We are entering the dog days of summer and with the heat and humidity encountered by much of the country this time of the year certain changes should be made when deciding to go on a strenuous hike. Since the doctor put me on testosterone therapy I have been feeling some of my energy coming back and as such I have begun getting back to some of the hikes that I used to enjoy so much. Whether they are in the Everglades of Florida, the Hills of Wyoming or the lately the mountains of Alaska, I have found the tips I am about to share have made my hiking adventures much more enjoyable. The unfortunate part is that these hiking tips are really meant to light a fire under asses of some friends who as I get more fit have decided that the hikes have become more demanding. To them I say put down that frick’n cheeseburger, hit the gym and follow this hiking tips so you will be sad that the hike is over and not “thank god, there is my car!”
One of the first tips I suggest for hiking in the summer and fall is to check the weather. Why people want to start a hike when the sun is already high in the sky is beyond me. Starting a hike at dawn or even an hour or two before the sun begins to hit the horizon is perfect. You not only get a good portion of the hike during the cooler morning hours but you can also quite often see a brilliant sunrise from a good vantage point on the trail. Morning hours will also increase your chances of seeing wildlife along the trail as larger animals tend to be more active earlier in the morning and evening hours. Living in Florida I have gotten used the weather changing towards late afternoon so whenever I hike I try to go early so I’m on the way back by the time the afternoon rains come. If you are hiking a mountain trail you should understand the prevailing weather patterns for the time of the year and adjust accordingly.
If you plan on setting out on a hike well before dawn you may also want to check the phases of the moon and perhaps plan for a full moon hike. One of my all time favorite hikes was in the Himalayas of Nepal. We set out a bit after midnight with a brilliant full moon on a hike that would place us at the top of a small peak called the Kala Patthar just above Mt. Everest base camp. The sunrise was something I will never forget as the summit of Everest, Pumori and several other high peaks lit up like heaven as the sun rose in the east.
The second tip to an enjoyable summer hike is to travel light. I’m not saying to do ultra light hiking, but you shouldn’t weigh yourself down with unnecessary items, especially in the heat of the day. Plan your hike and what you will need for that particular hike. If clean water is readily available along the trail it will be that much less you need to carry. What is the weather forecast? Do you need rain gear of a jacket? Is help available in case of an emergency or do you need to be self contained? These are a few questions you should ask yourself when planning what to take on a day hike. If the chance of Hypothermia is minimal then you can take a very light rain suit or poncho in case of sudden storms. Do you get cell service? If so then you may need only the most minimal of first aid kits. If you are hiking a popular trail in your area you can be pretty certain someone will be coming by soon and by sticking to well marked trails the need for extra navigational devices is reduced. Perhaps one person carries a GPS another carries the first aid kit while another may take a water filter. The key concept to all these tips to a good day hike is planning.
The third and final tip for a great day hike is understanding what you want to accomplish for that day. Where do want to go and set a comfortable pace that will get you there are a certain time, allowing you to enjoy the day and getting you back on schedule. Remember to always let others know of your plans; it’s just common sense and one of the best safety precautions. Plan your water and food consumption in conjunction with how far you plan on hiking and the anticipated conditions. I always try to do more strenuous hikes with those that are all in the roughly the same physical shape so no one feels they are being held back or holding the group back. For a shorter hike, who the heck cares, just having fun with friends is enough.
You should already know about clothing and layering, proper precautions against the bright summer sun as well as what types of material wick moisture from the body and which make you feel wet and icky all day. What foods give you energy and are relative light and easy to carry and how much water you will need. The serious day hiker already has his or her favorite hiking or trail shoes as well as the socks that are most comfortable while keeping your feet dry.
Many hiking articles will tell you what sunscreen to wear, what hiking pole to use yada yada yada. My philosophy is that if you are reading this article, you already have favorite equipment, shoes, sunglasses etc, and just want to fine tune your hike. You may just be considering turning a 5 mile day hike into a 10 mile one and just need to tweak you’re approach a bit. This article is for you and hopefully others will comment on this and add their experiences to inform others. Any day above ground is a great day, so get out there and enjoy it!