Getting Ready for Your Hike

More and more people are discovering that a hiking vacation provides just the right combination of stimulation and relaxation. With a little preparation, your hiking trip can be the best vacation you ever had.

This site is sponsored by Alyson Adventures, which offers diving and other active vacations for gay men, lesbians, and friends. We hope it will be of use to anyone interested in this sport.

We invite you also to read more about our gay adventure vacations.


What kind of hiking boots should I get?

If it's your first pair, you should probably get light- or medium-weight boots. Before deciding, consider how much you’ll wear them, and under what conditions.

Light-weight hiking boots (weighing up to 2-3/4 lbs. per pair) are made of synthetic materials, or a combination of leather and synthetic. The lighter weight means less work for your feet over a day of hiking, and the fabric breaks in faster than leather. These boots are fine for day hikes on good trails in dry conditions. If you expect to hit occasional snow, mud, or rain, be sure they have waterproof liners.

A step up are medium-weight boots, weighing 3 to 4 lbs. per pair. These are made with more leather, or sturdier synthetics. They offer more support and better resistance to the elements. For a week of day hikes in varied but generally dry conditions, these are ideal.

Boots weighing over 4 lbs. are classified as – you guessed it – heavy-weight. These boots are serious, all-weather footwear. They’ll take longer to break in, and the leather requires special care. They're probably not the best choice for your first pair of hiking boots. But once you’ve broken them in, they’ll last almost indefinitely, and provide more support than the others. Your ankles will appreciate the extra protection when you’re scrambling over scree. They’re more expensive, but heavy-weight leather boots can be resoled, making them a worthwhile long-term investment for serious hikers.

You cannot attach crampons to light-weight boots, nor to many medium-weights. If you’ll often be hiking on glaciers, be sure your crampons and boots are compatible. If you’re just planning an occasional day of glacier hiking, you’re probably better off renting boots for that occasion, rather than buying more boot than you really need.

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How long does it take to break in hiking boots?

The usual rule of thumb is to walk at least 50 miles in your new boots before wearing them for an extended hike.

Start with short walks. You don’t want to get halfway into a 15-mile hike and realize you’ve got a new blister forming. Wear the boots when you walk to work, to the grocery store, to do errands. When that seems comfortable, do a few short hikes in them. Aim for a couple of 10-mile day hikes in these boots before you head out for a full week.

For heavy-duty or all-leather boots, 50 miles may not be enough. Purchase them well in advance, so you can be sure they’re broken in before you undertake a multi-day hiking trip.

The lighter the boots (and the higher the proportion of fabric to leather), the easier it will be to break them in. But ignore anyone who says light-weight boots don’t need any break-in time. They do; furthermore, your feet need time to gradually adjust to them. Finally, if you bought the wrong size, you want to figure that out before you’re in the middle of a long hiking trip.

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Do I need a water filter?

You need to know how you're going to get enough water as you hike. The answer will vary, depending where you are.

Staying well-hydrated is key to enjoying your hikes, keeping your energy level high, and staying healthy. As in many sports, the rule is: Drink before you are thirsty. In many areas, that simply means carrying one or two 1-liter water bottles and refilling them at rest areas that have tap water available.

Unfortunately, there are few places left in the world where you can assume that water in an outdoor stream or pond is safe to drink. You should assume that all water outdoors requires purification. If tap water won't be available, there are two popular ways of meeting your needs.

Iodine tablets are dissolved in a liter of water, and will kill giardia and other organic agents. Chemical contaminants are not removed by iodine treatment, and it shouldn't be used by pregnant women or people with certain health conditions -- see the bottle for details. Nor is it a good idea for prolonged use. But a bottle of 50 tablets is small and portable, and works well for short trips or as an emergency backup. A second tablet, usually sold on an adjacent hook at the outdoors or camping supply store, will neutralize the unpleasant iodine taste.

Water filters use a hand pump to force water through a filter. These have made great progress in the past decade, but are still subject to clogging and breakdowns. Many campers and hikers prefer filters over water tablets. Always try out your new filter (and, for that matter, any new equipment) before you go hiking with it, and carry tablets as backup.

Backpackers sometimes boil water to kill any microbes. This requires carrying a camp stove and fuel, then drinking hot or warm water. It's not a suitable approach for most day hikers.

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I live in the city. How can I train for a week-long hiking vacation?

There’s no substitute for doing it. Every city has a few parks where you can walk for an hour or two after work. Track down the local outdoors club, and join them for some weekend hikes. Do a few hikes in the clothing that you plan to take for your vacation. That gives you a chance to discover any poor fit or chafing spots.

Even in the city, you can find ways to get in better shape for the week. Any aerobic exercise will make a difference, even more so if you’re hiking will be at a higher altitude than you’re accustomed to. A great way to get in shape for hiking in hilly terrain is climbing stairs. Got an office on the 50th floor? You’re in luck.

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How should I treat blisters?

The best thing is to prevent them in the first place. That’s why it’s so important to break in your boots. A pair of thin sock liners may help.

If you feel a hot spot on your foot as you hike, take action before the blister forms. Never continue hiking if you feel trouble developing; it will only get worse. You may simply have a wrinkle in your sock, or a small stone or twig that's rubbing. If a blister seems to be starting, cover the area with moleskin or a protective coating such as “Second Skin”.

Despite that, a blister may develop. Standard treatment is to pop it with a sterilized needle. (Use a flame, or rubbing alcohol, for sterilization.) Then cover with a protective coating. Moleskin is the traditional covering; the package will provide instructions. Many hikers prefer new compound called “Second Skin”, which provides a moist coating that protects while also helping the injury to heal.

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How long should I allow for an 8-mile hike?

Naturally, that depends on a lot of factors, including the trail condition, how flat it is, and your level of fitness. A rule of thumb is to allow one hour to hike two miles; and another hour for each thousand feet of altitude you’re gaining. So 8 miles over flat terrain will take 4 hours for a typical hiker. If there's a thousand feet of elevation gain involved, it's likely to take 5 hours.

Some regions, such as the Alps in Switzerland, distances are posted in hours rather than in miles or kilometers. This works well on hilly terrain, where it can be hard to estimate how much of your time will be spent going up or down. You'll soon figure out whether these times need to be adjusted for your own hiking speed and style.

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What kind of pack do I need for day hikes?

First, you do not need one of those tall packs with a frame. Those are for backpackers, heading out for several days or more. The pack itself will be extra weight to carry around; and you'll be tempted to carry more than you really need.

For day hiking, you just need a pack large enough to hold water, perhaps lunch, your map and compass, a sweater and rain protection, camera, sunscreen, and a few other small supplies. It's helpful to have at least a couple of pockets to help you keep things organized; you don't want to have to dig down past your sweater every time you reach in for the compass or sunscreen. A side pocket to hold your water bottle will make it easier to frequently take a sip, and stay well hydrated. A day pack with a waist strap will be more comfortable.

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Join a lively gay and lesbian group for an exciting hiking vacation:

Hiking in the Swiss Alps: Edelweiss. 7 days. From our comfortable apartments in Zermatt, under the Matterhorn, discover a world of wildflowers, waterfalls, and glaciers.. Suitable for hikers of all experience levels.

For experienced hikers: Alpenglow. 7 days. From the same Zermatt location, under the Matterhorn, this week is intended for hikers comfortablespending a full day on the trails.

Hiking in the central Alps: Grindelwald. 7 days. Discover a world of wildflowers, waterfalls, and glaciers.

Hiking in Tuscany, Italy: Tuscan Trails. 7 days. Day hikes from two villages that seem frozen in time.

This site also includes two pages to help you find your way as you hike: 


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