I have been hiking as far back as I can remember. Growing up in an outdoor-loving family meant family holidays of camping adventures, backpacks and hiking boots. As a teen, being dragged up mountains and sleeping in hikers’ huts was not how I wanted to spend my school holidays. Now, as an adult, I long for weekend escapes to the mountains, with nights spent in caves and other earthy adventures that leave me broken come Monday morning (in a good way!).
For me, hiking has become my escape from the stresses of adult life – a way to feel grounded, to foster an appreciation for the simple comfort of a fresh bed, and to discover just how incredible and resilient the human body truly is. Hiking is my therapy. It breaks you down on the heartbreak hills and builds you back up on the stretching plateaus with views that blow your mind. At the end of a good hike, your myriad tangled thoughts lie neatly before you, and you experience a reset that leaves you ready to conquer the ever-shifting goals and challenges of life.
I mean, just look at these views… if that isn’t awe inspiring, I don’t know what is.
“Walking is a man’s best medicine,” Hippocrates declared in the 4th Century BCE. “To solve a problem, walk around,” St. Jerome advised during Roman times. “When we walk, we come home to ourselves,” observes Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh. Our bodies are made for walking; for centuries, we have been crossing continents one small step at a time. Walking just 30 minutes a day has been proven to drastically improve your overall health. As we walk, blood carries oxygen to our muscles and our systems learn how to use oxygen more efficiently, leading to a better and stronger blood flow throughout the body. Building and maintaining a good base fitness makes hiking much easier, and when combined with some solid strength workouts, you will find carrying your home on your back a much more enjoyable experience. Having the right gear also helps monumentally in creating hiking comfort and developing mental confidence.
I tested out the new Salomon Quest hiking boots in the Southern Berg and having a strong, comfortable boot that allowed me to cross shallow streams with dry feet made the trip so much more enjoyable. These boots came straight out of the box and carried me for 35km over 3 days with no blisters, hotspots or discomfort – a complete game changer. Good rain gear is essential, and only truly appreciated when you have walked in the downpour for hours and become completely soaked. The Black Diamond Stormline jacket and pants combo is my go-to rain protection; it’s lightweight and keeps you bone dry. My backpack becomes my best friend on a trail, hugging me and carrying everything I need to survive. With so many great Osprey and Vaude packs on the market currently, it’s hard to go wrong – just make sure it fits well and feels right for you. I offer also a word of warning – do not overpack. A loaded backpacking pack should not weigh more than 20 percent of your body weight.
In my teens, I associated trekking poles with old hikers… well, old hikers are smart. Walking with two trekking poles will reduce the accumulated stress on the feet, legs, knees and back by sharing the load more evenly across the whole body. This is especially true when carrying a heavy pack on your back. Trekking poles can also:
* Protect knees, especially when walking down steep hills
* Improve your power and endurance when walking uphill
* Aid balance on uneven trails or river crossings
* Improve posture, helping you to walk more upright (which can, in turn, help with breathing)
* Increase speed, especially on downhills
* Provide extra stability
* Reduce fatigue and improve endurance.
Lastly, fueling your body correctly will make or break your hike. You don’t need fancy or expensive meals; simple is always better when you are tired. Cheese is my go-to – it’s high in energy, good fats and tastes great even on its own. Tuna and pasta is another winner, and it never tasted so good as when overlooking the valley you just hiked. Dried fruit, nuts and seeds are a great on-the-go trail mix. The Trek‘n Eat meals are quick and easy to make, tasty, and generous enough to serve two hungry hikers. A final tip: make sure to eat your fill for lunch and dinner, as you are burning more calories than you may realise.
With so much on offer – a healthy body, happy mind, views to amaze and memories to last a lifetime – I think it’s time you take a hike!