Not All Who Wander Are Lost: A Blog for Adventurous Women

How to Train for Your Next Hiking Trip

Posted by Marian Marbury on Apr 8, 2015 6:52:33 PM

The correct title for this should probably be "How I'm training for my next hiking trip". Everyone is different and has their own ways of getting ready for a hiking trip so take this for what it's worth. But I'm pretty typical in many ways (I've never done a marathon in my life) and I'm getting ready for two challenging trips: Trekking in Nepal: the Mustang Region June 6 - 22 and Trekking to Machu Picchu July 29 - August 8. Being unprepared is not an option.

So first - it's at the end of a long winter. My last trip was in October and after I returned from CanadianRockiesCelebthat trek, I took about 3 weeks off where I didn't do more than walk the dogs every day. After that I started going to the gym 4 or 5 days a week (I'm extremely fortunate to be a 7 minute walk from a women's gym) where I worked out on an elliptical machine for about 30 minutes at a moderate pace (translation: I was breathing hard but I could still talk). I used to run but creaky joints made that uncomfortable and the elliptical is non-jarring. This is enough to keep me reasonably fit. Throw in a little stretching afterwards and the whole thing was about 40 minutes. I began telling myself I needed to prepare more in mid-February and finally in mid-March I actually started. This is what I am doing. The first 2 are on the elliptical and the third is on a stairmaster.

  1. Twice a week I do intervals. In a 30 minute period, I warm up for 5 minutes then I alternate cycles of a minute of working really hard with a minute of much less intense effort (the recovery period) for 20 minutes (so 10 cycles) and then end with 5 minutes of cooling down. Some days I can push myself harder than other days. A lot of research proves that this improves aerobic conditioning more effectively then longer periods of more moderate activity. I'm adding 2 minutes every week until I get to 40 minutes.

  2. Twice a week I do a longer moderate workout, at about the same level of effort that I was doing during my winter downtime. I started with 40 minutes and every three weeks I add another 5 minutes until I get to 60 minutes. The main purpose of this is to build endurance.

  3. Twice a week I workout on a StairMaster to combine aerobic training, endurance, and muscular conditioning in a way that mimics the long hills I'll be climbing. This feels like the hardest thing I do and I've found the key is to start slowly each time and build gradually and then do a series of intervals that are longer than a minute but where the pace is increasing or decreasing every minute  (e.g. 1 minute at 7, then 8, then 9, then 10, then 9, then 8, then 7). It must be working because today 10 felt easier than a month ago. I do a total of 30 minute and I plan to very gradually increase to 40 while also increasing the highest level I go to.

  4. Twice a week I also do sets of lunges and squats, along with a couple of upper body and triceps exercises. I started with 3  sets of each and have now worked up to 4 with the plan to go to 5, also increasing the hand weights I use while I do them. I also do abdominal exercises of some sort right before I stretch every day. I should do more weightlifting but I don't enjoy it, and this seems what I can make myself do. I know from long experience that my knees will be incredibly grateful on the long downhills.

  5. Now that the weather is nice, I plan to start hiking every Saturday. It's a truism that the best training for hiking is hiking and if I lived somewhere I could easily hike more often, that's what I'd do. I hike in the Baltimore-DC area and if you want to join me for a hike, please shoot me an email.

  6. But wait, does that mean I never take a day off?! No. I say twice a week but it can be more like 6 out of 8 days if something interferes or if I start feeling too tired. Sometimes when I'm tired I make myself workout anyway and it peps me up. But if it doesn't, if I'm slogging thru mud, then I take the next day off.

This may sound like more than you want to do. Honestly, its more than I want to do on a regular basis. But I'm really looking forward to both trips and I know that I will be grateful for every ounce of extra energy I'll have then from the training I do now.

 

Topics: hiking, health and fitness, trip preparation

Boots for hiking vs boots for backpacking

Posted by Jan Latham on Oct 21, 2013 5:34:00 PM

Hi Jan!
 
I’ve been looking into boots and I was checking out the Keen’s Targhee II Mid Hiker that you prefer. The guy at REI suggested I go with something a bit more stout (backpacking boot vs hiking boot) since it is a multi-day backpacking trip, rather than just a day hike. Do you have an opinion on that mindset?
 
Let me know what you think.



