Everything About Hiking
This page is a project to create the most comprehensive body information about various topics within hiking. In general, hiking is one of the best ways to exercise that there can be if you do it right. When it is done the right way, risk of injury is minimal. The cost is also as low as just about any other type of regular exercise or sport. Hiking is social and can be done with friends. It is also something that can be quite educational as we learn a lot about nature when we are out in the parks. Being outdoors can also be a very meditative experience.
Why Walking is Such Great Exercise
Walking is great because it gets your heart rate up, and counts as aerobic exercise, while at the same time it carries probably the lowest risk of injury of any type of exercise there can be. Also, because it is exercise, it is a natural stress reliever. Swimming and biking are also considered to be low-injury exercises, but finding a swimming pool isn't always easy or convenient, and while biking is easy on your knee joints, accidents do occur and they flying off a bike can be pretty bad, especially if you consider the risk of crashing the bike in a city or any road.
When considering the injury risk of any exercise, you must consider the long-term health effects via the wear and tear to the joints, as well as the risk you take during every moment of performing the exercise. Walking puts only light stress on your joints while the risk of injury from a misstep is extremely low.
Benefits of Group Hiking
We are a site that specializes in group hiking and walking. There is a small difference between the two, but we mostly focus on creating a great hiking community. The great thing about being out in nature with a group of people is that there is safety in numbers in case you see dangerous wildlife, get injured or get lost. Additionally, walking and chatting can be great fun and even a pleasant way to meet people and make new friends.
Walking is Free!
Walking is 100% free while all other forms of exercise tend to cost money. Gyms charge large monthly fees. Swimming pools charge per-use fees. Team sports tend to require costly equipment that tends to get lost or worn out. Also, more intense sports tend to cause injuries which are costly via medical bills. Running is perhaps the only other exercise type which is equally free. Since we are a hiking site, we should mention that running does put more pressure on joints.
Different Types of Hiking
For something as simple as hiking there seems to be quite a number of different types of hiking with all sorts of different names to it. Lets try to de-confuse the related terminology although the differences between the types of walking or hiking are sometimes subtle.
- Walking - relaxed, leisurely paced, usually in the city, and typically not over 5 miles at a time
- Hiking - usually in a bigger park or somewhere outside the city, along a trail. Hikes tend to be longer in length than simple walking, and they tend to sometimes have significant elevation change, although obviously that is not a pre-requisite
- Backpacking - backpacking makes hiking seem like child's play. The backpacks are not ones that you typically see kids take to school. The backpacks that backpackers use are gigantic bags that must fit all your food, water and other items to help you survive for days in the outdoors.
- Trekking - similar to trekking in that it is walking out in the country somewhere, but usually for longer distances and periods of time. If you are trekking or doing extreme hiking, you may also be interested in taking a look at an article about different kinds of camping tents for different types of hikes.
- Urban Hiking - city hikes, usually with some theme like seeing a historic or artistic structure, or simply a social event
Different Places to Hike
There are many types of parks:
- National Parks and Forests
- Wilderness Areas
- State Parks
- County Parks
- Cities and Urban Areas
Hiking and Trail Terminology
In theory, you can hike or walk anywhere. So probably the biggest, most encompassing and unambiguous terms are globe and country. After that, things get a little bit fuzzy so you should understand the differences between every possible place where you can hike, and how it is termed.
There are three kinds of very general areas where anything can happen. You can walk, hike, or simply see a bird from your window while hanging out at home. For that reason we want to take extra care to break down all the details:
- General space - can contain a cities, parks, general places. It is important to make that distinction because limiting hikes to cities or parks doesn't always make sense
- City can contain
- General places where people can spot wildlife or various nature (yes, this is still possible in cities)
- Parks (can be inside cities or not) - can, but do not necessarily contain
- A main address
- A system of trails - one or more trails that may or may not loop or connect to each other
- Trailhead(s) - beginning points of trails where bathrooms and parking lots may or may not be located
Preparing for a Hike
Before going on a hike, these are the things you should prepare:
- Hiking food
- Hiking clothes
- Know the weather
- Have the right hiking boots or shoes
- Have an area map
- Possibly have a GPS unit to make sure you are not lost
- Photo Camera to Take Pictures
This is an under-emphasized subject when it comes to wandering around in the outdoors, especially if you are part of a group outing. Trailheads can have from none to many parking spots for cars, bathrooms, and other facilities such as a souvenir store where you can also find maps of the trails. When planning a hike, it is important to understand the differences between trails and trailheads.
We maintain a community-created trailhead map where people anywhere in the world can add trailheads they know of, or look up trailheads they might be interested in. If you'd like to learn more, you can visit the trailhead database.
Taking Hiking Photos
You don't have to be a master photographer to take great hiking photos. Here are some very simple tips to help you take some nice and memorable pictures of your trips. First of all, try to distinguish between the types of photos you want to take. If you want to take beautiful landscape photos, you might want to give some thought to and experiment with angles from which to take your pictures. If, on the other hand, you want to capture different wildlife, you have to make sure you keep your camera handy and be ready to take photos fast. Animals and birds won't site there and wait for you.
