by Susan Conn-Hood, Certified Yoga/Fitness Instructor & Juice Plus Whole Food Educator
Springtime and summer are the perfect times for hiking in Arizona. With sunshine, warmer weather, flowers, cacti and beautiful greenery, there is much to enjoy! Hiking can be a fun activity for virtually everyone, including children, adults, sedentary individuals, the very fit and even the physically challenged. Once you select a particular trail, do your research to learn as much as much as you can about it before you go.
Before hitting the trail:
- Find a group or partner. For many, the safest and most enjoyable way to hike is with an organized group or a companion.
- Leave a copy of your itinerary. Leave your planned route with a family member or a friend so that you can be readily located should you encounter expected trouble.
- Get in shape. Follow a basic workout program to get in shape for the rigors of hiking. Walk, run or preferably stair climb to develop the aerobic and muscular endurance needed for hiking. Also, work on strengthening the hip, leg, abdominal and back muscles if you plan on carrying a heavy backpack.
- Start low and go slow. Taking a hike that’s too challenging can be painful and potentially harmful. Beginners should build up to strenuous hiking by taking progressively longer walks – first on level terrain, then on hilly roads. Be sure to wear the same shoes or boots that you’ll wear when hiking.
- Be prepared for emergencies. Pack a flashlight with extra batteries and a light bulb, first aid kit, pocketknife, strike anywhere matches (store in a waterproof case with a striker), compass portable stove, extra food and clothing, lightweight nylon poncho or space blanket and a nylon cord to make an emergency shelter.
- Dress properly. Wear synthetic materials, particularly next to the skin. Cotton and silk retain moisture, which is not only uncomfortable but also potentially dangerous if the temperature suddenly drops. Three layers are recommended when hiking in cold weather. Use fabrics such as COOLMAX, Under Armour, polypropylene or Thermostat blends as an inner layer to wick moisture away from the skin.
- Protect your feet. Walking shoes are fine for paved or dirt roads. Low-cut hiking shoes are appropriate for easy trails, while ankle-high boots are generally worn when hiking on difficult trails. It is best to wear synthetic sock liners and wool socks, even during the summer, because they help keep the feet dry. Bring extra socks and adhesive moleskin padding to protect sore spots before they develop into blisters.
- Understand time and distance. Hiking a mile on a trail isn’t the same as walking the equivalent distance on level terrain. Pay close attention to guidebook estimates of how long a trail is, the elevation gained and how much time it takes to hike. A conservative rule of thumb is to allow one hour for every 1.5 miles of trail, plus 30 minutes for each 1,000 feet of ascent.
- Carry a cell phone. In the event of an emergency, you can use your cell phone to contact help. Keep in mind, cell phone reception is not always the best in the wilderness. You may have to climb a ridge to get good reception.
- Stay well-hydrated. Pack at least one quart of fluid for every two to three hours of light to moderate hiking. Drink water or sports drinks at regular intervals, which means four to six ounces of fluid every 15 to 20 minutes. Never drink from streams or other outdoor sources, which are often contaminated with bacteria, parasites or other harmful substances.
- Avoid sunburn and shade your eyes. Wear a hat and sunglasses that protect against ultraviolet light and use sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30. Reapply frequently if you sweat profusely or get wet.
- Listen to your body. Discomfort in a muscle or foot early in the hike can develop into a significant pain or injury as the hike continues. Cut the hike short if the discomfort continues.
We are so very lucky to live here, as there are so many beautiful areas to hike in Arizona. Be smart; be safe and enjoy your hike!