One day - an Ozark Trail Thru Hike
July 26, 2015 6:22 PM   Subscribe

You were once a novice hiker and camper. You loved easy 2-3 mile day hikes, but you wanted to up your game. How did you do that? What made you an avid and great hiker/camper. What training, locations, products etc? Local context is Missouri State Parks.
posted by asockpuppet to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (6 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
You choose harder day hikes and push yourself to go further on a nice day. Once you do 7-9 mile hikes, maybe you start thinking about gear more seriously.... REI and EMS do informational sessions about gear and basic skills, you so attend one of those. If you feel wary of your first aid skills, you find a free class in first aid (or a red cross one, those are good and not too pricey). Armed with some knowledge, you start hiking longer hikes year round in all sorts of weather.

Eventually, if you still like it, you start learning to camp with friends and rent gear from rei/ems before investing in your own. You start with a quick overnight, then maybe 2 nights.... You learn carrying heavy gear sucks and start to optimize your stuff, maybe you prefer hiking in winter, or maybe you only like hiking to waterholes and along streams, maybe you like vertical and don't care about mileage.

The above can take from 1 summer to decades. Go at your own pace! Do what you like, and if it turns out 2/3 miles is what you want to stick to, that's fine too!
posted by larthegreat at 6:57 PM on July 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

REI is going to be a better bet for outdoor stuff. (I forget that ems is only northeast sometimes)
posted by larthegreat at 7:02 PM on July 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

What larthegreat said - the basic answer is to keep hiking, go a bit farther, and gradually incorporate camping/gear. As hikes get longer, planning and preparation become more important.

Do save most of the gear until later; there are lots of delightful rabbit holes of gear reviews online, and it is easy to get sidetracked researching the perfect backpack or water bottle or whatever. As you're starting out, get good versions of the things you need (boots that fit, good layered, wicking clothing, basic ways of carrying water) and borrow or rent other equipment (stoves, backpacks, sleeping bags).

Hike and camp with other people! Bring along somewhat-outdoorsy friends. Also check out hiking meetups in your area. These will offer a range of difficulty levels, from short hikes to more intense overnights. This is a good way to push your comfort zone and meet more experienced folks who can teach you things. Make some new hiking friends and ask the trip leaders about how they planned the outing. You might also want to check out the Ozark Trail Association, which has trail work and some other events where you could meet outdoorsy people.

The Backpacker's Field Manual is a great overview of backpacking and emphasizes the practical, risk-management, and logistical stuff. This includes a good basic overview of first aid. You should supplement this with a free CPR course in your town and any other medical training for which you have the time and resources. I also find it fun to read blogs and trail reports from other long-distance hikers as way to get excited about the possibilities of more intense backpacking. As you learn and plan, you need to think a lot about how to deal with all the things that can go wrong. Fun travel writing can remind you that most of being outside is enjoying the wonderful rightness of being out in the natural world.

Again, he difference between a 2-3 hour hike and something longer is all about planning. This gets more complicated the longer you're hiking for and the farther you're going from civilization, but the basic principles are the same. As you lengthen your day hikes, think about hydration, food, and incorporating short breaks. As you start camping, think about shelter, cooking, etc. Part of these principles are common sense - think about what you need (clean water, energizing food, a warm place to sleep) and learn about how to make those happen in the wild. You'll learn about the skills of making these things happen (treating water, lighting a camp stove, pitching a tent) by practicing, especially with other people who can teach and problem-solve.

You can go in with a long-term goal and still enjoy this entire process, including poring over maps and guidebooks while you're stuck in civilization on a weekday night. Every hike and trip you go on will be its own adventure that teaches you something new about how you relate to the wilderness. Have fun!
posted by earth by april at 7:40 PM on July 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

Trial by fire. I did a 2 or 3 day hike with crappy gear, came home beat up, bloody, and over-exhausted....

Promptly went out and bought better boots, eventually a better pack and other lightweight gear.

Maps. Hiking stores sell topographical maps of areas you want to do. You will need REAL maps to do this without killing yourself.

Books. Books will outline hikes in areas near you. Once the description of a hike grabs you - see above, buy the topo map! Study that map and bring it with you on your hike (duh.)

I'm assuming you can use a compass, and know how to read maps, trail markets, use the stars and sun for navigation AND read the clouds for weather. Oh, not sure about some of that? Get thee to a class, the library for books, or watch a lot of How To videos. FIRST AID. You need to know rudimentary first-aid techniques, dangers and risks, etc.. Ditto if you might meet poisonous or hungry critters, what to do. I'm pretty sure there are hands-on classes you can take that cover ALL of this.

Lastly, you need some realistic goals!

Experiences you want to have, peaks you want to summit - that sort of thing.

Anyway. If you have the strong urge to do this, go for it! Just be safe. No risks, ok? It's not worth it.

Which reminds me.... Always sign the damn trail books. Rangers actually use those to find you if you get into trouble. Plus, it's a fun part of the culture.

Happy trails :))
posted by jbenben at 8:33 PM on July 26, 2015

Honestly, if you are in shape enough to do 2-3 mile day hikes, you are strong enough to do a backpacking trip! If it's longer than you are used to, walk slower. The important thing is to keep walking! For me so much of it is mental because no matter how in shape I am it's not going to be a 100% comfortable experience. Get boots that fit, a pack that fits, and learn (and religiously adhere to) the "10 essentials". After that you just need to pick a trail and a friend who you know has your back.
REI has great packing checklists and articles aimed at the novice online as well as sweet gear.
Happy trails!
posted by Otis the Lion at 9:48 PM on July 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

Hiking is a mental activity as much as it is a physical activity. You would be shocked how far you can push a human body if you have to, but that's not what this is about.
Getting home safely is your number 1 concern in the wilderness. take the 10 essentials on every hike; let people know where you are going; check the weather.
Eat a good breakfast, hydrate, wear good, comfortable shoes (your feet are always a priority).
Then -- go hiking! stop along the way to take pictures, have a snack, drink plenty of water. there's no need to rush. most dayhikers travel about 2 mph, so you can do a 6 mile roundtrip hike in 3 hrs plus the time you spend at your destination or taking breaks, so say 4 hrs.
Find a way to wrap your head around an activity that takes 4 hrs. enjoy silence, solitude, feeling your body when it's feeling good and when it's starting to tire. there will be pain, fatigue, hunger, thirst, maybe even boredom, but that's all part of the game that your head has to master. keep going past all of it until you reach your car and then enjoy your success.
Assess your hike afterword. did you eat enough? drink enough? were your clothes appropriate?

Hiking and backpacking are like any other sport/hobby. there is a ton of gear to make every little part of it easier/more comfortable, but not every bit of gear is for every hiker. Don't worry about getting a thing until you feel you need that thing. I, personally, don't care for poles, and gave over boots for trail runners (with ankle braces for support). I take extra weight on dayhikes to stay in shape for backpacking, but backpack pretty light when it comes to it. I prefer windy places to keep bugs off of me, but will wear a bug net and sleeves rather than apply deet.

In short, there are a lot of elements to deal with out in the woods, but every hiker deals with them on their own terms, so there's really no best gear list for any given hiker (beyond the 10 essentials).

The best training is hiking, and every hike is a training hike.

Go! Enjoy!
posted by OHenryPacey at 12:12 PM on July 27, 2015

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