What is Hiking? A Beginners Guide.
First and foremost, before you become instantly intimidated by the term ‘hiking’ and envision expeditions across the arctic, here’s how the English Oxford Dictionary defines hiking: “the activity of going for long walks, especially across country.”
Our apologies - that statement may have only added to your pre-hiking anxieties! Allow us to dissect that dictionary definition a little…
- It’s definitely an ‘activity’. We can confirm you will be active, and things will be happening, as an individual or as part of a group. Some may see it as a hobby in which they regularly partake in to keep fit, whilst others prefer to look upon it as a ramble (a walk for pleasure).
- ‘Across country’. Note, that’s not across an entire country; just a small section of it. Hiking happens outdoors and the surrounding settings and terrains tend to dictate whether it's hike-worthy or not.
- ‘Long’. This adjective begs the old-age question of 'when does a walk become a hike?' As far as we understand, (after incessant Googling), there is no technical stipulation, in terms of length, for what defines a hike. The elevation could determine a difference in opinion, and the duration definitely plays a part, but it’s inconclusive. Apparently, ‘tough hikes’ which take on mountain ranges can last for a few days but a few miles also seems acceptable. Then there's the term 'trekking' which sounds tedious, so we’ll discount this one for now.
Here at ACAI, we see hiking as an opportunity. An opportunity to explore. An opportunity to achieve. An opportunity to excel! And an opportunity to buy new hiking clothes…(you ought to look the part, after all).
Is Hiking a Sport?
We feel like a flow chart would’ve been useful here, to resolve this debate (maybe another time).
There are a lot of elements which attribute hiking to being a sport. For one, it involves physical excursion. And who’s to say hiking can’t be competitive? Individuals and teams could do time trials against the clock, creating pure entertainment for the thousands of fans lining the mountainside, surely? Is anyone else already thinking of a team name or is it just us?
Unfortunately, though, hiking is not classified as a sport. Yet, to us, sports are about enjoyment, participation and a sense of achievement. All of which can be accounted for on a hike, so…you can be the judge. Also, let’s be honest, if darts is a sport then rambling should be an Olympic event.
Benefits of Hiking
It surely can’t come as a surprise that hiking has a whole host of health benefits. We’re all often educated about how regular exercise, in any form, will do wonders for our well-being and wobbly bits. So, without any further ado, here are some of the key benefits of hiking:
- Increased Cardio - As a potential all-day activity, hiking is a powerful cardiovascular workout, said to improve blood pressure and sugar levels whilst lowering your risk of heart disease. What’s more is that because hiking is a weight-bearing exercise, it can boost bone density!
- Muscle Mass - As well as noticing your stamina increase with the more hikes you undertake, your overall muscular tone will sharpen, making your muscles more defined, especially in your legs and core. Your shoulders and lower back can also benefit too, if carrying a weighted backpack.
- Mental Health - It’s well documented how the great outdoors, nature and exercise can all improve your state of mind. Exposure to the elements makes you feel better emotionally. Your heart rate relaxes, stress hormones get to work and tension in your muscles subside. Allow the sounds, smells and sights to stimulate your senses, soothing and restoring your flow. Hiking is the ideal form of escapism.
Check out our World Mental Health Day blog from last year, for further insight.
How to Start Hiking
Your debut to hiking could be as simple as stepping out of your front door and wandering whichever way the wind blows. However, we’d advise some straight-forward forms of preparation beforehand.
- State-of-mind - The beginning of your hiking journey is where the biggest battle occurs. It’s the one in your mind! Peeling yourself off the sofa, or out of bed, to brave the outdoors, knowing your calves, hamstrings and glutes will no longer be your friends, is as daunting as it gets. But we believe in you and so should you!
- Experience - If you’re unfamiliar with the area you are hiking in, ask for the advice or expertise of a more seasoned hiker or do some research online. Although hikes are accessible for most, doing too much too soon could be a major mistake. Hiking along hillsides, atop mountains and out into the middle of nowhere can leave you exposed. No longer may you have the safety of a phone signal, the security of plain sight (due to quick changing weather conditions) or the comfort of body heat as the cold creeps in.
- Stretching - It would be irresponsible of us if we didn’t advise a little warm-up before you set-off hiking up those inclines. Lunges, squats and calf exercises are recommended, as well as the rotating and loosening of ankle joints and any other body parts you may not have used in a while.
- Comfort - Of course comfort is key. Naturally, with hiking, comes the fear of blisters. A possible prevention could be our Bamboo Hiking Socks. They are incredibly comfortable and are the perfect accompaniment to the correct kind of hiking shoes. Comfort can come in other forms too, so make sure you have snacks, water and the right attire for your adventure and all eventualities.
- Check-list - As with any adventure, a suitable check-list is imperative. Do your research and suss out the surrounding area, to help determine checkpoints and landmarks, in case of emergencies. Check the forecast and be sensible enough to delay your hike if extreme weather is expected. Also, always pack appropriately. You should include: a basic first aid kit, extra layers, sun protection, a torch, lighter or matches, additional battery for your mobile phone, a multitool and a physical map and compass (spend some time learning how to use them). Our friends at Get Outside Ordnance Survey also have some handy tips.
Hiking with ACAI
As daunting as it may be for some of you to embark on your first hike, for others it poses a new challenge to overcome. No matter which camp you are in, ACAI is here to help. Not only have we got you covered with our range of women's hiking clothes, designed by women for women, but also as a network for support and advice - no matter what, we’ve got you! So, why not find your first ever hike in our Hikes Hand-Picked By You blog?
Even if you feel completely overwhelmed by all of the above, we’d recommend at least going for a walk. Do it with a sense of pride and empowerment and let those endorphins erupt!
The next thing you know, you’ll be planning that expedition across the arctic.