My Top 5 Recommendations for New Hikers
I will be the first to admit that it can be intimidating to start hiking seriously – especially when going solo. Along my own hiking journey, I have learned many lessons that have made me stronger and more confident. Below are the top 5 lessons I learned that prepared this Big Boi to get on (and stay on!) the trail!
5 – Embracing Trekking Poles
While my body can bring me up any mountain and cross as many miles as I ask it to, the reality is that as a larger person hiking has more impact on my joints. Luckily, trekking poles exist. Using quality trekking poles builds my confidence and helps to lessen the likelihood of injury on the trail.
I take my poles with me on virtually any hike I go on – whether it’s 3 miles or 20, up a mountain or just on a stroll through the local park. Seriously, I think trekking poles can solve almost all problems associated with being outdoors. 3 inches of ice or uneven terrain? Trekking poles won’t let you down. Want to use fewer tent poles? Trekking poles will keep the ceiling off your head. Trail running fiance who likes run downhill? Trekking poles will help you keep up without rolling down the hill like a loose boulder.
Recently, I have been converting all of my friends and family to the trekking pole life. I hope their (and your) ankles, knees, and backs thank them (you) as much as mine do.
*This was the first big hike I used poles for. For any other aspiring CDT hikers – this section overlooking Butte, MT is a gorgeous piece of trail. Exposed quartz galore.
4 – Fueling Right
Throughout my life, I have constantly been told by doctors, well-meaning friends, and the media that the only thing I should care about when exercising and eating as a larger person is losing weight. Not only does the research show that this approach is ineffective – but also dangerous and leads people towards developing unhealthy relationships with exercise and food. It is so hard to get out of the diet/forced weight-loss culture mentality and remember that your body needs real fuel while hiking.
Many of the most respected fueling recommendations for thru-hiking involve trying to eat between 100-150 calories per hour of hiking (in addition to meals). This was such a hard concept for me to grasp. I constantly under-fueled and over-hiked when I first started in an attempt to shed some more pounds. This would leave me feeling tired, weak, and less capable while hiking.
These days, my favorite hiking snacks are the things that I would have balked at years ago. Calorie-dense snacks like cashews, dried fruit, and granola keep me feeling strong and ready to hit the dirt on trail. Or, if you want to get wild and crazy, some backpackers pesto made of dried cheese powder, olive oil, and dried oregano on bread/pita. Stay fueled folx – we all gotta hit those protein and fiber macros!
*As a new hiker, remembering to bring a day pack full of the 10-essentials and lots-o-snacks can be the difference between hiking a few miles or passing double digits.
3 – Staying Hydrated
Speaking of fuel, we certainly can’t forget hydration. It is no secret that I love both a good cup of locally roasted french press coffee to start the day and a Long Trail Ale to end it – especially after a long hike or to celebrate a big summit. Yet, I have come to learn that overdoing it on either can mess with my ability to have a strong hike the next day.
Avoiding accidental self sabotages is extra important on multi-day trips. I greatly reduce the amount of caffeine I drink leading up to major hikes (don’t get rid of it all though – I am not looking for the caffeine headaches) and switch to NA beer (I have tons of recs for anybody interested). These slight habit adjustments allow me to maintain my rituals while making sure my bod stays ready and hydrated for the next adventure.
*No cans were left on public lands after this photoshoot.
2 – Appropriate Gear
Wearing gear that is good quality and meant for the conditions I am going out in has greatly expanded the number of hikes I am able to go on – and has extended the seasons in which I hike.
It is not an open secret that the outdoor industry has had a murky past with making clothes for people with divergent body types. For context: I wear a size large at old navy and a 2XL from outdoor brands like Cotopaxi and Patagonia – and that is pushing it sometimes (shoutout to the massive hole in my Cotopaxi windbreaker from where a seam split). That isn’t even considering that folx who wear sizes 2XL+ often have ZERO options when it comes to outdoor gear. When I can find gear that fits, it often isn’t flattering. When I first started my outdoor journey this kept me from wearing appropriate rain/cold/hot/wind gear because I didn’t want to look frumpy.
We need to hold the outdoor industry accountable for making more (and better) plus-sized gear. But in the meantime, I had to recognize that I needed to ditch the cute joggers that always made me overheat, in exchange for more weather-appropriate – if less cute – gear. After all, I would rather be safe than take the perfect picture for Instagram.
*I am not thrilled with how I look in this photo – but you know what – how you look is the least important thing when post-holing through 2 feet of fresh powder.
1 – Hiking my Own Hike (HYOH)
I know I am not alone in wanting to be the best at something I do immediately. This innate desire hit me like a brick wall when I started hiking. I dove straight into hiking media (the outdoor podcast world is doing it better than any other industry) and developed some really unrealistic expectations of immediately being able to do 20 mile days with thousands of feet in elevation gain – having my Instagram feed be full of professional ultra-endurance athletes and FKT holders certainly didn’t help.
This had a huge impact on my perception of what a successful hike was. For example, right after I moved to Montana my fiance and I tackled a local summit. Our non-elevation-adjusted butts were huffing and puffing up the mountain when a trail runner ran right past us – she wasn’t even sweating. Rather than recognizing that she lives here and probably does this run a couple of times a week, I let the experience ruin my confidence and make me think that my hike was a failure. In the past, I have even avoided hiking during high-traffic hours or having friends hike with me to avoid feeling embarrassed about needing to hike at a slower pace.
Luckily, the hiking community is one of the most supportive and embracing that I have ever seen. As I began to follow more people in the outdoor world who looked like me, it helped me to better embrace the Hike Your Own Hike mentality. Embracing this mentality is definitely easier said than done and I am lucky to have a great therapist help me continue to work out the kinks.
Now, I try to view every hike as a success – even the ones I need to bail on or cut short. After all, hiking has shown me that my body can take me to the top of any summit and cross land like a champ.
*Mt. Helena is a great lil’ hike for anybody in the area.
Learning From the Trail
One of the best things about hiking is how much it teaches you about yourself – on and off the trail. Ultimately, the trail will be your best teacher and guide to become a stronger hiker. However, I hope you can learn something from my experiences that will help you to start up with a leg up – and avoid the MANY mistakes that I have made along the way.
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