Hi Beth

Wow --- asking me if I have an opinion is sometimes quite dangerous --- and (surprise, surprise) I do have an opinion.

The Grand Targhee II mid hiker is actually a pretty 'stout' boot and is considered a backpacking boot and not just a hiking boot.   Unless you have some medical issues with either your feet or your ankles the lighter you can go, still maintaining support both in the ankle area and on the sole of the boot --- the better.

My preference is to have some ankle support  (so the mid height is perfect) and have a sole with at least a 1/2 shank support and thick vibram (or vibram-like) soles.  Many backpackers are good with the lower shoe-like profile of other boots that are even more lightweight.  The Keen company has actually added a great innovation to their Grand Targhee II hiking shoe  --- a tightening mechanism that holds the heel in place much better than before.  You may even want to give them a try.  

We will also be carrying 30 pounds or less which makes a difference.  Perhaps the guy at REI is not familiar with Lightweight Backpacking and is thinking heavier loads?  I've actually not heard of anyone thinking the Grand Targhee II is not a backpacking boot.  

I'd also like to interject that recently a couple of the women who have taken the Intro trip and have continued to do the Appalachian Section trips with me have gone from the heavier, full leather (really stout) boots to either the Grand Targhee or the Asolo boot that is similar.

Best scenario --- buy the boots that feel the best in the store and take some hikes in them.  If you find that for some reason you feel you need a heavier (or even a lighter) boot then REI will take them back as trade in.  

Remember --- no matter which boot you purchase to get at least 1/2 - 1 size larger than you normally buy and do purchase a pair of Superfeet (or the equivalent) to use as the inner soles.  The inner soles of even the best boot are not sufficient for comfort --- just toss 'em!  You'll love the Superfeet!

I love these kind of questions!  --- can't wait to hear more of the story.


Jan

P.S.  Just so you know, I checked with my local REI store and spoke with their 'shoe person' and she was quite surprised that you received this advice.  Their training is in line with what I also advocate --- the lighter the better (barring any medical/physical issues) and the 'stouter' boot is generally recommended only for carrying 60 pounds and/or for winter and over and even then, they still feel that you should purchase the lightest weight boot your feet can handle.  I would take this guy's advice 'with a grain of salt' though.  

Have a gear question? Ask Jan, our very own gear head!

Ten ways to lose weight from your backpack - click here

Topics: lightweight backpacking, clothing and gear, backpacking, hiking

Gearing up for Adventure Travel: Going to Get Gaiters?

Posted by Katie Flanagan on Apr 4, 2013 5:00:00 AM

 

On our AGC participant packing lists, we include a short list of “optional” items to bring on a trip. By “optional,” we mean – if you have this item, then bring it! If you don’t have the item, then don’t worry about buying it because it is not absolutely necessary. Among those optional items, we often list “gaiters,” particularly on our trips that include hiking.

What are gaiters?

Many people are not familiar with gaiters. A quick Wikipedia search will tell you that: Gaiters are garments worn over the shoe and lower pants leg, and used primarily as personal protective equipment. describe the image

Why get gaiters?

Hikers, runners, snowshoers are among the outdoorsy folk who utilize gaiters. Some people wouldn’t leave home without them, while others don’t feel they are necessary. To use/wear them when outdoor adventuring is really a personal choice.

Gaiters can protect your legs, ankles, and feet from elements of nature.

  • When walking through dense vegetation they can protect your ankles and calves from getting scraped by branches and brush.

  • In snow and icy conditions, gaiters can be barrier to snow and moisture leading to dry, happy feet.

  • And even while hiking on a dry, well-maintained trail, dirt and pebbles can make their way into your boots and socks; over time and coupled with friction the presence of dirt and pebbles can lead to blisters. Gaiters cover the top of your shoes and keep such debris away from your feet.

There are a variety of gaiters and the type you choose will likely depend on your activity. There are trail gaiters, alpine gaiters, and expedition gaiters. For most AGC trips, trail gaiters are appropriate. Trail gaiters are lightweight, breathable, and provide basic protection against rocks, grit, and light rain while on mild-weather excursions. Among trail gaiters, there are short gaiters and long gaiters. The height of the gaiters you choose depends on how much protection you need. Low gaiters are ankle high, about 8" to 12" tall. These are best for less-than-extreme conditions when you just need to keep trail debris and rain out of your boots. Regular gaiters are calf high, around 15" to 18" tall. These are designed for rugged conditions such as hiking through deep snow, wet brush, or in bad weather. Depending on whether or not you plan to hike in shorts or pants will also affect your gaiter use. Some may feel that pants or a thick pair of taller hiking socks provide enough protection for their legs.

