Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Take a day hike: Special tips for the plus size hiker

You’ll love it, so don’t hesitate one more minute. Start planning your next hike now!

Always hike with a friend. Recruit friends that enjoy your speed. Talk about it ahead of time. Don’t assume that your smaller friends won’t love your pace. I don’t really understand those people who run the trails. I like to enjoy nature and so do many others. A great piece of advice from family hikers is to always put the slowest hiker at the head of the line. It won’t always be you!

Join or start a group. I looked up “Hike” and my zip code at www.meetup.com and found at least 4 groups in my area. One group walks the paved Mississippi path from the PetCo parking lot near my house. From the reviews, it sounds like a fun group and they are looking for new people. (Please post any great groups you find—OR ARE STARTING- on our Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/pages/Junonia/141265146590.)

Travel Partners. If you are looking for a fantastic group to travel with as a solo or as a family be sure to check out Wilderness Inquiry. Their non-profit mission is to make the outdoors accessible to everyone, and they run lots of trips with people of all abilities to amazing locations in the U.S. and around the world. They usually base themselves at a friendly small hotel and day trip from there. I’ve travelled with them twice and both times had an amazing time. Everyone pitches in and these are the greatest people you’ll ever meet. Very safety oriented and not a whiner in the bunch. www.wildernessinquiry.org.

Buy great footwear. Depending on where you intend to hike, you’ll need waterproof boots; either a light hiker or full hiking boot. The ankle support is really important. They need to feel great when you buy them. Don’t count on breaking them in for comfort. However, be sure to put several hours in them ahead of any hike, just to make sure. Spend the time and money to get a great boot that truly fits you. They will last forever and become your best friends.

What to wear? Light and layered is the theme. As a larger person you will work up heat and you want to be able to strip down to a light wicking layer. But when you stop you’ll need to layer on a lightweight fleece top for warmth and a jacket for rain protection. You’ll also love those zip off pants. Leave the cotton tee shirts at home for anything more strenuous than and hour’s hike. They gather body moisture and don’t dry, leaving you wet and vulnerable to hypothermia or overheating. Click here to see Junonia’s hiking selection.

Hiking Poles. Not just for nerds anymore. They take about 20% of the pressure off your knees and provide a lot of stability on the trail, especially useful on the downhill and rocky paths. You’ll be amazed. Use two poles and be sure to practice on your home paths to get comfortable with them before tackling a more difficult trail. I love the telescoping poles that fit easily into a carryon bag or backpack. I used them on trails near Vail, CO and just loved them. Especially at the end of the day, coming back down a rocky path, they were great.

Stay on the path. 80% of injuries are when people go off-path. I saw this on a recent trip hiking in Scotland. Two experienced hikers decided to just cut the tangent when they took the wrong trail, and one got her foot caught in a boggy area and badly twisted her leg. They had to call the mountain patrol to get her down. She was only a half mile from the trailhead and a couple of yards from the trail, but….. She felt pretty silly as well as in pain.

Don’t know the area? Use out and back trails. Do NOT feel you have to do a loop to see more, as every trail looks different on the return. It is VERY important to set a turnaround time, so that you don’t end up on the trail tired, hungry and without sunlight to guide you back.

Learn the Rest Step. On a Wilderness Inquiry hike on the Olympic Peninsula there were lots and lots of steps because they used boardwalks to protect the environment. The guide taught me the rest step and it saved my bacon. Check it out at www.youtube.com by searching on “rest step hiking.” In short, on any uphill or stair, you step forward and allow your leg to fully extend to a straight leg before taking the next step. One person calls it the wedding march. It’s slower, but not by much, and it’s an amazing energy and knee-saver. The guide told me the very best technical climbers do this on the way to Everest.

Food and Water. You MUST drink and eat on the trail. Take more water than you think you’ll need. On one trail in Vail we thought we were on a beginner’s trail and found out later it was “advanced.” We were taking it slow and doing fine, until the day turned hot. Thankfully we met a lovely pair coming back down the trail. She was a doctor and took one look at us and gave us her excess water. Don’t count on that! Also, do NOT try to diet on the trail. You’ll need energy so enjoy fuel-intensive food on trail. Bring fruit, too, as they are also fluid intensive.

Backpack. Like your boots, the fit and comfort of your backpack is important. Look for padded straps and breathability on the back. A front strap can distribute some of the weight off the shoulders. Try it before buying –even load it up in the store. Make sure it is comfy and you can get it on and off with ease. Look for external water bottle holders for quick access. Don’t go too small. You won’t save much weight and you’ll want the flexibility to bring extra clothing, food, and safety gear. Pockets are good so you don’t need to dig to the bottom every time you stop.

