Image description: A landscape image. Fay walks across the frame from the left to right. Fay is wearing pink leggings, black top, black hiking poles, blue backpack and black hat. They are hiking up a hill which is green/brown and grassy. In the background are stoney and rocky mountains. The sky at the top right of the frame is overcast with elements of blue sky breaking through to the left.
Hiking is without a doubt the foundation of many of the activities we do in the outdoors, so it makes perfect sense that we’d want to improve our experience of this. Below, Fay Doyle looks at some of the less obvious ways we can improve our time in the outdoors by improving our confidence as a hiker.
It might sound simple, but just simply getting out there and doing it will make you a better and more confident hiker. The more you are exposed to the different things that can happen on the trail, the more likely you are to know how to deal with or respond to those situations. This can remove a lot of the worry that can come with hiking. You will also start to get a better idea of how your body functions, your energy levels at certain times of the day, how you handle hills, heat, and everything in-between. This can also allow you to make more informed decisions when it comes to the kind of trails you want to try out all the way through to the kind of food you bring with you to keep you going. You don’t need to start with huge things, you can start off with smaller peaks, or shorter distances until you get a greater sense of what interests you the most.
If Possible, Work on Your Fitness Outside of Hiking
I know it isn’t always possible, but if it is, spending time walking or taking other cardiovascular exercise can really help to build up your stamina on the trail. Taking a 30 minute walk a few times a week (or this can also be divided into shorter walks if you’re short on time) can have a big impact over time. This can also be a great opportunity to find other forms of exercise you might enjoy. Maybe its tennis, maybe its swimming, maybe it’s rollerblading – they’ll all help when it comes to your time on trail and contribute to your greater sense of wellbeing.
Start Small and Enjoy the Journey
Wherever you are at with hiking and wherever you want to go to, starting small and building up is going to be much more achievable. When we set our minds to something, we often look at the overall. This can become incredibly overwhelming and often lead us to not taking any action at all. Breaking things down into manageable achievements is a great way to set yourself on the road to getting that sense of fulfillment. Perhaps it’s a case that you want to be able to hike a certain amount of distance or days. Building up over time will help you feel much more confident by the time you’re ready to take on that challenge you’ve got your mind set on.
Don’t Let Other People’s Opinions Define What You’re Capable Of
There is so much toxic behavior in the outdoors, from unsolicited comments on the trail, to people providing advice you didn’t even know you’d asked for online. I still have a hard time working out why people think that making a comment about your hike whilst on the trail is somehow a helpful thing – and there have been many times where frankly, those comments have made me feel like I want to turn around. There are also the many times when I was getting into hiking that I read ‘you should only undertake this if you’re a confident hiker or of reasonable fitness’, but what does that even mean? Surely this is different from person to person? What is classed as a beginner hike for one person, can be a whole lot different for someone else. What I’ve found is that when I’m able to block out a lot of the noise around me and focus on what it is I want to do, I realise I have a lot more in me than I thought I did. How do you do that though? It isn’t an overnight process and takes time but being able to develop an attitude where you can just see other people’s opinions as noise rather than fact is really helpful here. The next time someone says something that isn’t helpful toward what you want to do, try saying ‘this isn’t meant for me’ to yourself. If it’s a family member or someone similar, try thanking them for caring, but ask them to refrain from giving you advice on the subject and that if you need their advice, you’ll ask for it.
Work on Techniques That Can Help for Hard Parts of the Hike
Sometimes the hardest part of hiking is the mental chatter that starts to weave its way in. Doubting or anxious thoughts about what might be ahead can really derail a hike, so having a toolkit of different techniques you can use really help. For me, it’s always been about finding a sense of mindfulness and coming back to the moment. I sometimes find myself relying on my senses to get me back to where I am. Sometimes simply counting can be helpful, listening to music (through headphones) or simply telling the person I’m with that I’m struggling can really help. Never underestimate the power of conversation to get you back into the here and now.
It Isn’t All About Speed – Take a Break andTake it in
You’d be forgiven for thinking that hiking is all about how fast you can do something – and it can be – if you want it to be. However, it can also be about a whole lot more. Nature has an incredible ability to help us become a lot more mindful, to feel a greater sense of peace, reduce anxiety and help with depression. Taking time and taking things at your own pace allows you to enjoy the views that you’ve probably worked hard for. It allows you to feel really connected to your surroundings and at the same time, allows you to make a whole, memorable experience of it. Life doesn’t always have to be about rushing around, and hiking is a great opportunity to slow down and really drink in those views.