How to get gaiters?describe the image

Gaiters can range in cost from $30-70 and can be purchased at a local outfitter, larger sports equipment store or online. When fitting your gaiters, look for a snug fit. Most gaiter styles come in sizes, which are aligned with a range of boot sizes. When you try on gaiters, adjust the straps to make sure the fit is snug. Your goal is to achieve the best possible seal around your boots.

 

 

 

Getting girly gaiters?

There are even gaiters made specifically for women. Women's styles are typically shorter in height and have a bit more top girth to accommodate a woman's calf. Some companies market directly to women – and make gaiters with styles and colors like leopard and zebra prints, butterfly, hearts, and peace sign print. One such company is Dirty Girl Gaiters.

describe the image

According to Dirty Girl Gaiters - Anyone can wear black gaiters! But a dirtXy girl's gotta do what a dirtXy girl's gotta do! Accessorize! Dirty Girl Gaiters keep the debris out of your shoes with style and sass. And you'll have something fun to look at while you hang your sorry head and shuffle your tired feet.

For more info on Dirty Girl Gaiters visit: http://www.dirtygirlgaiters.com/ 

And for more general information on gaiters visit:

http://www.rei.com/learn/expert-advice/gaiters.html

describe the imageHiking Tips for Women

Topics: clothing and gear, hiking

Hydration and hiking trips: how much water do you need?

Posted by Marian Marbury on Mar 6, 2013 4:24:00 PM

Someone on one of our recent hiking trips suggested that we should increase the amount of water we recommend carrying from 2 liters to 3 liters, particularly on one hike. I had done that hike a few years back and knew I didn't even finish my 1.5 liters on it, but it got me todescribe the image thinking: how do you know how much water to carry?

It's an important question: too little water and the resulting dehydration will leave you feeling tired, headachey, and grumpy. But too much water and your pack ends up weighing more than it needs to. Each quart is 2 pounds, so 2 extra quarts means 4 extra pounds, not an inconsiderable amount.

Each person is different in what they need, and the only way to find out what you need personally is from experience. When you first start hiking, err on the side of carrying too much. For most people on most hikes, carrying 2 or 3 liters is sufficient. Carry more if the weather is hot, the terrain is challenging, or the trail is long and there isn't any chance to replenish your water supply. Drink as often as you're thirsty. If you're using a hydration system (which I personally recommend), sip frequently as you hike along. Never let yourself get significantly thirsty and if you're sweating, also be sure to stop and eat salty snacks at regular intervals to replenish electrolytes.

At the end of every hike, you should be asking yourself:

  • how much did I drink?
  • how do I feel?
  • what were the weather and terrain conditions?
  • when was the last time I peed?

This last question is important. You may be feeling fine but if its been 8 hours, you need to drink more often. The lesson for you is that you cannot completely rely on thirst or how you feel as your sole guide.

Hiking Tips for Women

By paying conscious attention to the above questions, you will learn over time how much you need and when you need to bring more or less than usual.

P.S. The picture was taken in the Austrian Alps, where water flows direcly from springs and is safe to drink without purifying - a rare pleasure!

Topics: hiking, health and fitness

Training Tips (Part III of III): Hiking Leg Preparation

Posted by Katie Flanagan on Mar 1, 2013 5:00:00 AM

For years, my exercise routine included cardio (running/walking, cycling, stair master, etc.), upper body weight training, and abs. I figured that my cardio routine was ‘enough’ exercise for my legs, so I could skip lower body weight training. After hitting a plateau (i.e. I didn’t see much improvement in my fitness level and my body just got conditioned to the same exercises), I consulted a personal trainer. She gave me a workout routine that included LOTS (or at least more than I had ever done) leg toning exercises. She explained that while cardio was working my legs, to really feel the benefits and see improvement – lower body resistance training is a key element in the workout mix. Hesitantly, I began to incorporate leg exercises into my workouts, and…she was right! Within a week or two I broke my plateau and began to see progress in my fitness level and leg shape. She made a believer out of me.

