12 Rules for hikers.

The old guy’s 12 rules for life hiking.

Rule no 1. Walk !

Also : my new facebook page for discussing diet and health : https://www.facebook.com/groups/524455598277075/

My first post specifically written with hiking groups in mind was a gentle dig at the gear obsessed, app obsessed Facebook generation ; my story of Welsh granny and Grandma Gatewood were both true by the way.  Emma Gatewood’s story at least has made it into one book and mentioned by several other writers from Bill Bryson (A Walk in the Woods) which is well worth a read and she even gets an honorable mention in ultralight guru Ray Jardine’s book.

I hope that some of you will realise that this post  is a gentle take on the very excellent Dr Jordan Peterson’s book ’12 Rules for Life’ : if you don’t know of Peterson’s work then all i can ask is “where have you been for the last 3 years ?”.   My 12 rules is a very condensed version of things that iv’e learnt in some 50 years spent playing, walking, camping, canoeing , sailing and just being, in the great outdoors.    I’m not going to sit and write all 12 in one sitting or for just one post ; rather i will break this up into 1 rule at a time and spend more time explaining each one.

Rule no 1.  It’s your body ; learn how to use it….then go for it.

Hiking is easy ok because it’s basically walking and we’ve all been doing that since, well since we learnt to walk actually so by the time we start thinking about ‘hiking’ we’ve had a fair bit of practice with the basic skill right ?

Not so fast bucko !,

For sure ‘hiking’ is basically walking but you soft townies probably aren’t good walking hikers because walking for hiking, especially off-trail isn’t exactly like the sort of walking you do every day and your body might not be ready for the real thing : how so ?.                Most of us today spend all of our walking time on flat or nearly flat surfaces and level ones too and that isn’t the same thing as walking on steep slopes, uneven trails and insecure surfaces ; a nice example being a nice steep down-slope on wet grass with a few rocks for added fun !.     It’s also the case that most people aren’t used to either carrying weight, thinking about the trail, reading the landscape and certainly not reading a map at the same time….hands up how many of you can read a map ? (and not an app-map)

From long observation i’d add something else too ; that many people don’t even know how to walk quickly, efficiently , quietly and/or change cadence and stride to suit the terrain.  Sometimes as a hiker it’s vital to cover distance quickly and efficiently ; this is most true if you’ve got to ‘get off the hill’ quickly (it happens) or if you ever get to the place in your life as a hiker when you’re attempting to go long distance over hard terrain.    Now, if you’re thinking that i’m just an old trail blowhard and even worse maybe a keyboard warrior i’ll briefly mention one of most outstanding days on the hill.

Several years ago we made a series of trips to the Yosemite wilderness with the eventual aim of walking the John Muir trail ; it didn’t happen because of fires on the trail so instead we did a series of 3 and 4 day loops out of the valley and from Tuolomne Meadows.  When we made the move from Yosemite Valley my partner caught the bus up because she had an injury and i decided to walk over with a bivouac pack in case i didn’t do it in one day.  Well, my route was around 23 miles and it had 6,000 feet of ascent, i don’t remember the amount of descent to the head of Tenaya canyon.  It was an ecstatic walk, done fast and light ; the heaviest part of my carry being the 5 litres of water that i got through during the day….i went over Clouds rest which is a tad below 10,000 feet by the way.

Sadly not my photograph and yes, that is looking down on half dome and way down there Yosemite valley where my hike started very early that morning.

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It’s your body….learn how to use it.

It isn’t just walking either, the great outdoors challenges us to interact with it in every way that the human body can move : at some time in your hiking life you might want to put hand to rock, not rock climbing as such but using your hands and feet to ‘scramble’ over a route that isn’t quite hiking and not yet climbing.    Also, interacting with water during your hike could be anything from a quick step across a shallow stream, to a full-on committing water crossing or at best a hike and a dip in a plunge pool on a hot day.

At the beginning of my hiking life i tended to follow the trail and ‘follow the leader’ ; now, i like to explore off trail and think about my own route across and through a landscape, sometimes on a path, sometimes not, maybe silently moving through the woods or swimming down a river…..these are all ‘hiking’ skills.

Rule 1 ,Part the second…..’fitness’ and hiking.

Walking has it’s own skillset that we largely forget about until we are extremely drunk, on the deck of a boat at sea…..or out on the long trail with a heavy load to carry and miles to go.     Some people say that walking places no new or specific demands on our bodies (and minds)….it’s just ‘walking, right ?.    This couldn’t be further from the truth ; in an un-conditioned state pick up a 40 lb rucksack and head off down, actually up, the Muir trail or even across the local moors and you will soon be feeling the pain.  Join the Royal Marines as a young and fit bloke and even they have to progressively train those young and fit men to carry increasing load over longer distances and they really know about walking for long periods over rough terrain.

Some say that walking/hiking doesn’t need any specific physical training and also that there are no exercises that we can do, in the gym or at home say, that are relevant to our walking fitness : this is totally untrue and especially so when it comes to long distance and load carrying.  I know that not everyone will go walkabout one day with a big old pack on their back but some will : some of you might walk the entire coast path down here in the south-west , it’s where i trained for Yosemite or do some hard mountain days in Scotland……where we trained for the NZ bush : but some of you will and if you do you need to train for those big routes and long days.

In the years when i was a long distance hiker i was also taking a serious interest in physical training in all forms ; thus i did free weights, running and swimming…..even rock climbed for a while again.   Before one of our big trips to the high Sierra Nevada mountains of California i thought about and asked about training routines especially for ‘long high and heavy’ hiking that we would have to do, and not just in mild UK conditions but in the warm to hot and dry conditions we would meet out there.   Most of the weight training and gym-going community dismissed the idea of training especially for ‘just walking’ : interestingly it was the ex military guys who didn’t and who take training for ‘hiking’ very seriously indeed.

In training the idea of ‘time on trail’ and ‘time under load’ is important, thus get out there and burn some boot leather !….but what i learnt is that it is possible to create a training regime at home, and for me , at work, that would ‘overmatch-mimic’ the conditions i would meet ; especially the conditions of carrying load on steep ascents/descents on rough terrain and in warm/dry conditions.  There were even workouts that i could do at home that would exactly replicate and even intensify the lactate ‘burn’ that we’ve all experienced.   As with all training of any type there are some simple takeaways : progression for example, increasing load and difficulty and so on.

At the end of my first rule post i’ll just leave you with some simple takeaways about physical adaptation and training for good hiking :

Hiking is a bit like walking but also different.

If your regular walking is around the town and on flat, level paths then you won’t have the stability in your lower limbs (particularly your ankle joints) to be able to move well on rough and uneven surfaces.

You can easily accustom your body, especially your musculo-skeletal system to adapt to walking on uneven terrain.

If you want to hike long distance over rough ground especially when carrying weight then you need to train progressively to do that and there are some specific non walking exercises that can help to speed up that process.

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