During the four months that the coronavirus pandemic has sequestered much of the population within their houses, more and more people have turned to the outdoors to alleviate the isolation of being stuck inside. Local trails have seen a huge spike in visitation; Colorado Parks and Wildlife, for example, saw a 30 percent increase in visitation at its parks in April 2020 versus the previous year. In addition to the evidence on the trails, more and more people are taking to the internet to research hiking and get into the activity. In July, the term “hiking” reached its all-time high in Google search interest, while “hiking near me” and “hiking trails near me” reached their all-time high in May. With interest in hiking at its peak, we’ve compiled five tips for new hikers to get out on the trails responsibly and safely.
1. Get out Early
Hiking, whether it’s deep in the wilderness or at the trail just across the street, is often a tactic to find solitude outside. The best way to avoid crowds and ensure you can experience the wild peacefully is to plan your hike for early in the morning when many of your fellow hikers are still hitting the snooze button. This is also a great tactic in the summer to avoid the oppressive heat of the midday sun. For those really seeking the serenity of the wilderness, planning mid-week excursions rather than hitting the trails on the weekends can help thin the crowds.
2. Leave No Trace
There are seven generally accepted Leave No Trace principles, with five that directly apply to new hikers. Planning ahead and being prepared helps set you and your group up for success, which in turn can help minimize resource damage. Rangers often tell stories about hikers who encountered unexpected conditions or didn’t plan their route and damaged the natural environment as a result. Always try to travel on durable surfaces; while extended backcountry expeditions may require forging your own path, it’s advisable to walk on designated trails whenever possible to minimize destruction of the land or waterways. Disposing of waste properly is also imperative, it’s as easy as remembering to pack out whatever you pack into the woods. In turn, hikers should leave what they find in the wild. Picking flowers or grabbing rocks as keepsakes may seem harmless, but it can have a detrimental effect on the landscape. When encountering wildlife, as tempting as it may be to try and capture a quick photo, trail users should keep their distance and refrain from disturbing any animals they find. Human presence can disturb and agitate wildlife, and, in turn, getting too close to animals can often result in injury to humans.
Always leave behind a detailed itinerary of your hiking objective with someone at home. That way, if anything goes wrong and you’re cut off from contact with your loved ones, they have a foundation to work with when trying to locate you.
There’s no shame in being over prepared for a hike. Pack that extra water bottle, bring additional food, and make sure you have another warm layer. It’s always better to bring things along that you don’t use, rather than not having them available should you need them, especially for novice hikers. As you gain more experience and build up a routine, you’ll be able to thin out your supply cache, but at first, cover all of your bases.
Weather is the biggest factor in turning a pleasant hike into a scary one. Be sure to check the weather forecast for the area you’ll be hiking in, and for the time period you’ll be there. Bring along the proper gear—jackets, footwear, gloves—to prepare for a turn in the weather. Also, look for signs of bad weather while on the trail; if the sky turns dark and you still haven’t reached the mountain summit, it might be time to bite the bullet and turn around. The mountain isn’t going anywhere, and you’ll have a much better time when you reach it if you’re not worried about getting struck by lightning.