If you’re looking to break your own plateau, increase your fitness level, or train for a hiking trip, lower body resistance training should not be pushed aside. You see, your largest muscles are in your legs. Large muscles have the capacity to burn more calories than small muscles. So when you work your legs the calorie expenditure is greater than small muscles in the upper body or core.  And as your body becomes comprised of more muscle and therefore less fat, your metabolism also increases – that is, when walking to your car, even sitting and breathing you will burn more calories. With your improved fitness and leg strength, that outdoor adventure vacation that you’ve been unsure about, can become an ENOYABLE reality.

To begin this leg journey, review the chart below. It includes recommended exercises for each AGC trips rated levels 3-5. Within the table there are suggested leg toning exercises. The intensity/duration of the exercise is broken down into levels 3, 4, and 5 (L3, L4, L5). If the L3 recommended exercises seem too much for you, then do half of what is recommended. And again these exercises should be done in conjunction with a cardio program. For more on that, see past blogs Training Tips (Part I of III): 3 Month Sample Cardio Routine  and Training Tips (Part II of III): RPE Decoded for Active Travel .

describe the image

 

Topics: hiking, health and fitness

Foot care on hiking and backpacking trips

Posted by Marian Marbury on Feb 5, 2013 12:54:00 PM

My first long backpacking trip was 40 years ago in the Sawtooth Mountains of Idaho. The firstblister prevention week my companion had constant trouble with blisters, trying a variety of treatments that were marginally successful. In all honesty, I was not completely sympathetic - I was sure there was something she was doing wrong or she wasn't tough or she had brought the wrong boots. The second week her feet were fine and mine went all to hell. I learned two things from that: 1) blister prevention is way more effective than treatment; and 2) never be smug. Since then I've learned alot about how to keep my own and others feet happy and healthy - and really, your feet are key to a good trip. You can be in the most beautiful place imaginable but if all you can think about is how soon you can get your boots off, you aren't going to enjoy it.

Before the trip starts

1. Buy boots that fit well. If your feet are hard to fit, buy them from a store with trained salespeople who can help. Women often have low volume feet and wearing beefier insoles, such as Superfeet, can help keep your foot from sliding around in the boot. You can read more suggestions here. If you arrive at the start of a hike with boots that don't fit, there isn't much you can do after that.

2. Break your boots in before the trip. Boots that are all leather take longer to break in than leather and synthetic mixtures so make sure you start in plenty of time. And insoles have a break in time too so put them in as soon as you get them.

3. Consider liner socks. Some people always need them, some never need them, and some need them sometimes. You can read a longer post here.

4. Trim your toenails. They should be shorter than your toes or they can get jammed into your boot and cause severe bruising of the nail bed.

Prevention on the trip

1. Keep your feet and your socks as clean and dry as possible. Wash your feet every evening and don't wear your socks for more than one or two days before washing them. If your socks become stiff they have a greater tendency to chafe the skin.  Clean socks also help prevent other foot ailments such as bacteria growth. Dry socks inside wet boots are better than wet socks.  If your feet are wet during the day it is important to dry them at night and either air them out with no socks while you sleep or use clean dry socks. Foot powder can be a boon to people with sweaty feet. I always carry at least 2 pairs, wearing one and drying out the other. In a very wet environment, I take 3 pairs.

2. Say hello to your feet every morning and evening. Sit down and really look at them.  Know what your feet look like when they are healthy. Are there red places or sore spots? If there are, of if there are spots you know you are prone to developing blisters, put duct tape over that spot.

3. Socks should fit well.  Avoid having wrinkles or lumps inside your boot, and if you feel wrinkles, stop and smooth your socks out.

3. Soak your feet in cold water. If you're walking by a stream, take the time to pull your boots off. Not only will it feel delightful, it actually helps to prevent blisters by reducing swelling. Putting your feet up when you take a break does the same thing.

4. If you feel a hotspot, stop and treat it immediately.  A hotspot is a place where the skin is being chafed and can quickly develop into a blister if not cared for. A simple piece of duct tape is often all you need. If the area is quite sore or red, a piece of moleskin with a hole cut out of the middle is more effective. The hole should be placed over the hotspot - this decreases the friction over that area.

5. Change what you're wearing on your feet. If you wear liner socks and you're getting lots of hotspots, take them off. If you're not wearing liners and you're getting lots of hotspots, try wearing some.

