In Colorado, hiking is skiing’s warm-weather cousin. Both provide fresh air, breathtaking scenery, exercise…and the attentions of a search and rescue team, should you go off half-cocked.
Because hiking involves nature, things simply aren’t as predictable as they are on the gym treadmill. So it’s a smart idea to have some basic hiking know-how before you undertake your first fourteener—or even head out to our nearby open spaces.
If you live at BackCountry, you’re probably already familiar with the trails in the Backcountry Wilderness Area next door—a conservation zone that stretches across 8,200 acres (and 467 acres of that is set aside for the private use of BackCountry residents). Veteran or beginner hikers alike should check out these basics to stay healthy, safe, and savvy about wilderness etiquette.
Use a guidebook, call a park ranger, talk to the smart and friendly people at REI. You want to choose a destination that is full of beauty, not surprises like flooded trails and mountain lions. Get your permits, if needed. Check the weather before you go. Plan on hiking no more than 5 to 7 miles a day. Let someone at home know your plans, and stick to your route so you’ll be easy to find if necessary.
Take someone with you
Solitude is a beautiful thing when you’re hiking, so use your head on this one. No worries if you’re just going for a stroll on a nearby trail where you’re likely to occasionally cross paths with some other humans. But if you plan to visit to rarely-traveled wild spaces, take someone with you. People in pairs are less prone to panic and can help each other (or go find help) in case of injury. Stay together!
Pack some essentials
On a serious hike, be sure to take a map, compass, or less reliably, a GPS device, which may or may not have service. Bring a flashlight, lighter, and/or matches (but be sure to keep them dry). A knife can come in handy in infinite ways. Pack a simple first aid kit with gauze and bandages, anti-bacterial cream, and aspirin. Don’t forget the toilet paper and sunscreen, SPF 30 or 45, reapplied every two hours or so. Remember, those burns happen faster at higher altitude.
Keep hunger and thirst at bay
Avoid dehydration, which quickly saps strength, by bringing plenty of water. Two quarts per person, per day is recommended. (Water weighs about 8 lbs per gallon, so no need to overdo it.) Drinking out of streams is not a good idea, unless you want to boil it or use water purification tablets (another conversation with the REI folks). People can do well with about 1 lb. of food per day. Grab some trail mix, dried fruit, energy bars, or jerky for snacks.
Dress for hiking success
Since weather can change quickly here in Colorado, wear layers. Breathable wind and rain gear are good to have too, depending on the forecast. Prevent blisters and all the attendant agony of hiking in bad footwear (shudder! See details in Wild by author Cheryl Strayed) by getting lightweight boots that are slightly larger than your street shoes and wearing breathable hiking socks.
Be a nice guest
Realize that you’re in Mother Nature’s home, and that other hikers will want to discover a setting as pristine as the one you found. Don’t pick the flowers, be careful with fire and whatever you pack in, pack it out. Check out the Leave No Trace Seven Principles here.
Want more tips about hiking? The USDA Forest Service’s Trail Tips for Hikers and Backpackers is a great place to start.