Hiking - Charlotte/Piedmont Areas Message Board › Preparing for Moderate and Strenuous Hikes

Preparing for Moderate and Strenuous Hikes

David K.
user 10152839
Group Organizer
Mooresville, NC
Post #: 73
I often get emails from new members and those who are just getting back into hiking after time away regarding how to prepare for hikes they are not in condition for or familiar with. While I'm no exercise physiologist, I have learned a thing or two over the years (sometimes the hard way) about how to get this 52 year old, rather sedentary body ready for some of the more strenuous hikes we do. I'll offer some advice here and ask the membership to add replies, if warranted.

First is equipment:

  • Shoes - usually a good hiking shoe is recommended for our hikes. The key is finding a comfortable, lightweight shoe with a sturdy bottom to avoid poking by rocks and roots. A mildly lugged, no-slip sole is helpful, too. You don't have to spend much, either. I have two pairs of Walmart "Ozark Trail" boots that cost me $30. They've lasted years, are well-constructed, and comfortable for me. However, whatever you buy consider the ankle height, waterproofness, cushioning, and fit on your foot that will not cause you problems during a few hours of walking. You want to be very sure the shoes do not slide on your feet which can cause blisters, bruised toes, and twisted ankles.
  • Clothing - always consider temperature when dressing. You will heat up greatly, even in cold weather. Light layers work well. Shorts are usually fine, but for any bottom, be sure they fit snug to avoid slipping. You don't want to spend the day constantly readjusting your pants. Avoid low crotches as they will rub your thighs unpleasantly. I HIGHLY recommend spending a few bucks on the new moisture-wicking shirts. For $7-15 at Walmart or Target, you can get a high-tech t-shirt to wear as a top or under shirt. It will keep you cool and dry as opposed to cotton which can chafe and stay wet.
  • Carrying gear - this is entirely up to the individual. I carry a light backpack that holds the essentials without weighing me down. Otherwise, just give some thought to what you want to carry and how to minimize weight and bulkiness. Also, consider how hot your back will get over the hike.
  • Etc. - look at others and see how they equip themselves. Ask questions and see what they think and why they did. Lots of great advice from experienced hikers out there.

Now, let's talk about prepping your body. I have done it myself and often see someone who poops out early on the trail. It's a terrible feeling to see everyone else chugging along while you are feeling like you're going to pass out right on the trail. As the group gets farther ahead, you feel like you need an ambulance.

Your overall conditioning, including weight, is a major factor for some, but not all. Looks can be very deceiving in this regard, but most people I know agree that the less you are carrying around, the easier the hiking becomes. Of course, we love that people participate in our hikes to get back in shape, but no one knows your body any better than you, so be realistic on what you can handle. Read the event descriptions as to the type of hike it is and create your expectations accordingly. Just to inform:

  • Easy hike / Walk - is flat terrain or very gentle slopes. Distance is usually 3-6 miles at a slower pace. Trails are paved or flat with few obstructions.
  • Moderate hike - some elevation changes, either up or down. Distances are usually 5-10 miles. Trails include rocks, roots, water passage, and/or steps. Slopes are not very steep or long, but enough to stress the body and raise the heart rate.
  • Strenuous hike - Steep inclines up or down. Distances are usually 5 miles and up. Trails can be treacherous. Mostly due to long and steep climbs and/or long sets of steps that stress hips, knees, and ankles.

Here are a few suggestions for getting your body ready for the day.

  • Start early - you should start prepping your body for the event 2-3 days before, NOT the morning of!! This means eating and hydrating to get your body ready. Eat well with low glycemic index carbs, such as barley, beans or sweet potatoes and protein. Sometimes I will drink a quart of Gatorade during each of the preceding 2 days to avoid cramping and get the minerals in. Drink lots of water at all times, but stop well before you go to bed the night before.
  • The day of the hike - Eat and drink lightly. Too much food will weigh you down and your body will redirect needed energy from your muscles to your digestive tract. A granola bar or egg sandwich should do the trick. Better to snack lightly along the trail than to fill up on the way. I don't like to drink much water on the way to the hike to avoid having to pee all day. I also don't do fruit in the morning as the energy and fullness leaves too quickly.
  • Etc. - Again, you know your body. . . stretch, warm up, loosen your knees and ankles, empty your body of all wastes. At the risk of being very graphic here, I will mention the value of a good body cleanse. Many people are carrying around several pounds of excess waste products that makes you feel heavy and run-down. Getting rid of that can make a huge difference in how you feel and your ability to exert yourself freely. I've also see people who get into a strenuous hiking situation for the first time and that stuff decides that is the time to make it's way out of the body (hey, just sayin'). Better to take care of it well before-hand and avoid the hassle! Just think of what you are putting your body through and consider steps needed to minimize injury and exhaustion.

Well I hope that helps somewhat and at least begins a conversation. If you have questions, other ideas, or want to dispute anything I've said, feel free to post a reply. Until then, good hiking!
Scoggin J.
user 54576842
Charlotte, NC
Post #: 5
Thank you David for all the good advice !
A former member
Post #: 1
Wow Dave...you gave me a lot of food for thought....a lot of useful stuff here to digest not only for this hike, but others I am considering. I really appreciate you taking the time to school us as I was apprehensive about going due to some of my ignorance about hiking and now I am really looking forward to going one day with you guys.
user 66844982
Charlotte, NC
Post #: 7
Great tips; thanks for sharing them.
A former member
Post #: 10
Thanks so much, David. Lots of useful information. You mentioned the importance of boots that don't allow your foot to slide around. I wanted to build on that for anyone who is considering hikes that have steep downhill terrain. On level ground, your boots may not feel like they are too loose but when you are walking down a steep grade, the angle and gravity can change a comfortable shoe into a painful one. if your toe slides forward enough to hit the shoe, you may injure your foot and/or have a painful hike. I'm not pushing REI but they have fake boulders in their shoe sections that allow you to test your boot in that environment. They can also advise you of ways to lace a boot that works really well for you most of the time but on steep slopes becomes a little uncomfortable. I have a really narrow foot with a high instep and arch. I tried on dozens of boots with the help of the REI person before finding just the right one. It was well worth my time and money to go from painful hikes to painless ones. I'm really grateful for the training and expertise of the person at REI. Wherever you buy, think about the kind of hiking you plan to do and get a boot that will serve you well in those circumstances. Hope this is helpful.
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