The last thing I thought my inner-city ass would do on a regular basis is hike. However, ever since I moved to the Bay Area, it’s become a weekly thing for me. It’s also been a major key to helping me stay in shape and I’ve noticed huge successes for others that are hiking for weight loss.
Northern California has a ridiculous number of mountains, incredible scenery, and perfect hiking weather so it only makes sense to become obsessed with hiking when you live out here. On the other hand, I could have easily done more hiking when I lived in the Midwest too – I just never really thought about it and never sought out hiking trails.
You may be the same in this regard. While I am nowhere near an expert, let me share some things that I would have loved to have heard when I first started hiking, so that you too, might add hiking to your workout routine.
The hiking basics
First of all, let’s level set, just in case hiking is only a concept in your mind and you haven’t actually done it. (This was me, up until about 5 years ago. I was literally on a hike and had to ask somewhere whether we were actually hiking at that moment, because again, my inner-city ass…)
Hiking is no different from going on a walk, except the difference is usually that you’re out in nature, and not on your way to, say, the store. A hike can last anywhere from a few minutes to several hours…even days. You’re usually going to follow a hiking trail that has been paved and managed by a park or city. This makes it much safer than just blindly venturing into the woods (never a good idea!).
What’s the difference from one hike to another?
There are a lot of different variables that go into making each hiking trail unique.
Here are a few:
- Distance: Most of the hikes I’ve done have been between 3-12 miles.
- Elevation: This usually determines the level of difficulty of a hike. Since there are a ton of mountains in California, many of the hikes have a lot of elevation (expressed in feet), and makes for some really nice views. Any elevation over 1000 feet is pretty hard.
- Loop vs. down & back: There may be other variations, but these are the most common in terms of where the trail takes you. If it’s a loop, you don’t pass by the same trail on your return. If it’s down and back, you do.
- Scenery: Some hikes feature beautiful trees and nature along the way. Others have a beautiful view of a city. For others, you may reach the beach at the end. There’s usually a feature or two that makes the hike cool.
Here’s Big Sur, one of the most scenic areas along the Pacific Coast and one of my favorite hikes. Beautiful views of the ocean, mountains…everything.
The benefits of hiking
You burn hella calories…which is definitely what you want for weight loss
You burn anywhere from 300 to 600 calories from hiking, depending on speed, elevation, and other stuff. If you push yourself, there really is nothing comparable workout-wise.
It’s a great way to build your muscles and strength
This is where elevation does you some good. You feel like fainting while you’re climbing, but wonderful things are happening to your legs and core. I think hills can be even better for strength training than doing things like squats and leg exercises at the gym.
You completely obliterate your friends on Fitbit
It’s so nice to look down at your daily steps and see like 20K steps, and it’s only one o’clock in the afternoon. No one will ever beat you in the Weekend Warrior, and you will skyrocket yourself to the top of the 7-Day steps list.
I didn’t reach my target 11K steps everyday this week, but clearly Thursday and Saturday were my hike days and completely made up for it.
It’s great mental relief…especially if you’ve had a hard week
I just had a pretty shitty work week in all honesty. Just mentally draining. It did so much for me mentally to go for a nice long hike, enjoy fresh air and take in beautiful scenery. I also do a lot of thinking on my hikes, and find myself solving little problems that I had in my head for a while. A workout is going to make you feel good not matter what, but trust me, the inside of LA Fitness will pale in comparison.
Hiking is one of the best ways to explore more of your city
I’ve seen so much of the Bay area since I started hiking, and I bet I missed so much in Chicago and Detroit because I didn’t hike when I lived there. Also, when I go on vacation, I try to find a good hike, which forces me to see parts of the city I otherwise would never see.
Ok, so now you know the basics and benefits of hiking. Let’s get into what you need to do to make this happen.
1. Find a hiking group
I have to credit my hiking consistency to an amazing hiking group that I found, 510 Hikers. 510 is the area code for Oakland, CA (this is where like 90% of the black people live in the Bay, by the way) and we regularly have anywhere from 30 to well over 100 people on all of the hikes.
I personally love the fact that it’s a group made up primarily of people of color. You really don’t see a lot of color when it comes to hiking, so it’s cool to be a part of something so unique. The skill levels and hiking speeds of the group are all across the board too, so you can always find a cool little crew to roll with during the hike.
I would suggest starting with Meetup.com to see whether there’s a hiking group in your area, since there are so many different types of groups on the site. Also, search Facebook to see whether there’s a group. I actually found 510 on Facebook. Chances are, if you search social media + work a little Google magic, you can find something in your area.
2. Use the All Trails to find some hikes…but don’t go to unknown trails alone
Let’s say you can’t find a hiking group right away, or you want to do some exploring outside of the group, check out All Trails. All Trails is like Yelp for hiking. You can search based on your current location or put in a different location. It gives you a list of trails along with details we talked about earlier like distance, elevation, and a description.
