For a long time a few things stopped me getting into hiking. It was something that I only did as part of a group whilst on a rare adventure in a far flung country, or with other more ‘outdoorsy’ friends. It didn’t occur to me that I could jump on a train by myself and go for a beautiful walk just outside of London. And never in a million years did I expect to find myself crossing Californian wilderness with a tent on my back for 220 miles.
A lot of my friends have told me that they would like to give hiking a go, but also have things that are holding them back.
I don’t want anyone to be held back from enjoying hiking. So here are some common questions and concerns, along with my suggestions. I hope this will help you to overcome what’s stopping you.
Isn’t hiking expensive?
Like any sport or hobby, there is a bit of sliding scale. You can of course spend a complete fortune on gear, clothing, courses and travel. But this doesn’t have to be the case. As with running (my other great sporting love) you really only need minimal items to give it a go; a pair of hiking or trail shoes, decent socks, a comfortable backpack and – if you live in a wet or cold country – a water and windproof jacket. You may be able to borrow all of these items, or buy second hand. I always wait for sales to buy new items.
If a train ticket is prohibitive, you can look at places reachable on your local transport network. For example, Epping Forrest and Richmond Park, both just outside of London, can be reached on the underground and overground systems.
I always take a packed lunch and flask of tea or coffee to save some extra cash.
If I want to stay overnight I look at hostels. These can be very cheap, especially mid week and out of season. If you have or can borrow a tent, then camping is even cheaper at around £8 per tent (or free!). If I’m looking to treat myself, a BnB outside of London can cost as little as £40 a night.
But I don’t know where to go
If, like me, you are based in a city you’ll probably need to travel. As I live in London, without a car, I look at places that have a simple and fast train connection with travel under 1.5 hours each way for a day trip. The South Downs is a great option from London as is most of Kent.
If I fancy going a bit further afield I consider things like the time of year and weather conditions, as well as travel costs. I love the Lake District and Snowdonia and I’d like to see more of Scotland.
Where can I get some inspiration?
- My blog! I’m slowly adding records of my day hikes and longer walks.
- I love reading other people’s blogs. The Walking Englishman is brilliant.
- Books and websites, including the Time Out Book of Country Walks, and National Trail/ Park websites.
- Social media
I don’t have anyone to go with
I actually love hiking by myself, but I know this isn’t for everyone. If you don’t feel comfortable going by yourself there are many, many groups that you can join. Have a look at meetup.com, search for groups on Facebook or Instagram, or see what’s on offer at your local outdoors shop.
You could also try and rope in your friends. I have found that many people are keen to go for a walk – they just need someone else to do the planning!
I don’t have a car
Granted, this can be more or less of an issue depending on where you live. But in London and much of the U.K. it definitely doesn’t have to hold you back. There are many great walks that begin and end at a train station. Even in more remote areas like parts of the Lake District there is usually a bus or shuttle service. It just requires a little more planning and time.
Google Maps, Rome to Rio, local transport system websites/ apps, and thetrainline are all really useful for planning. Also, you can often find travel information for specific routes on hiking blogs (like mine!)
Many hiking groups offer car share options or a place on a coach for their outings.
I’m not fit enough
Pick a route to suit your fitness level, starting small and building up to a longer route. Think about the elevation of the route too – a shorter, but very steep route will probably be harder than a longer flat one. You could begin by going for walks in a local park, before building up to somewhere further afield.
There are other things that can help, including a comfortable outfit and good shoes. Staying hydrated and taking some food is important too.
Physical issues can be eased by warming up and stretching properly before and after a hike. Consider taking hiking poles for a steeper route, or if you have joint issues. I also wear a knee brace for longer routes due to an old injury.
I’m worried that I’ll get lost
This is a legitimate concern. It’s a good idea to start small and stick to clearly marked trails. Lots of places like National Trust sites have very clearly marked walks of varied lengths and simple maps that you can pick up from the visitor centre.
If you are feeling more adventurous a GPS app is invaluable. They work like Google Maps, showing you both where you are and where you need to go. I use the Outdoors GPS app (UK only) which works even in aeroplane mode. It’s great! There are plenty of other options that work worldwide including Viewranger. Find and download your route before leaving home. It’s a good idea to have a paper map as backup – I try to use one in conjunction with the app.
I always take a portable phone charger and ask my companions to download the app and route to their phone too.
You could also do a navigation course. I did a brilliant weekend course with New Forest Navigation. Many places – such as the Northface shop in Covent Garden – offer free introductory courses.
Isn’t hiking only for outdoorsy people?
No! Hiking is for everyone, whatever your budget, age, shape, size, gender or skin colour.
Please don’t let anything surmountable hold you back.