While hiking is a love of mine, I will admit that I am not the most knowledgeable hiker. Sure, I have hiked up Table Mountain in South Africa, and count it as one of my greatest accomplishments, but I have really only gone on about five hikes in my entire life. This makes me a newbie to the hiking world, and since I one day plan on climbing to the top of Kilimanjaro and base camp of Mount Everest, I have a lot to learn.
That is why this past weekend, I decided to take my first winter hike with John Kelly, owner of New Jersey Adventure Tours. John took me on a guided hike of Pyramid Mountain in Boonton, New Jersey, and despite the cold weather, I had a lot of fun and learned a lot about how to be a better hiker.
Here is John’s advice for keeping safe and comfortable during your hikes, with a little information from yours truly too:
Choose hiking trails that are within your physical range of ability
As I said, I’m a newbie, so I am always sure to choose a trail that is relatively easy and that won’t take me too long to finish. Aside from Table Mountain, most of my hikes have lasted around three hours, which is perfect for me at the moment.
Make sure you have knowledge of the current and extended weather forecast where you plan to hike
On my first hike ever, Jeff and I got caught in a thunderstorm and had to literally run off the mountain. We made it to the car just as it started to downpour, and we laughed about it at the time, but it wasn’t an ideal situation. With snow, sleet, and hail this time of year, I think this piece of advice is super important.
Wear or bring the proper clothing and footwear to keep warm without sweating. Remember….COTTON KILLS!
There’s nothing like being too hot or too cold when it comes to an activity, so make sure you are wearing clothing that’s appropriate for the temperatures. I like to layer, so I can always adjust the way I feel throughout the hike.
PLAN YOUR HIKE AND HIKE YOUR PLAN. Stay on marked trails, have a current map, and leave a visible copy with your vehicle.
Oh boy, here is where I realized I was not the safest hiker. Jeff and I read a map ahead of time, and just follow the markings on the trees called blazes. The problem with hiking this way? The blazes are not always reliable – see below.
Let someone know where you are going and when you plan on returning. Carry a charged cell phone.
I also need to get better at this, and be more specific about my hiking plans to family and friends. While I always carry a charged cell phone, it dies quickly when I track my hike and take photos, so I am going to start bringing a back up battery, like this adorable one from JCrew, just in case.
Make sure you are aware of when the sun is setting, so you can plan your hike/timing properly
I am the very opposite of a morning person, so I usually do not start my hikes until the afternoon. In the winter, with the sun setting earlier, this is something I need to be more aware of. Getting caught in the woods in the dark sounds like my idea of a nightmare.
Carry a basic first aid kit and know how to use everything in it.
As John kept reminding me, you always go out thinking nothing is going to happen, but it’s important to be prepared for anything.
Carry enough water and food to last you throughout your hike.
While I always bring some bottles of water, I was seriously jealous of John’s Camelbak hydration pack; I am definitely going to have to invest in one of those. I was also super grateful he brought along an extra apple because I didn’t bring a thing to eat.
All in all, it never hurts to be prepared. My hike with John made me realize that each time I am outdoors, I am taking a risk and that it’s important to always be ready for anything. I used to take hiking lightly, but being prepared no matter what is the best way to make any hike more enjoyable.
A special thanks to John and New Jersey Adventure Tours for taking me out on the hike. As always the opinions are my own.