Blister treatment

Sometimes no matter what you do, you get blisters. This is not a moral failing. However, they should be treated immediately.

1. Decide if the blister needs to be popped.  It is less likely to develop infection if it is left intact. However, if it more than 3/4 inch in diameter, if it is likely to pop anyway because of it's location (which it usually is), or if the fluid is hazy, it is better to pop it in a controlled fashion that leaves a covering of skin. Typically I don't cover or pop blisters in the evening - I wait to see what they look like the next morning.

2. If you don't need to pop the blister:  Cover the blister with a piece of mole skin cut to a size larger than the blister itself. It should have rounded edges to avoid being lifted when it is back inside you boot.  Then cut a hole slightly larger than the blister itself and place it over the blister.  If the blister is particularly tall, another piece of mole skin with a hole in it may be placed over the first. Cover the blister and mole skin with a dressing and an adhesive bandage.

3. If you do need to pop the blister:

  • With flame-sterilized nail clippers or small scissors make a small “V” cut in the side of the blister. Make the cut at the edges of the blister where ongoing foot pressure will push out additional fluid. This allows better drainage than needle holes. Push all the fluid out with your fingers.
  • Apply a small dab of antibiotic ointment or zinc oxide to the top of the blister.
  • Directly over the blister, apply a blister patch like Spenco’s Sports Blister Pads, or a large duct tape patch with a piece of toilet paper in the middle to keep the tape from sticking to the roof of the blister.
  • After applying a patch, roll socks on and off to avoid disturbing the patch, and use a shoe horn to ease the heel into the shoe.

Like many things, over time you will learn what works best for you!

 

Hiking Tips for Women

Topics: clothing and gear, hiking, safety, trip preparation

Three myths about training for hiking trips

Posted by Marian Marbury on Jan 8, 2013 5:43:00 AM

Arriving at a hiking trip that you're really not physically prepared for is no fun. But at the same time you don't want to unnecessarily talk yourself out of a hiking trip that you might love. Having a realistic assessment of the match between what a trip requires and whether we are or can be in that kind of shape is important, and equally important is making sure that we don't hiking Zion National Parkfall prey to these common self-defeating myths.

1. You don't have time to prepare. Many of us lead pretty busy lives and it can be difficult to find the time to carve out an hour every day to go to the gym, for a run, or whatever. The good news is that spending an hour a day devoted to exercise isn't essential for any but the most strenuous trips (i.e climbing Mt Kilimanjaro or Backpacking the Grand Canyon). Here are two ways to help with time management.

  • Do intervals. Intervals are short periods of more intense aerobic activity interspersed with less intense activity. The key to successful intervals is to really push yourself to the point of discomfort during each one, so you are almost gasping for breath. Research has shown that intervals increase your endurance as effectively as longer, slower exercise - and take much less time.

    Some examples: if you're a runner, run all out for 30 seconds followed by 1 minute of an easy jog; if you're a walker, find a hill and walk up it as quickly as possible and then walk down it; if you work out on machines (treadmill, elliptical etc), do the same thing. Gradually build up the length and number of intervals. The Mayo Clinic has a good summary article and there are other resources on the web.

  • Do lunges and squats while you're talking on the phone, waiting in line, brushing your teeth, or watching TV. Having strong muscles to protect your knees will keep you hiking pain-free, and these are 2 critical exercises you can do in a variety of circumstances.

2. You live in the flatlands and there aren't any hills for training. Not all of us are lucky enough to live where there are real hills, much less mountains. Fortunately we all live near stairs - stairs in buildings, stadiums, even our own house. Yes, definitely more boring than hiking in the mountains. But all you need is 12 stairs. If you're just starting to exercise, start with going up and down the stairs a step at a time. Then start going up faster, until it's definitely an aerobic exercise for you. Then start taking two stairs at a time on the way up, but still a step at a time on the way down. Go up and down for 5 minutes, then take a quick 2 minute walk on the flat. Gradually increase the number of repetitions of the stairs/flat cycle and also the lenth of time you do stairs. This exercise, done once or twice a week in conjunction with other kinds of aerobic exercise, will help you get ready for a hiking trip with hills. Using a stair master at a gym will also help. Aerobic exercise and strenth training alone can't completely prepare you for going uphill.

