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Beginners Guide to Hiking
Beginners Guide to Hiking
Beginners Guide to Hiking

Beginners guide to hiking

This beginners guide to hiking can help you choose the best products for you if you are just starting out walking or hiking, or progressing from leisure walking or city walking to hills.Wherever you are headed on your first hill walk, you need the right gear to ensure you are safe, comfortable, and prepared for fun.
You may already own some outdoor wear suited to lowland walking or rambling, but to tackle serious inclines for the first time you gear may need reviewing.

How long are you going for?

If you are headed to the lakes or Scottish hills, and travelling for a long distance you may be sleeping out in the woods, so this will need to be considered when you are packing.

Your pack weight will increase for the longer the length of your trip, so you may want to consider a bigger litre capacity of pack. Pack sizes for hiking are extremely varied, dependent on whether you intend to pack just the bare essentials. However if you are staying overnight, or need to eat you will also need space for:

Hill walking can be varied dependent on what you need to take with you. For one day, a day pack will suffice. This is typically below 30 or 35 litres in capacity, and can hold a day's worth of food, hydration, spare clothing and other items sufficiently.

Low in weight, a hillwalking daypack will be the choice most first time walkers decide to take. However, for longer trips where you need to sleep en route, a hillwalking rucksack should be considered. Typically these span over 50 litres in capacity, and can offer more room for sleeping gear and cookware.

When you walk on an incline your heart rate increases, so more sweat is likely to be produced. For this reason, you need breathable clothing. This starts with your baselayer. For hill walking, you should have a base layer that is designed to be both comfortable and capable of wicking away moisture.

Choices can vary, but many first time hill walkers have recommended Merino wool. Merino wool, from Merino sheep found in New Zealand has very plush and soft fibres that makes it an ideal baselayer fabric as it feels great next to your skin. Merino wool works by absorbing water within its own fibres, holding around 30% of its own weight in fluid before this reaches your skin.

Long sleeved baselayers or short sleeved baselayers are all down to both personal preference as well as the conditions you are headed into.

Fleece

Your midlayer is also known as your insulating layer, and this traps in body heat produced as you exert yourself. Whilst your baselayer works to wick away sweat, your midlayer should keep you insulated and comfortable. Your midlayer should follow some of the same basic rules of a baselayer as well, in that it should be comfortable, yet also technical. Midlayers are typically made from synthetics, such as fleece fabric. The right midlayer should be:

  • Quick drying
  • Easy to care for
  • Low in weight, even when wet
  • Able to be worn under a jacket

Fleeces are a great choice because they are so lightweight and easy to store. When you are hill walking, you need protection from the wind. The inclines put you in the path of the wind more than with other types of walking, meaning that you need coverage from a jacket that prevents wind from entering. However, walking in Britain can be unpredictable, meaning that you are also at risk of rain as well as wind.

Waterproof Jackets

Is also, by definition, a windproof jacket, so a waterproof jacket should be able to cover all eventualities on the hill. Look for a design that is both breathable and fully waterproof. features like an adjustable roll away hood and storm guard for extremely bad weather are also handy.

Look for useful pockets, as well as zipped and internal pockets for storing all you need, such as maps and snacks.

Walking Boots

Comfortable walking boots are essential if you want to progress from lowland walking to hiking and hill walking.

The best footwear should be protective and should have a high ankle cuff to provide support to your ankle to prevent twists and sprains on incline and descent and should be flexible to wear for comfort, yet sturdy enough to cope with hiking over rocks and stones off the trail. The sole is an important area to consider as it should be thick and rugged enough to provide traction and balance on uneven surfaces, as well as providing a great grip on the ground for stability.

Brasher Hill Walking Boots are a best seller at GO Outdoors, with novice and experienced hill walkers alike. Lined with GORE-Tex, these boots are waterproof and breathable, whilst the high backed construction means they offer excellent ankle support.

Trousers and Overtrousers

For hill walking, you need a pair of trousers that are durable and lightweight, and can also cope with gusts of wind and rain. Synthetic trousers made from Nylon, Polyester or Supplex should provide you with the right balance between stretch and flexibility and comfort.

Your hill walking trousers should also have multiple storage areas and should be resistant to abrasion for sitting down en route, and for storing items such as snacks or maps. The fabric should give them a modern, relaxed fit so ideally they can be used both on and off the hill.

Overtrousers can be slid on top of your walking trousers for complete rain protection.

Walking and Trekking Poles

Walking or Trekking poles are poles designed for use when walking, to alleviate pressure associated with terrain that's unstable or unpredictable.

As bodyweight is transferred through the walking poles, less pressure is placed on the pelvis, back and knees, areas that are usually prone to receiving impact and damage from hard terrain. Walking Poles help to alleviate discomfort caused by impact as you walk. When used correctly, about 30% of your body weight is transferred through the walking poles, reducing pressure and helping torsional control.

