Of all the activities that RVers can take part in, few are as rewarding as hiking. But as we visit with those we meet across the country in campgrounds, rallies, and camping meetups, we are amazed at how many RVers—especially older ones—are not hikers.
Some think it’s too challenging, too strenuous, needing too much-specialized equipment. Surprisingly, some think it’s not enjoyable.
Boy, are they wrong.
Unless you have a serious underlying health issue, hiking is for everyone—no matter your age, experience, fitness level, or gear. Hiking will so enhance your enjoyment of the RV Lifestyle, nature, the geographic area you are visiting, and your relationship with your camping partner, that you will soon be instantly hooked. So let’s break it down a bit and talk about what you need gear-wise, how to get started, and what advice you should follow.
What Is Hiking?
Hiking: – the activity of going for long walks, especially in the country or woods
Hiking is basically walking and exploring the outdoors. That’s the most simple definition I can come up with. There’s no set speed you have to go, no distance required to be counted as a hike and you don’t have to dress a certain way.
How to Start Hiking?
Begin by taking walks; around the block first, then increase to several blocks. Get hiking footwear. You don’t need huge, expensive, and heavy boots. Today’s hiking boots are as comfortable as shoes. Wear them on your neighborhood walks, and around the campground when you are camping. Then, start to venture out on trails.
There is some basic gear that will make your hike more enjoyable, like that good pair of hiking boots. You’ll want a hat to keep the sun from frying your brains (just kidding), a day pack, a water bottle, comfortable clothes, and maybe some hiking poles for extra stability on uneven ground.
A compass is also a good thing to carry with you. Many cell phones have them built-in as apps and that is nice. But there may not be cell coverage in the area you are hiking, or your battery may run out of juice. Always have a backup. And if you are hiking in bear country, every person in your hiking party should carry bear spray.
If you’re RVing with a pet, bring supplies to take care of your animal, like water, food, and doggy bags.
How Far Should You Hike?
If you are a total newbie and in reasonably good shape, handling those neighborhood walkabouts with ease; then, a good wilderness hike, to begin with, is two miles out-and-back. If the terrain is rough and hilly, choose a shorter hike. Eventually, a moderate distance for most beginners is around five miles out and back.
Hiking is not speed walking. I like to call it a nature stroll. You want to take your time. Look around. Take a lot of photos. Observe God’s creation in all its glory. Learn things. Breathe deeply. Plan on taking two to three hours to cover five miles over flat terrain. For steep hikes to a summit, add even more time to your estimation.
Use a Map
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If you are in a wilderness area, you really want to have a map that clearly shows your route. At most state and national parks, hiking trails are clearly marked in brochures and printed maps available from the ranger station. And there are some great apps. Here are our three favorites:
- AllTrails offers more than 50,000 trail guides, complete with photos and written descriptions. If you’re looking for a trail in a specific location, AllTrails has it covered. It lets you track your hike, take photos that are geotagged, and even share your progress on social media.
- ViewRanger provides access to thousands of trails from around the world. You can pick from street maps, aerial and satellite images, and terrain maps already made to follow, or even make your own. You can track your hikes, add photos and waypoints and share to social media.
- Cairn is especially useful when hiking in an area where cell coverage is limited or non-existent. You can download topographic maps for offline use, and also find spots where cell phone coverage kicks in. An especially useful feature allows users to set up notifications that will be sent to selected contacts if they are past due on arrival time.
In a pinch, you can even Google something like “best hikes near me” and get lots of suggestions. But the whole point of a map is to know where you are going and how to get back, plus a general understanding of landmarks, the terrain, and what you will be seeing.
Tell Someone Where You are Going
In case of an emergency, you want someone to know where you are going and when you expect to be back. Consider sending a text or an email to a friend or relative.
You can say something like:
“Greetings from Yellowstone. Wish you were with us! Jen and I are going to do a hike to Trout Lake in the Lamar Valley. It’s only a little over a mile round trip but it has some beautiful scenery. Just wanted to let you know. We should be back by 4 pm. I’ll send you a photo when we return.”
By the way, if you do visit Yellowstone, Trout Lake really is a great hike. It’s only 1.2 miles roundtrip but because you spend the first part climbing, it’s officially classified as moderate in difficulty. There’s lots of wildlife attracted by the abundant cutthroat trout that gives the lake its name. So take bear spray…and a camera!
Here’s a video we did about this hike:
Tip: Leave a note in the vehicle you used to drive to the trailhead or back in the RV if you set off from camp. Jot down the date and time, where you are going, the route or trail, and when you expect to be back.
Carry a Pack
For short hikes, a day pack is all you need. You should bring a cell phone with you. Naturally, it should be charged. There are inexpensive cases and solar chargers that easily fit in a small pack. And even if cell coverage in the wilderness you are hiking is spotty, the phone is still useful. You can download and store maps on it, use the flashlight and take photos.
That said, we also carry a small, dedicated flashlight in our day pack. Other items we bring include rainwear, a basic first aid kit, a whistle for signaling, a water bottle, insect repellant, and sunscreen lotion.
For short hikes, you very well may not need all that. But being prepared just in case always makes sense.
Know the Weather
Before setting out on any hike, be aware of the predicted weather conditions you are likely to encounter. Excess heat and humidity, predicted storms, flash flood conditions, wind and wildfire potentials are all factors you need to be aware of and take into consideration as you plan your hike.
If it’s expected to be hot, get an early start. Brush up on tips and tricks for hiking safely in the summer. Know what time sunset is and give yourself plenty of time to get back before dark.
Stick to the Trail
The leading reason why hikers get lost is that they decided to go off-trail. So don’t. Besides easily getting disoriented, hiking off-trail damages the landscape, flora, and fauna. Hidden obstacles off-trail can trip you up and falls are the leading cause of injuries to hikers.
Besides, the trails are there for a reason. They are the best route through the area and almost always offer the best views. So stay on them.
Leave No Trace
As the signs say, leave nothing but footprints. But don’t take anything out with you, either – except your trash. And photographs. Most public lands prohibit picking wildflowers or removing trees and shrubs. Lately, we’ve seen notices on some of our hikes asking people not to make rock piles. The idea is to keep public lands as wild and undisturbed as possible.
There’s a Leave No Trace movement that lists a code of conduct that responsible campers and hikers should follow. Brush up on these principles and do your part in preserving the nature we all love to appreciate.
Be Bear Aware
We’ve talked about the importance of carrying bear spray with you at all times when you are in bear country. But before we end this article, I want to reinforce that. Jennifer and I have been surprised by encountering bears on many of our hikes. We’ve never needed to use the bear spray, but we were still very glad we had it.
A couple of years ago, we were leading a group of people on a very short hike on a trail along Swift Current lake and just off the road near the Many Glaciers Campground at Glacier National Park. Suddenly, just 30 feet off the trail, we came upon a grizzly bear stalking a mother moose and her calf. Eventually, the bear moved off, as did the moose and the calf. I swear the mother moose was saying thanks as she took her baby away down the trail because had we not come upon them, it could have been a very bad day for her.
I tell you this story because that trail was only a quarter-mile long, we were in a group of almost a dozen hikers and still there was a bear.
We got it all on video:
Hiking is a huge reason why we love the RV lifestyle so much. Give it a try. It truly is for everyone.