Taking up hiking has been one of the best decisions I’ve made in 2020, I’m always looking forward to the next time I get back to the great outdoors and explore new trails. I guess you can say that the hiking bug has bitten me hard! Hiking for me has been so therapeutic, fun and an awesome opportunity to meet and make new friends. Which makes me wonder, what took me so long to start hiking? Actually, I know the answer to that question. FEAR and misinformation kept me hiking.
See, for the longest time, I thought you had to be ultra-fit to go hiking. I always said I’d start hiking once I shed off the extra kilos I carry around. Plus, I didn’t want to risk attempting to go up a mountain/hill only to quit 30 minutes into the hike, as I did 6 years ago when I attempted to go up Elephant Hill. So I’d always say no every time anyone invited me for a hike.
But when I challenged myself this year and promised to do everything I needed to do to get me to Lenana Peak, Mt Kenya, I was prepared to unlearn everything I thought I knew. That was the main inspiration for #TembeaNaMotoMtKenya, a campaign to help me and other hiking beginners learn the ropes from the mere basics. Looking back now, after completing several hikes, I see the mistakes I made; all the misconceptions I had that I am willing to bet you have too.
So I write this piece in the hope that it will give guidance on how to start your hiking journey, and ultimately get you to book your first hiking trip. Remember, the hardest part is starting. Follow these tips and you too will be on the trail come next weekend.
1. Gauge Your Limits
Before attempting a day hike, make sure to test your body’s capabilities. It is very important to understand that not all hiking trails are the same, and that not all hikers have the same physical endurance. Just because your friend or someone you follow on social media managed to successfully trek a certain trail, doesn’t necessarily mean that you can too. Knowing your limits before booking that hiking trip is crucial if you want to avoid any incidents along the way.
To get a feel of what you are working with you can start with slightly steep, simple treks that don’t go over 3 hours. Karura Forest is a serene option to start with, or you can chapa laps in tao from one end to another (if you are gangsta…lol) Doing a test run (in this case, trek) will give you an idea of how much your body can take, which will then dictate what difficulty level your first hike should be.
2. Choose Your Trail
Once you know your limits, it’s time to start shopping around for a hiking trip that suits your level of physical endurance. Don’t be afraid to ask the difficulty level of a hike before committing. Be sure to also do your own research beforehand to get an idea of what to expect.
There are many beginner-friendly hiking trails to choose from, Ngong Hills being one of them. If you do opt for a group hike, make sure to communicate your fitness level to the organizer/guide so that they give you the necessary time and attention that you require.
3. Prepare Your Hiking Gear
You’ve booked your first hike trip but now comes the question, what the hell are you supposed to bring and what do you even wear? Hiking gear may seem like a complex topic especially to someone who’s just starting out. I’ll say this (and this is just my opinion), hiking gear is not the cheapest, and getting everything all at once will most likely create a serious dent to your bank account. But the good news is, you can start by getting a few things and acquire more as you progress to more intense hikes.
The most important things you need to consider are your footwear, clothes, backpack, hydration and sun protection. Trails like Ngong Hills you can manage with running/jogging shoes, athleisure clothes, a simple backpack, and bottled water. Make sure to go over the trip requirements/advisory notes of the trip beforehand and don’t be afraid to ask questions.
Remember, having proper hiking gear hugely dictates the experience you get from your hiking trip.
4. Prepare Physically For the Hike
Now that you’ve booked your first hiking trip and are counting down the days, it’s time to start preparing your body. Regardless if you’ve been working out regularly or have been a couch potato, you need to have a preparation exercise to help your body get ready for the strain of the upcoming activity. Remember that a simple ache due to lack of prior workout or stretching can easily ruin your whole trip.
The most basics exercises are those that involve carrying your body weight, like walking, jogging, skipping rope, which doesn’t necessarily require you to join a gym. Experts advise doing prep exercises for at least 30 minutes consistently 3 days before the hike. The more active you are the better chances your body will adjust to the stress of the hike.
5. Ready, Set, Go
Remember, getting started is the hardest. Resist the temptation of canceling that trip and actually show up. Go with an open mind and ready for the adventure. Don’t forget to carry your camera because you’ll need to look back at the memories you’ll create on your first hiking trip.
If all goes well, I’m sure our paths will cross on a hiking trip because as you’ll come to find out, hiking is addictive!