We went to Yosemite over the weekend, and didn’t have a solid plan of where we wanted to hike. I pulled up All Trails and it found this really cool hike for us. Notice the details we talked about earlier: 8.2 miles, out & back, and the elevation is 3,228 feet.
However, when you’re first starting to hike, don’t hike alone. This is especially true if you’re going to an area that is unfamiliar to you. Some of these hikes are sketchy as hell. No one is in sight for miles, the trails aren’t very well paved, and these areas often look like perfect backdrop for a kidnapping scene in a movie (this crosses my mind way too often). So, initially, take a buddy with you.
I went on a hike to Mission Peak last week, which is one of the most popular hikes in the Bay area and not too far from where I live. I still insisted on going with someone first, and now I will venture back by myself since there are typically a lot of people on the trail and it’s very well paved. But again, I was not down for doing this by myself until I had tried it once with a friend.
3. Get yourself some gear
Here’s some gear I must have for my hikes. Just to be clear, you
likely definitely have this stuff at home already, so don’t use any of it as an excuse to procrastinate with getting started. These are just things that enhance my experience, but none (except water) are deal breakers.
Even if I’m hiking with people, I must have music. Now, you don’t want to blast it since you want to be aware of sounds around you and also need to be alert if someone needs your attention. But just like anything else I do that’s fitness related, I must have music. I’m a fan of both the Jaybird X2 (higher end and in-the-ear) and 66BTS headphones (slightly lower priced and over-the-ear.
The Jaybirds aren’t the cheapest pair of headphones ($120) on the market but they do have great sound.
My hubby has 66BTS headphones ($49) and at first I hated how they looked and fit. But they’re actually really comfy with great sound (and really, who cares how they look).
A water pack
I have a Camelbak that I use for most of my runs, and a water belt that I may use when I don’t want something on my back. You absolutely want water when you run. If you don’t have either of these things, it’s okay to just carry water in your hand, but of course, that’s kind of annoying. A lot of people also hike with larger backpacks. The only downside there is that if you want to run, it can get in your way.
I have an 50 ounce Camelbak and 18 oz water belt. According to the Camelpak site, I need about a 1 liter of water for every hour I hike. I’ve found that I probably need half this amount if I hydrate beforehand. Err on the side of caution at first and take a bunch of water, then adjust based on what you need.
This Camelbak holds 50 oz of water (a little under 1.5 liters) and is perfect for most of my hikes. You can also get a larger one.
I really like this little water belt. It feels like nothing when you’re running. But I really only use it for shorter hikes (under 2 hours).
Energy packs or food
I like to keep Gu on me at all times. If you’ve never had Gu, it’s just as gross as it sounds but it does the job. You eat one every hour or so, and it keeps you fueled. I only really need it for long or intense hikes. But in general, it’s best to have some type of little snack on you like trail mix or an energy bar.
Gu does me good when I need quick fuel. Again, not the best taste (and the weirdest consistency), but they are so convenient.
This Trader Joe trail mix is forever my favorite.
Hiking shoes or trail runners
I have trail runners, which are a little different than hiking shoes. Both have good traction and toe protection in comparison to other types of sneakers. Hiking shoes (or hiking boots) are heavier, usually have better traction, and are usually more water-resistant. Trail runners are lighter, but are better for running. Invest in a pair of one of these, and play around with different types to see what works best for you.
I tend to stick with New Balance because they carry lots of wide sizes (and my feet are THE widest). These were pretty inexpensive (around $50), they fit great, and have great cushioning.
4. Pace yourself…then push yourself
The good thing about hiking is that you can choose to either enjoy the scenery or to go all out and run past the scenery. There are no wrong answers here. If you’re doing it for a workout, you do want to push yourself when you can. When I first started hiking, I was terrified of twisting an ankle on a trail or tumbling down hill. Fortunately, I’ve managed to get only minor scrapes and bruises (rolled my ankle only once, and I’ve fallen a handful of times) and I feel a lot more confident in my abilities on the trails.
Start slow in the beginning. Walk the trails and see what you can handle. One thing about trail running is that you have to look down a lot. My head is down 80% of the time. But don’t be afraid to push yourself once you get the hang of it. Then, work on running faster.
If you’re hiking for weight loss, you definitely want to go more for pushing yourself than only enjoying scenery.
I also saw a physical therapist once I started running more on my hikes, since I was terrified of hurting my knees (I’ve had knee pain in the past.). This helped big time, and I haven’t had many problems with my knees. Definitely address any issues you have with your body sooner than later so your injuries don’t get worse.
5. Go for it!
Ready to hike…like now?? Let’s go!
I hope this post motivated you to explore the hiking world, especially if you plan to start hiking for weight loss. It may seem intimidating to start, but trust me, hiking is an amazing activity. It could become your thing and you find yourself hiking all the time, or you may do it a few times and figure you can find better things to do with your time. Either way, try it and see if it works for you. Stick to it, and you will see some amazing results.
Check out Hiking for the Complete Beginner