The beauty of hiking is that it is a sport that requires very little in cost, special equipment or uniform. However, three essential considerations that contribute to your comfort and physical well being when you hike are a must; 1. Quality Hiking Shoes 2. Water 3. Food
If there are any pairs of shoes in your closet that require quality and comfort it is your pair of hiking shoes. There is absolutely nothing worse than being 1-2 miles out on your hike and your feet already are screaming! Blisters and crunched toes are not fun.
The two most important things to look for when buying a hiking shoe are size and how it feels when you are hiking down hill. For me, anytime I’m hiking down hill the hike becomes much more physically challenging and this is especially true for the feet! When trying on a hiking shoe make sure you can walk “down hill.” A good outdoor recreational retail store will have a mock “mountain” in their shoe department which will allow you to test how the shoe feels going down hill.
Regarding the size of the shoe, If it feels uncomfortable in the store, it’ll really hurt on the trail, if it feels good in the store you should be good on the hike! When sizing your shoe remember that your feel swell after you have been on the trail awhile. If you are a size 11, chances are you will need at least an 11.5, maybe even a 12 when you try on a shoe at the store. Sock thickness plays into this as well, I prefer a very thin or no sock when I hike, that way when my foot swells a thick sock will not add to what the shoe needs to hold. You can also bring a pair or two of socks with you on the hike and change them as needed.
There are many brands out there, Merrill, Patagonia and Vasque all are quality names, however a shoe that feels good for one may not for another in the same brand. It is imperative that you shop for your hiking shoes in person, not online and not by someone else doing the buying for you. If you are getting hiking shoes as a gift, make sure you are at the store to try them on.
Another suggestion I would offer when buying a hiking shoe is DONT GET CHEAP! Quality absolutely does matter when it comes to hiking shoes and like most things of quality, the better the quality the higher the cost. The good news is a good quality pair of hiking shoes should last you awhile, at least two hiking seasons.
Hiking shoes come in low cut, mid cut and boot style. If you require more ankle support and hike rough trails, I would highly suggest a hiking boot, less rocky more compact trails usually only require a low or midcut shoe. Having said that every trail can offer you a turned ankle, so as always be careful as to where you step.
A good rule of thumb regarding the feet on a hike is to always bring with you over-sized band-aids for blisters, moleskin to cushion the front of the shoe if needed and make sure your toenails are trimmed down short so that your toes are not jammed up against the end of your shoe, especially going downhill.
When recently watching the morning news, a segment came on about hiking safety and tips by the San Diego Sheriff’s Search & Rescue Department on how to be prepared when you hike. First on the list of tips was to respect the heat when you hike and make sure you have enough water and are always hydrated as you hike. In fact, I was surprised to learn that the Sheriff’s Search & Rescue team are called to Cowles Mountain and Torrey Pines hiking trails many times due to emergency issues as related to heat and dehydration. Cowles is always hot when I hike it and a hike where I always consume a lot of water.
Heat plays a tremendous factor when you hike, it not only dictates how much water you should be consuming but the hotter it is the more likely your energy level will be tested. It also requires you take precaution against the sun and be prepared with sunscreen.
As far as how much water to take on a hike, a good rule of thumb is to drink 12-16 oz per hour, more the warmer it gets. On a recent hike to Mt. Woodson, which was roughly 7 miles and took nearly 5 hours on a 75 degree day, I drank nearly 100 oz of water, the Mt. San Antonio hike, which was 11.2 miles took 10 hours and low 80’s required 150 oz of water as well as a bottle of gatorade. Both hikes also required lot’s of sunscreen.
Fuel is a must in order to sustain energy on a hike. Fuel equals food! While you are hiking you should try and eat 300-500 calories every hour. Your body has a hard time digesting food while you are hiking, so make sure that you eat and drink small amounts more frequently. Load up on carbohydrates before you hike, potatoes for breakfast do very nicely the day of a hike. I always pack a lunch on any hike over 4 miles. Shorter hikes I take an orange or snack bar. Longer hikes I take all three. I heard someone mention on the Mt. Woodson hike that they expended 2000 calories of energy. I know when my son and I did a recent hike at Mt. Woodson, half of our motivation in getting to the summit lies in the awaiting lunch of tuna fish sandwiches, potato chips and a York Peppermint patty! We also brought along mixed nuts and oranges and as mentioned earlier plenty of water. A quality backpack is always a good idea, especially on long hikes so that you can carry all your essentials. especially food and water.
By paying attention to these three hiking musts, the Heat, your Feet and the need to Eat, you will assure that you maintain optimal phsical condition that will lead to a comfortable hiking experience and a healthy you!