Growing up alongside the Indian Ocean meant my weekends were spent at the beach. Tan line competitions, snorkelling for hours in search of parrot fish, or that one time my dad tried to teach me how to surf was my definition of a holiday.
That was until I moved to Gauteng and found myself among a multitude of hiking enthusiasts. All of whom tried their utmost to convince me that it was a fun way to spend a weekend. It took me several first attempts before I started to see its appeal.
Take it from a reluctant hiker; You don’t need to fork out a couple of thousand rands on a new pair of Bundu bashing boots, shove packets of trail mix into your backpack, or embark on a three-night trek across the mountains.
Put on an old pair of takkies, lather your skin in suncream, and try out these five tips to survive and even enjoy your first hiking experience:
1. Start with 5km or less
As previously mentioned, don’t start with a three-day trek through the mountains. Hiking uses muscles you never knew you had, so start small. Pick a trail that is no more than 5 km and ensure that the elevation remains relatively low.
Research potential trails or ask a friend which one they’d suggest for a beginner. Courses with a beautiful view or a waterfall will quickly help you understand why many people love hiking.
2. Stop often
You won’t enjoy the hike if you exhaust yourself before reaching the end. Stop often, even as much as every kilometer, for a drink of water, a bite to eat, or just to sit for five minutes. These breaks allow you to take in the natural scenery, catch your breath, rest your legs, and keep your energy levels up.
Knowing your next break is also helpful, motivating you to keep going until you can rest again.
3. Pack your favorite snack
It is important to bring foods that release energy slowly and keep you going, like bananas, biltong, or nuts.
Read: A hiker’s guide to arriving in one piece
However, it is also recommended that you pack your favorite snack as an incentive to keep you going until your next snack break. You’ll enjoy the hike more if you indulge in a food you love.
4. Set the pace
Nothing is worse than being left in the dust by your hiking buddies. Trying to keep up with ‘mountain goats’ can be demoralizing and exhausting.
Ask your very understanding and patient friends if you can walk in front. By doing this, you get to set the pace that you’re comfortable with.
You may have to stop and ensure you’re still heading in the right direction, but breaks are always welcome on a first hike.
If your friends have invited you to hike with them, knowing that you are inexperienced, then it’s likely that they’ll want to help you enjoy the hike as much as possible.
If you are tired and need an extra break, want to slow down, or even need someone to carry your water bottle for you for a bit, let your hiking mates know. Chances are, they’ll understand and accommodate you (I hate to bring this up, but if they don’t, you might need some new friends).
My bonus tip would be to plan a visit to your favorite coffee shop, restaurant, or bar afterward to celebrate. As trivial as it feels, completing your first hike can be challenging, and turning it into a little victory may just convince you to do it again.
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