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Hiking Doesn't Have to be Hard: Be Easy on Yourself and Each Other

Posted by cwakenshaw at Sep 09, 2021 05:03 PM |

Hiking is always worthwhile but it’s not always easy and it’s not always pleasant. Acknowledging the whole spectrum of experiences will make for a more welcoming hiking culture, and being easy on yourself and others can add a little sunshine to a rainy day.

On a hike it’s common to hear exclamations of, “Beautiful Trail!” “Beautiful Day!” “It Doesn’t Get Much Better Than This!” Hikers tend to be a positive bunch and there’s a lot to be said about the advantages of a positive mental attitude, especially out in the backcountry. Hikers are great at keeping things light. What may be a dreary drizzle to anyone else becomes “liquid sunshine” to a hiker. Or if some dirt gets in a camp meal, it’s not a bummer, it’s “trail spice.”

A silhouette of a person looking out at a sunset.
Enjoying the sunset at Lime Kiln State Park. Photo by Jim Powers.

This rugged optimism goes hand in hand with stories of grueling alpine ascents, multiday traverses, and extreme feats of strength that tend to dominate stories of hiking. Mainstream hiking culture has certainly adopted a similar attitude — a hyper-stoked zeal void of bad days. This outlook and these epic stories can be inspiring, but they can also be alienating. Hiking doesn't have to be hard or extreme.

Hiking experiences vary and it’s not all rainbows for all hikers all the time. Bad days do happen and a hike that’s magical for one trail user might be unwelcoming, uncomfortable or undoable for a different trail user.

Hiking is always worthwhile but it’s not always easy and it’s not always pleasant. Acknowledging the whole spectrum of experiences will make for a more welcoming hiking culture, and being easy on yourself and others can add a little sunshine to a rainy day.

After all, a hike should be whatever you want it to be. So, for those times when hiking gets hard, consider a few things that might help.

Have a Flexible Plan

The willingness to change your mind can take the pressure off doing big miles or pushing on through all manner of weather. If the going gets too tough or the rain rolls in, it can be freeing to call it a day, knowing you made it the perfect distance and there’s always next time. Length and elevation gain don’t make a hike a hike.

On a day hike, this may mean stopping short of the end. On a backpacking trip, shortening your trip by a day or two can make a lot of sense (a good reason to plan a route with some alternate trail options).

Wind Down After a Big Day

A challenging hike can really take it out of you. Even if you had ambitious plans for a weekend full of day trips or back-to-back big miles on a multiday trip, consider adjusting your itinerary to work in some rest time.

This might mean following up a national park ramble with a neighborhood walk, or — if you’re hiking the PCT — a 20-mile day followed by a 10-mile one. It’s all relative and everyone’s different, but a hike planned around rest and recovery can be a rewarding change of pace.

Treat Yourself

Those pre- and post-hike moments can be some of the most meaningful. These unique moments can anchor a tough day on trail. Soaking in the sunrise on a sleepy morning after an extra early wakeup. Donuts and coffee in the car. Your favorite song playing down the bumpy forest road.

The work of a hike can turn ordinary things special, like slipping into sandals after peeling off bulky hiking boots or a meal you’ve eaten a thousand times tasting extra good. Taking time to ease into the outdoors and rest afterward can be important bookends to a day out. A little gentle care can go a long way to making your hikes even better for your mental and physical health.  

Comments

Meg on Hiking Doesn't Have to be Hard: Be Easy on Yourself and Each Other

What an important, well written article! Thank you!

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Meg on Oct 12, 2021 10:15 AM