Walking poles increase your balance and overall stability, particularly on descents or when you need a strong foothold on slippery surfaces. Walking poles are ideal for overall stability and unsteady walkers as there are four points of contact with the ground rather than two. When walking with walking poles, you need to hold the poles correctly. You should use two poles, as opposed to just one, for better balance and stability.

When walking on flat ground you should hold your walking poles so that your forearm is parallel to the ground. This method of holding allows impact to go through shoulder rather than elbow. Walking or Trekking poles are poles designed for use when walking, designed to alleviate pressure associated with trails that are unstable or unpredictable.

As bodyweight is transferred through the walking poles, less pressure is placed on the pelvis, back and knees, areas that are usually prone to receiving impact and damage from hard terrain. Walking Poles help to alleviate discomfort caused by impact as you walk. When used correctly, about 30% of your body weight is transferred through the walking poles, reducing pressure and helping torsional control.

Walking poles increase your balance and overall stability, particularly on descents or when you need a strong foothold on slippery surfaces. Walking poles are ideal for overall stability and unsteady walkers as there are four points of contact with the ground rather than two.When walking with walking poles, you need to hold the poles correctly.

  • You should use two poles, as opposed to just one, for better balance and stability.
  • When walking on flat ground you should hold your walking poles so that your forearm is parallel to the ground.
  • This method of holding allows impact to go through shoulder rather than elbow.

Telescopic Poles

Telescopic poles are used so that the poles that can be extended as required, usually shortened for walking uphill so the hands do not come above chest area and extended on descent.

Telescopic poles allow adjustability which can allow your weight to be supported, so you keep your back straight as you walk. As terrain varies in steepness, to be effective telescopic walking poles need to be continually adjusted in order to maintain the correct posture.

Anti Shock Poles

Shock absorption in walking poles is created by a spring mechanism within the walking pole and is particularly useful on descent walking. Shock absorbing poles are designed to be easily adjusted from complete rigidity to extreme springiness to suit the terrain you are walking on and your own preferences.

Shock absorption can be particularly important if you have weak joints, such as knees or ankles. Anti shock walking poles are typically heavier and more expensive than standard poles.

Handles

The best walking poles for flat land or gentle slopes

Right angle handled walking poles. The handle on right angle handled walking poles is shaped like a normal walking stick and is suitable for flat ground. Pressure is put on the wrist, making right angle handled walking poles unsuitable for hilly terrain.

The best walking poles for steep gradients

Ski-type handled walking poles are designed with a webbed wrist strap which cradles the hand as you walk for enhanced support. These poles are suitable for use on gradients.

Lengths

The way that you walk, and the terrain you encounter will mean your pole needs a different length. Telescopic poles can change in length, making them ideal for multiple techniques and environments.

Generally your forearm should be horizontal to your body when holding the pole for the best grip, so it shouldn't be so low that you 'stoop' to hold it, but not so high that your elbows are higher than your forearms. As you walk uphill, shorter pole lengths are typically used, whereas on a decline, longer pole lengths should be used.

Walking poles should aid your natural motion when walking as opposed to hindering it. This means that the pole should swing down in the opposite motion to your legs, forming an easy alternating stride from leg to pole. The alternating movements mean that excess weight is distributed to the pole rather than your joints, and you can maintain your balance, even whilst wearing a heavy pack weight.

The Shaft

Most walking poles have a shaft which is created from either aluminium or carbon fibre.

Aluminium

Usually used in cheaper walking poles, aluminium is a sturdy choice, but strength can vary according the thickness of the poles. The thicker the pole, the stronger it will be, but this will obviously add in additional weight.

Carbon fibre

Used in more expensive walking poles, carbon fibre is significantly lighter than aluminium counterparts and is a strong, durable shaft material. However, carbon fibre can be more prone to breaking if used consistently in extreme hilly terrains.

Carbon is the best choice for lightness and longevity, but for walking in rugged terrain with large amounts of debris, aluminium may be the better choice.

The Handle

The handles vary from three main textiles, plastic, rubber, and synthetic cork. In practice, your webbing handle should cover the handle and prevent sweat, but some handles are more efficient in hot weather than others.

Plastic

Usually found on cheaper walking poles, plastic is hard and cold in winter, yet can be sweat inducing in hot weather. These are best for budgets.

Rubber

Usually seen in most mid-priced poles, rubber is softer for use in winter, yet can also induce sweat in hot weather.

Synthetic cork

Found in more expensive walking poles, this is soft in winter, and dry in summer.

The Tip

The tip materials on walking poles are typically limited to two choices, steel, and tungsten carbide.

Steel

This is the cheaper choice, but it wears out more quickly. This could be an ideal choice for regular walkers who will need their walking pole tips replacing on a frequent basis, in order to reduce costs.

Tungsten Carbide

This is more expensive but extremely hard-wearing, ideal for serious walkers and rugged terrain.

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