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How to start hiking

Salomon ambassador Heather Goldsworthy gives us her tips on taking that first step

One of the easiest and most enjoyable outdoor pastimes is hiking. It’s accessible, great exercise, and gives participants the time in nature needed to recharge and breathe deep. To get the most out of hiking also requires preparation, appropriate gear, and the insight to pick a good location, and navigate the trail safely with a mixed user group.

Photographer Heather Goldsworthy is an avid hiker, and Salomon ambassador, who spoke to Get Out There about what people need to know before heading out on their first of many hikes. 

Goldsworthy was born and raised in Collingwood, Ontario but it was until she moved out west that she embraced hiking. 

“I was never outdoorsy as a kid, really. But as I got into my 20s to 30s, I moved out west and was living in Vancouver and had a lot of outdoors and friends,” she says. “So they introduced me to hiking and camping. And it was like, I should have been doing that all my life. And since then, it's just something that I've always done. I spend as much time outside as I possibly can.”

Goldsworthy works as a commercial photographer, travels a lot, and works with outdoor and lifestyle brands that keep her outdoorsy life front and centre. 

She spends a lot of time on the trails now that she’s moved back to Collingwood, and says it’s important to prepare before heading out. 

“I think there's kind of the two sides to it,” she says. “There's one, having the right gear, so dressing appropriately so that you are safe and secure and you're actually going to enjoy the experience. And then the other side of it is the etiquette and the tips for responsible hiking.”

Invest in the right gear

Hiking generally does not require much specialized equipment, depending on the technical demands of the trail and the length, but for any significant hiking or on trails with a lot of elevation, tree roots, loose rocks, and other obstacles, the first and best investment is footwear. 

“I'd say footwear is definitely number one. If you're going to invest in anything, definitely go with footwear,” Goldsworthy says. “The key things are grip, fit and support. You want to break it into those three. So, you want to make sure that you have a shoe or a boot that has the proper grip that's going to really help you in any of the conditions that you're going to come across, especially when you're out hiking and we've got roots and rocks that are sometimes going to be wet or slippery. You want to make sure that you've got something with a really good grip.”

She also says to pay attention to fit and make sure the shoes or boots support the ankles. 

“My rule of thumb is to make sure they fit at the heel and ankle is comfortably snug so your ankle is supported and less movement reduces the chance of rubbing and blisters, and toes jamming when going downhill,” she adds.

Goldsworthy loves the Salomon X Ultra 4 Mid GTX, as a good example, which she says is light and flexible. 

“I can move, it's nimble. But it's sturdy enough that it's going to support me and work on uneven terrain, and things like that. So it's a little bit more versatile.”

She also suggests dressing in layers. 

“For me personally, as soon as I'm moving, I get really warm. And so I'll start sweating right away. So I like to have a base layer, a mid-layer, and a shell,” Goldsworthy explains. By base layer I a good technical base layer that's temperature-regulating and moisture-wicking, that's going to dry quickly. And a mid-layer for warmth. And that'll be the layer that I take on and off throughout the day, depending on how long we're out there. And a shell, which is your protection for rain or wind.”

And, never underestimate the importance of a good pair of hiking socks that dries quickly and won’t chafe. 

A 10-15 litre backpack is also an essential item for day hikes. A small pack won’t be cumbersome or slow you down, but it will work well to carry water bottles, a small first aid kit, compass, snacks, trail maps, extra socks, or any other extra clothing items. 

Plan ahead

When beginning hiking, it’s important to assess skill and the ability as well as fitness and that will help determine where to go, as well as the types of trails and the length of time. 

“Finding out about the trails ahead of time you can use apps such as All Trails, and they’re really good and include some information about elevation and give you an idea of what to expect,” Goldsworthy says. “But it's also important to get information from the local trail organizations and parks websites as well. They'll provide detailed information about regulations, facilities, trail closures, history, and cultural significance of the area, and have geological and environmental information so you can be aware of rehabilitation areas and natural hazards (ie: wildlife, crevices).”

Goldsworthy also suggests that if uncomfortable with the idea of hiking alone, consider joining a local hiking group. 

“We have a women's hike crew (Collingwood Women's Hike Crew) that a couple of us started up here,” she says. “And that was kind of one of the common things that people didn't feel comfortable going out there on their own, they didn't feel comfortable that they could navigate it on their own. And that they wouldn't get lost. So if that's how you're feeling, then yeah, try to look for a local group or support online so you can find a hiking buddy to go with.”

On the trail

When out on a hike, it is important to remember to respect trail users. Give a friendly hello or smile when passing other hikers and be mindful of noise levels. 

Goldsworthy says it is also key to respect the land and stay on marked trails. Veering off-trail may negatively impact natural rehabilitation areas, encroach on private land or cultural/ceremonial sites. Hikers should also follow the principles of Leave No Trace, the details of which can be found here. This code of trail conduct is an environmental ethic that commits outdoor users to leave any area, trail, park, or outdoor space the same way it was found when you arrived. No garbage, waste, or disturbances. 

“I highly recommend that anyone new to hiking (and seasoned hikers too) use this free resource to learn how to be responsible and respectful on the trails,” she says. 

In addition, she offers these tips when out on the trail:

· Be aware that some trails are multi-use. General rules: hikers have right of way over bikers, although many hikers will move to let riders go by. Equestrians have the right of way over hikers. On steep inclines, the group ascending/climbing has right of way (since they're working harder).

· If you're new to hiking, start with easier trails and work your way up to more difficult trails as you get a better idea of your abilities and gain confidence.

· If you're hiking with a dog, check the parks or trail organization sites for information on whether the trail you're visiting is dog friendly. Some trails prohibit dogs and others who do allow dogs require they be on-leash at all times. Some trails are not recommended for our canine friends because of local wildlife, natural rehabilitation areas that may get disturbed or parts of the trails aren't accessible for them (ie: there are some ladders or rope climbs)

· If you are hiking with kids, plan for an extremely slow pace, pick shorter trails to start, and take 4x as much water and snacks as you think you'll need. Check out local trail organization websites for recommendations of trails that have interesting flora/fauna or geological formations that kids may find really interesting. 

· Learn about the area you're hiking in (as noted above). Know about natural hazards like crevices, wildlife, etc. Also, learn about hunting seasons. Many trails in Ontario are in areas that are also active hunting areas. Again, looking at the provincial/national parks or local trail organization sites will provide information about when it is hunting season and offer tips on safety during those times.

· Navigation: Have a compass in your pack and learn how to use it before heading out. People rely on their phones without realizing that phone batteries die and the GPS in certain areas is not reliable. Certain crevices and rocky areas along the Niagara Escarpment really mess with the GPS. Having a physical map whenever possible is always a great backup too.

In her neck of the woods, Goldsworthy suggests the top of the Blue Mountains (not the resort) as a great area for hiking as well as investigating parts of the Bruce Trail. 

“I would say look up the Bruce Trail organization,” she says. “There are lots of great little side trails that people don't know about yet.”

In addition, Get Out There has plenty of articles on great hikes whether a day hike or a multi-day excursion. 

Now Get Out There and enjoy!

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