Since fitness is my passion, most of my posts are commenting on articles I run across pertaining to fitness. However, I just had the opportunity to backpack for the weekend, and I feel it was worth writing about. I find it ironic that I’m getting into this hobby at the time when “Wild” and “A Walk in the Woods” are in vogue. I was told to read both those as I started doing this. I don’t think I’ll ever be a through hiker, the term for those who stay on the trail from start to finish. When I was younger, I wanted to hike the Appalachian Trail, but now that I know what that entails, I find I’m happy with just doing weekend hikes.
I have experienced many facets of fitness – aerobics, weight lifting, biking, kayaking, swimming and walking. I’ve worked out in the gym and at home. I’ve participated and taught classes, and done fun things that were incidentally fitness producing. I’ve done indoor rock climbing and learned how to climb trees safely. Having done all this, I’ve discovered that fitness is a positive circular cycle. You have to exercise to be fit enough to do active things, and doing active things increases your fitness level. A way to demonstrate this is how you feel the first time you go for a bike ride in the spring, vs if you keep it up all winter on a stationary bike.
So, I had to train to hike, and hiking was what I did to train. It is excellent for fitness. There are all the benefits of walking, and many of the benefits of weight training, since you are carrying 30 lbs on your back. Unlike walking, most trails are rather challenging, like the one I just went on that had an uncounted number of stairs. The first few times I did it around my neighborhood, I was so sore the next day, especially my calves and feet. I quickly adapted. The heat was an issue, we had one seasoned member bow out after the first day, opting to get a boat home. (We were hiking along a lake.)
We left on a Friday, and did 8 miles (roughly) the first day. We did shorter hikes the next two days, roughly 6 miles Saturday, and five on Sunday. Since I had not trained on consecutive days, I was concerned that there would be some adaptive stress to daily hiking, but there was none. My right knee and foot got sore the second day, after all those stairs, but seemed completely recovered the next.
Hiking and backpacking aren’t for everyone. If you have physical limitations, or just aren’t sure of your
footing, it can be daunting. Backpacking means carrying everything you need on your back, which can be physically too much for some. It also means accepting a certain amount of risk, being organized and learning new skills. Of course, it also means eating, sleeping and peeing in the woods, which can be a gross-out for overly fastidious people. Having said this, many state parks have shorter, flatter trails for the less able. My husband hikes on shorter hikes. Also, you are in control of your hike. You can decide how many miles you want to do. You can always turn around and go back. Many trails are loops, of set mileage, which helps determine if they are something you’d like to challenge.
I do think most people would benefit from some sort of hiking. Getting out in nature, getting your vitamin D, socializing (you should never hike alone), and, of course, exercising, are all benefits of it. I like backpacking because of the feeling that I’m tied to all of human history. Most people lived their whole lives in a fashion similar to how we camp. It gives you great respect for our forebearers, and deep gratitude for all our technological advances.