3. You have to already be in good shape to sign up for a challenging hiking trip. Actually I hate to call this a myth because it may well be true and requires you being honest with yourself. If you know from past experience that you get really enthusiastic about ideas and make big plans for how you're going to accomplish them, but then in a short period of time you lose enthusiasm and motivation, signing up for a challenging trip just isn't a good idea. A better approach is to sign up for a trip that has some options, maybe every day having a choice between longer and shorter hikes. That way whether or not you meet your fitness goal, you can still have a great trip (example: Lodge to Lodge on the Superior Hiking Trail or Exploring Utah's National Parks in Fall.

On the other hand, if you respond well to having a carrot in front of you - something you really want to do - then by all means, sign up for that challenging trip now. Most of us are not all one way or the other. I am never so regularly at the gym as when I have a challenging trip on my calendar in the next 3 months. But my coworkers can tell you about my various enthusiasms that have fallen by the wayside when they didn't work out quite as I hoped or were harder to implement than I had realized.

Want some more hiking tips?

Hiking Tips for Women

Topics: active travel, hiking, health and fitness, trip preparation

First Day Hikes – January 1, 2013

Posted by Katie Flanagan on Dec 27, 2012 5:00:00 AM

Two holidays down, one to go! As 2013 approaches, fresh starts and new habits are on the minds of many including our nation’s state parks. The organization, America’s State Parks is hosting its 2nd annual First Day Hikes event on Tuesday January 1, 2013. America’s State Parks First Day Hikes offer individuals and families an opportunity to begin the New Year rejuvenated and connected with the outdoors by taking a healthy hike on January 1, 2013 at a state park. First Day Hikes offer a great way to get outside, exercise, enjoy nature and welcome the New Year with friends and family. Currently there are 627 First Day Hikes and ALL 50 state park systems are participating. State park staff and volunteers will lead the hikes, which average one to two miles or longer depending on the state park. So invite a friend, leash-up your dog, start a healthy family tradition by participating in America’s State Parks First Day Hikes event. To find a guided hike in your state follow this link:

http://www.americasstateparks.org/first-day-hikes

first day hikes resized 600

For those whose state park hiking events are too far to reach, you may be able to find your own way through a state park near you with one of Pocket Ranger’s State Park Apps for Apple and Android devices.  Over 20 states have Park and Fish & Wildlife Guides in app form. The guides include maps, activities, events, and photo sharing tools. Whether you planning a day trip or a week-long tour of a region’s state parks – this app can help you plan and explore. To download your state’s FREE app follow this link:  http://pocketranger.com/

If a guided hike is not your thing, then create your own active New Year’s Day tradition. Starting 2013 off on the right foot is something you won’t regret.

Topics: hiking, health and fitness

Should novice hikers go on beginner hiking trips?

Posted by Marian Marbury on Dec 5, 2012 8:53:00 AM

The first time I started to realize what a difference hiking experience made was about 20 years ago. I was in my early 40s and guiding a backpacking trip in the Grand Canyon. We were a small group of 5, including another woman my age and three women who were in their late 20s, one of whom ran marathons. And of course I wondered if I would be able to keep up.

The first afternoon we left our packs at the campsite and 4 of us hiked to a spring for water, about a mile downhill on a very primitive and rough trail. We picked our way down, filtered water, and headed back up with me in the lead. I kept a steady but not a fast pace back up. At the top, the marathon runner said "Well that was humbling!" It took me a minute to realize that she meant she had struggled to keep up with me - not because I was more fit (which I wasn't) but because I had more experience hiking that kind of trail.

When I first started guiding hiking trips for women, I thought that a woman's level of previousbeginning hiker hiking experience didn't really matter in choosing the best trip. I thought it was more an issue of her fitness level and of her deciding what kind of trip she enjoyed. And certainly that is still true - if what you enjoy are leisurely hikes with time for taking pictures and identifying wildflowers, then signing up for a trip where the average mileage is 10 to 12 miles a day will not be ebjoyable no matter how many hiking trips you've taken.

But I have also come to realize that regardless of how fit you are, starting your hiking experience with a hike described as "for novice hikers" is the best idea. Why is that?

