Most people that have never hiked before, especially for extended periods of time, probably wonder how we do it? We go over hill and dell, through valleys, across streams, in the wind, rain, sometimes snow…and they wonder how we can do all of that with a smile on our face. Well the answer to this riddle is simple, we are comfortable. We are comfortable because we have chosen our equipment properly and have prepared ourselves mentally and physically for the task at hand. In order to be comfortable while out in the boondocks we need to flexible I do not mean we need to be gymnasts but we need to keep our minds limber and open. 80% of the hardships one experiences while out on the trail are in their minds, the other 20% is split evenly between equipment and experience (knowledge). So with this 100% equation I am going to help you be comfortable in the backcountry. After all you cannot enjoy all that being out there has to offer if you hate every second of your time out there, so lets mitigate these issues and get you on the trail!
First things first, you need to have your mind right. What do I mean by that? I mean that you need to be prepared mentally before you even leave your house. The best way for you to get your mind right, is to start with some research. Go online and look up trails that you may want to visit, read all you can about them. Trust me you are not spoiling anything about the trip, and rather you are getting an understanding for what you are about to undertake. Here is a great example, when I was first getting started with hiking in the backcountry I randomly found a trail that I knew nothing about while hunting for a place to fish. A sign on the trail head told me that there was a lake 3.5 miles from the parking lot, seemed easy enough, but since I had no idea what to expect I was able to defeat myself. I got within ¼ of a mile of the lake and turned back, because I had no clue how far I had gone, all I know was the trail went from easy to steep, and it got in my head. I turned back and missed out on the lake. I of course went home and researched my error and planned a trip knowing that I could make it…and I did. To expand on that a little, weeks later I planned out a trip on a much harder and steeper hike but I was able to see it through with relative ease because I kept my eye on the prize. Many reviews online listed this trail to be one where you start to question if you will ever reach the summit, but as soon as you feel the hope start to slip THERE YOU ARE, right on a gorgeous mountain lake. So the key here is to set victories for yourself and achieve them. The mental health benefits are astounding and soon you find yourself pushing yourself further, sure you are sore, tired and beat when you get to the end..but you get to the end because your mind was right. So read reviews, study maps, and do what I do, set yourself up for victory by giving yourself “little victories”. Remember its not a race, this is not a timed event, this is about you and your people enjoying the peace and tranquility of nature, while also getting great exercise!
Which leads me to the next factor, you do need to be in shape, but you don’t need to be a PT Stud. What I mean by that is, you do need to be in somewhat good shape before you tackle hard or moderate hikes. Be honest with yourself, if you are not in peak shape, then don’t try and summit peaks. Take short, smaller and “easier” hikes. However don’t let a trail listed as “easy” fool you into thinking that it will be without effort. What I have done is I started walking around town, if you have the want or ability walk to stores, walk to school, walk to work, walk in parks…get up off your butt and on your feet. It may be on even, flat ground, roads, or even around a high school track, but each step you take will make the ones you make in the field easier. Don’t start off with the intention of walking 10 miles with a pack on your back, you need to work up to that level in order to be safe and comfortable. Do your research and pick trails based on your skill level and over time you will be able to move up and onto harder trails. There was a time that one of the easiest local trails kicked my butt, and I mean sucking wind, throwing up, and sore for days…and that trail is listed as Easy. Kids do it with ease, but now I see why the trail is listed as easy, I am now off on moderate and hard hikes and I get the same kick in the butt the “easy” trail gave me 2 short years ago. Your comfort will be determined by your skill level, its good to breach that comfort zone but only when you are ready. Only you will know when that is, I cannot tell you, but I can tell you that all the comfort you seek will come from your mind being right, and your body being ready.
The last piece of the puzzle, is your gear. Your clothing, boots, pack (when you are ready) means to carry water, food, and sleeping gear. You need to shop around, and what I mean by that is…you need to ask around, talk to others and read reviews. Trust reviews more than anything, not just what professionals tell you. Professionals get paid money and are given a lot of high end, top dollar equipment for free. They will tell you that you “need” this 500 Dollar pack, when in reality you can find one that works for you for 90% of that cost. When you are doing your research on where you are going, prepare a checklist, there are actually an abundance online that will serve as a good starting point. When you get something new, boots, socks, tent…be sure to test them. Take them on short day hikes, get a feel for them and make sure its good enough for you to trust your comfort. Mentally you need to be prepared, but a bad nights sleep due to getting the wrong sleeping pad will kill any ability you have to think positive. What I mean is, gear might only make up 10% of the equation, it will bleed over to your mind and will kill your experience. There is no such thing as bad weather, just bad gear and clothing. So know where you are going, and know what you need. Start off small, there is no need to break the bank, you will set your own limits and you will find out soon enough what you need. There is no better teacher like experience, so do yourself a favor and do plenty of research. The last thing you need to happen is to be 10 miles out and have some sort of equipment failure. So know what your gear limits are as well.
Your comfort is 100% up to you. 80% is all in your head, you have to make it fun for yourself and if cannot do that then no matter how much you spend and how much you are in shape it will not matter. While your gear and physical shape make up only 20% of your comfort, they will kill your mentality if you do not plan properly. Hiking is hard, don’t make it harder by being your own worst enemy.