Hiking is a fantastic sport as, once you have the basics, it doesn’t cost you anything! It can be enjoyed all year round, with friends or by yourself, and it turns the whole countryside into your playground.
Different types of hiking:
Hiking involves all sorts of walks from lakeside strolls and short climbs to reach viewpoints, right through to precarious narrow paths up to wind-swept summits. For those seeking a challenge, looking to push themselves physically, scrambles are an option. Grade 1 scrambles are a starting point – they generally have a bit more exposure and involve using your hands.
What gear do I need to start out?
To begin, I would suggest that you get yourself a good pair of boots with ankle support, a comfy backpack to carry essentials and a waterproof jacket and trousers (especially if walking in the UK – you never know when you’re going to get caught out). Hat and gloves are also a good idea as it can get colder than you think in the hills, even in summer, but everyday ones are fine to start with. For navigation and safety, a compass and whistle are indispensible and of course a decent map is an essential item for every walker’s pocket.
Richard Shepherd, Outdoor Buyer at Ellis Brigham (www.ellis-brigham.com) has chosen his top five buys for every budding hiker.
Whether your hiking is going to involve a few hours along a coastal path, a full day circuit on trails or a multi day trek in the mountains – or anything in between – good kit is key. Over the past few years, new technology and fabrics have led to lighter, better fitting equipment and clothing which all leading to a more comfortable experience. And luckily, the majority of brands include women’s specific models in their range – and by that I don’t mean a unisex product in pink!
If your budget allows, invest in a waterproof, breathable jacket so that you are prepared for whatever the weather sends your way. Although more expensive, it should last you for years. The Norrona Falketind GTX Paclite Jacket £219.99 (above left) ticks all the boxes and has an articulated fit with room for a mid-layer underneath if you need it. The cuffs and hood are both adjustable for a close fit and it’s got good-sized hand pockets.
When it comes to trousers, a convertible pant gives you versatility through the seasons. The North Face Paramount Peak Convertible Pant £59.99 (above middle) not only converts to shorts but has roll up leg tabs so that you can create a capri length too. It’s made from a midweight, nylon fabric which is hardwearing and water repellent.
Don’t underestimate the importance of a good pair of socks – happy feet go a long way to a happy hike. Smartwool socks use the long, silky fibres of merino wool from New Zealand which is soft on the skin and is a natural insulator, keeping your feet warm in the winter and cool in the summer. The Smartwool PhD range (above right) has different lengths and thicknesses and some great colours/patterns.
A boot will give you ankle support and thanks to new technologies, they can still be lightweight and flexible. The Salomon Comet 3D GTX £134.99 (below left) is new this year and offers a perfect balance of stability and freedom of movement. It’s got a fully waterproof lining but your feet can still breathe. Rubber toe and heel caps protect against stubbing and it has Contagrip on the outsole for great grip on slippery, uneven ground.
Try on a good selection so that you can feel what fits your body best. Look out for features like mesh back panels to allow your back to breathe, easy access to compartments, adjustable shoulder and hip belts and an integrated raincover. The Osprey Sirrus 26 £74.99 (below middle) would be a good place to start.
The use of walking poles has had a lot of exposure and there seem to be many benefits including less stress on the joints knees, hips and lower back. And because they keep you in a more upright posture, you tend to breath more efficiently. They’re also good for balance. Leki do a good entry level pair, the Classic Eagle at £49.99 (above right).
Hiking clubs are a great way of getting into hiking. They can be a really great way of enjoying a social outing with like-minded people. Thanks to their knowledge of the terrain they quite often take the best routes and can teach you how to navigate. The camaraderie of walking with people and sharing a flask of tea on the summit is all part of the attraction of hiking. Of course, not all hiking groups have the same ethos and values so it is best to try a few and pick your favourite.
What are the health benefits of hiking?
Hiking is great for cardiovascular fitness as well as toning and core stability. It can be high intensity if you want it to be, but it is generally lower than running, and can be enjoyed over a long period of time. It is therefore excellent for burning fat. The combination of the exercise and being in the great outdoors causes your endorphins to flow and provides huge satisfaction.
Before you set off tell someone your route and when you plan to be home. Carry a fully-charged mobile phone, although you can’t always rely on signal in the hills. Take appropriate clothing and prepare for the conditions – be it waterproofs or a hat and sunscreen. Make sure you know how to navigate your route and take a whistle.
My favourite walks:
A great beginner route for those still seeking to really get into the mountains is that of the Watendlath Circuit (Map 14, Route 01) which begins at Rosthwaite. It is a lower-level walk on good paths with fantastic views, but at 7.5 miles it still allows for a good work out.
One of my favourite hikes is Crinkle Crags (Map 11, Route 03) – a good test for your new-found navigation skills. There are some steep bits but the stroll along Crinkle Crags’ summit plateau makes the effort worthwhile.
To enjoy a particularly beautiful part of the Lake District walking to Loughrigg Fell and Rydal Water from Ambleside (Map 09, Route 01) is a fantastic option. Although there are occasional steep sections, it is a brilliant circuit that takes in stunning, elevated views.
Take a camera! There are views that you will get to enjoy when hiking that you will only get once in your life. And look after your kit; it will make it last longer. Things tend to fit better the more you wear them, particularly your boots, so you really want them to last.
Kate Foley, founder of HandiHikes (www.handihikes.co.uk)
HandiHikes is a brand new, innovative range of waterproof, pocket-sized guides to the Lake District. Each HandiHike guide combines Ordnance Survey® 1:25,000 Explorer mapping data with a number of detailed guided routes for a range of abilities. They contain plenty of tips about how to navigate and stay safe in the hills, as well as HandiHints on everything from where to get the best views en route through to the ideal spot for a cuppa at the end – the ideal hiking companion.