Another thing to remember is that you should take many photos. The LCD screen of your digital camera does not show a 100% copy of how the picture will turn out once you upload it to a computer or print it. So the more pictures you take, the more likely you will have some great hiking photos. If you'd like to learn more about taking pictures while outdoors, take a look at our page about taking hiking photos.
Hiking GPS Gadgets
If you are really going to be out in the woods, you may want to bring along a GPS device (the modern day compass) to tell you where you are and where you should be going. Being lost in a very large park or a wilderness area can quickly turn a fun and recreational experience into a life-threatening one. It also makes it fun to map out your hikes if you like to write about them.
For long hikes in wilderness or large open space preserves, it is a good idea for your safety to bring along a GPS (global satellite positioning) unit. It can help prevent you from getting lost and help you worry less about directions and focus on having fun. We have a page dedicated to hiking GPS where you can learn more about the benefits of bringing along a GPS unit and how to increase your safety.
Spotting Nature and Wildlife
People who enjoy being in the great outdoors are usually fans of nature preservation and conservation. They tend to enjoy spotting various flowers, seeing birds, and sharing the stories from their trails. We are trying to make this easy by creating a few maps for people to post what they saw and on which trails. Here are some of the maps. You can, and are encouraged to add to these as well.
The clothing that you choose to wear on your adventure should depend on these practical factors:
- Current weather conditions and the season of the year
- Weight you are already carrying since some gear can be quite heavy
- Difficulty of the trip (elevation change and distance)
- Type of terrain you are expecting
- Your preference
- Whether you will be in an area which has natural shade from the trees or not
- Your current health and injury status (we hope you are healthy)
- And of course, the level of style and flair you want to maintain at all times
Your shoes affect each and every step you take, and since we are discussing hiking, that figures to be many steps. You should put some thought into your choice of footwear since being comfortable and protected from injury are pretty important while on hikes. Hiking boots can come in all sorts of different shapes and sizes meant for different types of trips. If you are going out for a leisurely walk, any old shoe will do. For trail-walking you can probably wear sneakers or light hiking shoes. And for some serious trekking through difficult terrain you need heavy boots with great traction and ankle stabilization to help prevent risk of falling or injury.
For more information on choosing the proper boots, sneakers or sandals for your hike, you might want to read a detailed overview on when each option is appropriate at our page about hiking shoes.
Your socks can really make or break your experience. On a long outing, bad socks can give you blisters from repetitive rubbing. If you experience discomfort, you are likely to walk with less balanced technique and that puts you in danger of injury as well as puts extra pressure on your joints. Learn more about different hiking socks with different examples of socks for men, women and children, ad well as some ultra light socks to help your steps feel lighter.
Your pants can also make a great difference in the quality of your overall experience. When choosing the right kind of pants for your trip, consider the type of weather, length of your trip, and whether the terrain is rugged. If it is rugged, you will need your pants to offer you more protection in case you fall to help protect you from sustaining injury. Additionally, wet weather conditions require moisture resistant materials so that your pants do not stick to your skin and cause skin irritation from the wetness. For an in depth look at the different kinds of hiking pants appropriate at different times, take a look at the article and tips for choosing the right hiking pants.
Hiking shorts are great when the weather becomes hot and sunny. Many people get excited about the idea of getting a little tan on them too! Be aware that shorts do not give your legs as much protection from scratches or injuries as hiking pants would. Nevertheless, shorts are fun to wear. Take a look at our page dedicated to different kinds of hiking shorts.
It is a good idea to bring along a proper hat depending on hot or cold weather conditions. Cold conditions call for a warm hat that preferably covers your ears as well. In case of sunny weather it is a good idea to bring a hat that does not wobble as you walk, and gives you ample protection from the sun for your face, head, neck and shoulders. Take a look at our page about hiking hats for more information on the appropriate head gear to wear while in the outdoors.
Hiking and Trekking Jackets
When you plan a hike, you should consider the length of the hike in distance and time. If the hike is over a couple of hours long, the weather can change, especially as afternoon and evening approach. What you want out of the jacket you bring along is light weight so that it does not weigh you down, and one that can give you ample protection when you are forced to endure the elements, or even get caught in rain. For an overview of hiking jackets with ideas on what to wear and when, take a look at our hiking jacket overview.
Hiking Shirts and T-Shirts
When choosing a shirt for hiking, consider the color. Light shirt colors will attract less sun, and dark shirt colors will attract more sun. Modern shirts that are made for the outdoors are often made of advanced synthetic materials that help in whisking away water and moisture from your body. That helps to not weigh you down and keep fatigue levels to a minimum. If you want to know more about the topic of shirts for the outdoors, please take a look at our hiking shirt page.
Here is a guest blog post we have on our site about some interesting things not to forget to bring along or think about on your hike.
Make Money Hiking
Yes, you can even make money while being in nature and getting exercise. You can lead hikes and ask for a fee or donation. You can also create maps or guides about where to go. Take a look at the many ways to make money hiking.
Hiking and Travel
Hiking is also a great and inexpensive activity anyone can do during their travels. Just about any country in the world has a number of great forests, deserts, or mountains that are a real adventure to hike through. It is popular among travelers because it often offers unforgettable experiences while being budget-friendly. Students love to travel the world, seeking places like Machu Pichu or the giant Redwood Forests of Northern California. Here is a page discussing a few popular places to hike during a school break or after graduation.