Trust yourself. You’ll do fine. On one trip we were hiking way up a mountain to see the rare protected red macaw in the next valley. The path was steep and we were at a pretty high altitude. I was just coming off radiation treatments and I was tired. I knew I felt OK to do it, but I had to slow down. I could have stopped and waited, but I really wanted to see those birds! So I just said so, and a couple of people were actually very happy to slow down with me. We made it to the top just as flights of the rare birds circled overhead. Awesome. Later on that same trip I made a different decision and decided to NOT climb a Mayan temple for the view. Birds, yes, view, no! You’ll make good choices if you trust yourself.

GENERAL DAY HIKING TIPS:

Safety first. Bring a small emergency kit with matches, firestarters, bandages, multi-utility knife, anti-bacterial cream, sunscreen, insect repellent, headlamp/flashlight, water filter, emergency procedure manual, moleskin for blisters, twine, a foil emergency blanket, AND A CHARGED CELL PHONE. You may be able to get reception even in remote areas if you can get to a ridge. Know what poison ivy, oak and sumac look like.

Sign in at the trailhead. ALWAYS let someone know where you are going and when you expect to return. PLAN your turnaround time. It takes about the same amount of time to get down as to get up, and you’ll be more tired. You don’t want to be hiking in the dark.

Have a good map that shows elevations and distances. If using a GPS make sure you really know how to use it, and that the batteries are fresh. Old fashion compasses and good map reading skills are important.

NEVER HIKE ALONE. Buddy up with others on the trail. Two of us got lost one time, not being sure what trail we was on. Another couple came by, so we buddied up with them. We all figured we’d come out somewhere, and with four, we could split up to go back to a car without leaving anyone stranded alone. Turned out we WERE on the right trail, but we met a couple of very nice people. You’ll find other hikers to be very helpful and generous.

Don’t bring GLASS. Repack things into lightweight zip locks.

Bring the Field Guides that will enhance your hike: Birds, Flowers, Trees, and Mushrooms. Pack them in zip locks, too.

Put your water bottles in the freezer. Wool socks will keep them cool on the trail. Put extra frozen drinks into a cooler to have the car at the end of your hike. Bring a minimum of 2 quarts/liters per person on the trail. Drink BEFORE you are thirsty.

Bring a lightweight camera. Remember extra batteries and memory cards.

Create themes for your hikes. Spring Flower Photo Hike, a silent hike, a lunch pot luck hike, a bird count hike.

Stop often with shorter rest stops. Don’t wait until you are tired to rest.

Develop your routine. Create a CHECKLIST for packing. Re-check batteries and first aid kit before setting out. Pack food the day before.

Be sensitive. To the environment and other people’s enjoyment of it. Uses “leave no traces” techniques. Pack out ALL garbage, including pet waste and your T.P. in zip lock bags. Use hand sanitizer. Bring a trowel to dig human waste down to 6-8”, 200’ from water or campsites and disguise as best as possible. Be quiet, don’t disturb animals. Don’t feed animals. Keep your pets close and under control. Wash off gear and shoes when leaving an area so invasive species aren’t spread.

Horses on the Trail. Quietly step off the trail on the LOW side and FACE the on-coming horses so they know you are people and not scary backpacks. Do not make any quick movements or loud noises. Ask the riders for instructions.

Pack for unexpected weather. Check the forecast just before going, but don’t fully trust it. Have enough gear for the unexpected. Always bring warm and rain gear. A skullcap and gloves are important for warmth.

Thunder = Lightning. Take it seriously. If high, get below the tree line. Shelter under the shortest trees. Do not lie down. If in the open, make yourself as small and low a target as possible with your feet close together in a crouch. Stay away from water ponds or rivers. Stay away from metal including hiking poles and pack frames. Get into a sturdy building or hard-top car with the windows up. Avoid shallow caves or overhangs. If out in the open, spread out so there is no chance of spreading lightning sideways.

Respect the sun. Use and re-apply sunscreen and lip balm. Wear a hat. Use protective sunglasses. Burns are no fun and happen fast, especially at altitude.

Coming Home. You’ll feel great and be tired. The person in the passenger seat has a special responsibility to keep the driver engaged and alert on the way home. Live to hike another day!

-Anne Kelly

Founder and Chair

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