Come hike with me in the spring!

I’ll be leading a hike for beginners. Which means it’s time to think about training, since it’s never too soon to start training and making sure your gear is in good shape. So here are suggestions for any beginners—or folks who are returning to hiking after a sojourn in the office, on the couch, or doing another sport.

Boot Up

Hiking doesn’t have to be hugely expensive, but it does require some paraphernalia. Check out the Appalachian Mountain Club’s suggested list of stuff to bring on a day hike, or email me for my personal list. You can then apportion any needed purchases over the next several months.

Be on the watch for sales after Christmas and New Year’s!

What to buy first? Boots. They are the single most important piece of equipment for three- season hiking. (Winter hiking requires another whole set of purchases and of skills, so I’ll focus on hiking during the rest of the seasons.)

Yes, boots can be expensive. The key thing is to find ones that fit both your feet and the kind of hiking you’re likely to do. If you intend to backpack, you need taller, sturdier boots to help support the extra weight and distance. Some folks prefer leather boots, which last a long time but are heavier and hotter on the foot. Others like ones that are partly netted, providing more air to the foot and lighter to pick up and put down on all those steps one takes on a hike. If you’ll mostly day hike, you can do with lighter boots.

Two pairs high hiking boots

I have both kinds, as shown in the picture, but mostly wear the lighter ones.

Some people, even for day hiking, don’t like boots that come higher than the ankle. Me, I’m prejudiced in favor of taller boots. I think the support they give to the ankle is worth the extra weight. But if you try on lots of pairs of boots and the ones that feel the best are lower, go with them. The key is to be as comfortable as possible.

one pair low cut hiking boots

Shop in places with knowledgeable salespeople and where you can take your time. Try on a zillion pairs of boots in different sizes, shapes and materials. Definitely walk up and down the ramp, if the store provides one, so you can see if your toes get squished on the way downhill. Squished toes are bad juju. Find another boot.

Boots should offer room for your foot to swell as you hike, because it will most of the time, but not so much room that your heels rub up and down; heel rubbing is also bad juju.

Wear Boots Now

Start wearing your boots now, around your apartment, to the grocery store, on the subway. Wear them for half an hour only at first. Then gradually increase the amount of time they’re on your feet.  Here’s the first rule of enjoyable hiking: never, ever wear new, unbroken-in boots on a hike. They will hurt your feet! Enjoyable hiking is all about keeping your feet happy.

“Happy feet” means un-blistered feet. The best start to blister prevention is good socks, so make them purchase number two if you don’t already have socks made for hiking. Hiking socks provide a little cushion to weary soles, but most importantly, they wick away sweat. Sweat can cause blisters.

Three pair hiking socks

Lots of folks, including me, wear two sets of socks so that the inner sock, not your skin, rubs against the outer sock. These inner socks are called liners and are made of very thin wicking material.Two pair liner socks for hiking

For Tenderfoots

When I was in my 20s searching for heels in a shoe store once, the sales guy looked at my small, skinny feet with even narrower heels and said, “Lady, you’ve got aristocratic feet.”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“It means you have to spend a lot more money on shoes.”

Sadly, he was right. And since my skin is tender, I have to be pro-active to prevent blisters. For most folks, you can do the double-sock thing, go hiking and all you need to do is be aware when any place on your feet or ankles feels warm, hot or rubbed. Stop. Stick a Band-Aid or piece of moleskin on that spot immediately (no moleskin if you’ve already formed a blister), and you’ll be fine.

Not me or hikers like me. I moleskin-up beforehand because I know I’ll get blisters if I don’t. I also use the rubbery kind of blister-aid things, which stick well until your feet get too damp, but come in great shapes for toes and heels, for example.

I also use anti-blister powder, which I shake into my liner socks to help prevent blistering in places I haven’t bandaged. Other times, I rub Vaseline petroleum jelly all over my feet before sticking them in the liner sock. This feels a little nasty at first, but works and is cheaper. If your feet don’t blister when you buy a new pair of shoes, you probably don’t suffer from aristocratic feet, so you may never have to go this extra step.

Mo’ Later

This post could go on forever, so I’ll be doing it in installments. Check back each week for a new topic in getting ready for the spring hiking season. Remember to contact me if you want my personal gear list, tested over ten years and 80 or so mountains.