That Mother Nature’s a wily one and can make even short hikes a challenge. When choosing a trail, you’ll want to consider the elevation, seasonality, and your fitness level. You’ll also want to think about distance. Ideally you’ll want a trail that’s not too far away or to leave early enough that you can get going. Generally, hiking is best done in the morning before the harsh midday sun rolls around.
Get Geared Up – Comfortable boots are your most important piece of gear and the main investment you should consider. The choices may seem overwhelming with a variety of styles, materials, cuts, and weights, so try a few on and see what feels right. Some offer more ankle support, while others are ultralight and designed for longer or shorter jaunts. Some are waterproof, some are not. Blisters can really kill a vibe so you want boots that are snug but not tight, yet leave enough room for the socks you plan to wear. Called “the best hiking boots ever made” by Backpacker Magazine, Merrell has been my go-to hiking boot since I first got outfitted for my first big trek to Machu Picchu. Beyond looking cute and rugged, they’ve always served me well and lasted for years.
Do Your Homework – A little preparation can go a long way when you’re getting started hiking. Research where you’re going and basic hiker etiquette like who has the right of way on the trail. Know the terrain, the general route, how crowded the area might be, and if dogs are allowed. Check the weather, bring enough water, and pack layers.
Dress Wisely – It’s important to dress for the outdoors, which means breathable athletic wear vs. street clothes like jeans which are heavy and can chafe. I prefer long pants even in summer since temperatures are generally cooler in the mountains and they’ll keep you from getting scrapes and scratches if you brush up against anything. It’s generally also a good idea to always keep a rain jacket handy.
Pack it Up – Unless you’re doing more than a day hike, you don’t really need to carry anything beyond a small backpack and you’ll be much happier with a lighter pack. You should always have the essentials like sunglasses, sunscreen, bug spray, snacks, and a basic first-aid kit (better to be safe than sorry). Hydration bladders are nice to have and trekking poles are also personal preference, but generally unnecessary unless you’re doing more intense mountaineering with steep altitude gain or slippery/wet terrain.
Don’t Go Alone (at First) – Hiking can be a great solitary activity, but it’s also a great social outing. Find a meetup group or bring a friend, loved one, or a furry companion until you’re comfortable on your own. Everything’s more fun (and safe) with others around. Plus, they can keep you motivated and help with photos. At the very least, always tell someone where you’re going. Have fun and leave no trace!
Can’t wait to get started? Zappos’s got you with fast, free shipping so you can get your new hiking boots in time for the weekend. Order a few pairs to see which you like — they have free 365-day returns if they don’t fit perfectly.
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