The New Year is well under way, the holiday lights are down, the excitement of a fresh start is fading, and we are getting to the tasks of building new habits. Does your New Year’s Resolution involve becoming a hiking family? Do you yearn to be outside more with your kids, and to live a more adventurous life? Perhaps you’re intimidated by how to get started on this new hobby. Or perhaps you are a new parent and have fears or insecurities about getting out with your baby. With our dreary winter weather, outdoor resolutions are harder to get a start on. I’ve got some tips for you here that should ease your transition.
Don’t Fret About Gear. Appropriate gear is important, but don’t let lack of official gear from the REI catalogue stop you from getting out. Most people have athletic clothes that can work as base layers, and a trip to a thrift store or consignment shop can help fill in gaps. Some sturdy shoes, any kind of water bottle, and something waterproof to cover up with are the biggest essentials for beginners. Even a plastic poncho can work well for a while until you can swing something more expensive. Once you get out a few times, you’ll know more of what you need and can start building up your gear as money allows.
Start Slow and Easy. Don’t push your family to do a 10-mile mountain climb right off the bat. Pick flat and short hikes to get a feel for everyone’s pace and to allow time to build up stamina. Having some easy victories under your belt will give you more confidence to try harder trips. Winter is the perfect time to stick to gentle trails closer to home, and you’ll be much more confident by the time the mountain snow melts.
Don’t skimp on research. Many trails that are popular summer routes can be dangerous or just plain inaccessible in the winter. Use the trip reports at wta.org to see what trails people are hiking, and what the conditions currently are. Are dogs allowed? Will you need microspikes? Did the road wash out in last autumn’s rainstorms? And don’t forget about parking passes – local city and county parks are generally free to use, but state and federal lands almost always require a pass, and you need to know which one to have in your car.
Bring a friend. Hiking with kids can be difficult, but having friends along can make things go smoother. It’s more fun for the kids, and can help adults feel safer. If you don’t have any hiking friends, check out local branches of Hike It Baby for lots of local hikes, bike outings, park days, and toddler wanders. The Mountaineers also has classes and outings just for families.
Join a challenge or set a large goal. Some of us are motivated by a competitive spirit, or by a larger goal. Hike Like a Woman is sponsoring a 365-Mile Challenge for 2018, and that is helping many folks get out for short walks and longer hikes (registration is currently closed, but they plan to open it again for short periods of time). Or perhaps you have a difficult bucket list hike that you need to get in shape for. Some people use their fitness tracker to keep track of mileage or compete with friends. Find what motivates you, join a group, and get encouragement from others.
Slow down and look for beauty. Take time to stop and look at mosses, ferns, flowers, or creatures. Find out what motivates your children, and pick hikes that make them happy. Young children aren’t necessarily moved by sweeping alpine views, but tend to be more interested in what’s right in front of them. Look for birds or bugs, slugs or lichens. A hike with any kind of water feature is sure to be a hit with most kids. Even the dreariest winter hikes can offer glimpses of beauty if you train yourself to notice. And then you’ll be even more inspired to get out the next time.