There are some things you want to have totally wired before you set off on a challenging trail. You want to know how to dress and when to take your layers on and off, so that you don't get too sweaty or too chilled. You want to know how to pace yourself so that you can hike without ever stopping to catch your breath. You want the use of trekking poles to be second nature, so you don't put any effort into thinking about where to place them. You want to know when to snack and when to drink so you don't become dehydrated or hit a low blood sugar wall. All of these are things that become instinctive with experience, but take energy to think about and keep track of when you're new. Think about when you first started driving a car - it's exactly like that.

But there is another equally important reason, which is best described as footwork. By that, I mean knowing where to place your feet without thinking about it. You can tell if someone has much experience by watching them hike on uneven or rough (i.e. lots of rocks and roots) terrain. An inexperienced hiker is watching her feet, uncertain about whether a rock will be stable or how placing her foot at a certain angle will affect her balance. Especially going downhill, this takes alot of focussed concentration. An experienced hiker will constantly be glancing at the ground but then also looking up at the trail to see what is coming up and looking around at the scenery. The difference between me and the marathon runner that day was the 25 years I'd been hiking.

But that's the great thing! As long as you have your health, you are never too old to start hiking. With experience, your body and mind will learn how to move comfortably over a variety of terrains and you will have more energy at the end of a hike because you haven't had to focus so much on where to put your feet or how to stay comfortable on the trail. At that point, if you want to try hikes that are challenging in terms of length and terrain (and for many women this is not something they ever aspire too), you can consider yourself ready.

If you're interested in reading more hiking tips, download our new tipsheet.

Hiking Tips for Women

Topics: hiking, preparation, hiking trips

High altitude adventure trips for women: what you need to know

Posted by Marian Marbury on Oct 8, 2012 4:50:00 PM

Should you even consider one of our adventure trips for women that involve high altitude (for example, our Kilimanjaro Climb and Safari or Trekking to Machu Picchu)? If you're like most people, you may never have been over 8 - 10,000 feet and you have no idea how you will respond. There are alot of myths and misinformation about altitude so the first step is to get some basic information.

  • There isn't less oxygen at high altitudes. But there is lower barometric pressure, which means there is less pressure to force those oxygen molecules out of the air and into your blood stream. Your body has both short term (faster breathing and heart rate) and long term (more hemoglobin) ways of helping you adapt up to a point. 

  • Most people do not have trouble at altituStanding on top of Kilimanjarodes below 8,000 feet, other than perhaps a little breathlessness and rapid heart rate the first day or so (e.g. this comonly occurs when we go to Bryce Canyon). Beyond that, our response to altitude is largely determined by our genetic makeup. Those people who climb Everest without oxygen? It isn't that they are super athletes or follow special diets (although those may be true too); it's just that they chose their parents well.

  • You can have trouble adapting to altitude one time and no trouble the next, or vice versa - because it isn't all genetic. Nonetheless, it isn't a hopeful sign if you have problems twice in a row or routinely have more trouble than other people when you are over 8,000 feet.

  • People with a long history of heavy smoking and/or chronic lung disease are mor elikely to have trouble at altitude ebcause their lung function is already affected.

  • Being in top physical condition won't prevent altitude sickness.

  • People do not get more susceptible as they get older - in fact, there is some evidence that the reverse is true.

  • The best way to avoid altitude sickness is to build in adequate time for acclimatization, preferably never sleeping more than 1,000 feet higher than the night before.

  • Staying well hydrated, eating more carbs and less fat, avoiding alcohol, and getting more rest can all help you adapt.
  • If slow acclimatization isn't possible or if symptoms of mild altitude persist, then the drug acetazolamide (Diamox) is very effective for most people. Fortunately the symptoms many of us typically get - headaches, nausea, fatigue - often resolve in a day or two.

  • Occasionally people don't adapt, and then altitude can be deadly.  Once you develop any of the forms of altitude sickness (Acute Mountain Sickness, High Altitude Pulmonary Edema, High Altitude Cerebral Edema) the most important thing is to descend to lower elevations. Fortunately at altitudes of 20,000 or less, these are not common.

    In the end, there are no guarantees. You can do everything you need to do to get ready for a high altitude adventure trip and then have altitude problems. People with known chronic lung disease or demonstrated sensitivity to altitude probably shouldn't even bother trying. But if there is something you have been wanting to attempt and all that is holding you back is your uncertainty about how you will respond to altitude? If you don't try, you'll never know.
     

Topics: active travel, hiking, safety, travel tips, health and fitness