By Caitlin O’Brien, Fitness Specialist
Hiking in Colorado is a must this time of the year. The alpine lakes are defrosting, and wildflowers are blooming. From hiking along a creek to climbing a 14’er, here’s how I prepare for a hike:
Things to Consider When Preparing for a Hike
Get an Early Start: Hit the road early! You’re not the only person who moved to Colorado because of the Rockies, so there will be several people taking advantage of the hiking season.
Pack your bag the night before, so you’re not scrambling in the morning. Trailheads fill up quickly, so the later you go, the more distance you’ll add to your hike. Plus, it’s more refreshing to hike in 50-degree weather.
Bring Layers: It might be 80 degrees in the city, but that doesn’t mean it’s the same in the mountains. Weather can change fast, and it’s necessary to prepare yourself. Thunderstorms are prevalent in the afternoon, and depending on how high in elevation you climb, the temperature can drop and wind gusts can pick up quickly.
I have a minimum of three layers when I start my hike. They consist of a tank top, long sleeve, sweatshirt/coat, and rain pack.
Maintaining proper body temperature is very important, and one of the best tips I can pass on to you is ‘you want to take layers off before you start to sweat and you want to put layers back on before you get the chills’ and this advice has held for all of my hikes.
Drink Fluids: Climbing in elevation and sun exposure will dehydrate the body quickly. Drink plenty of water the day before and the morning of your hike. Continue drinking water after you’ve finished your trek as well. If you know you’re doing a more strenuous hike, bring some electrolytes as it will help replenish the body of vitamins and minerals lost. Nuun is one of my favorites!
Sleep: It’s essential to get a good night’s rest before a hike. Your body is like a tank of gas. Ever notice how quickly your tank drops after it hits less than ½ a tank? A full tank will last longer and keep you going longer as well.
Before You Go: Even in the mountains, COVID-19 restrictions and guidelines are in place. Practice social distancing and bring your mask. State Parks and counties may have additional rules, so check before you go.
Things to Bring For a Hike
No matter the distance, I always bring these hiking essential items with me:
Water Bottle/Hydration Pack: I always pack a 2L hydration pack and an additional water bottle. There is plenty of water access in Colorado, and water purifiers are great to have as well.
Food: If you think you packed enough energy bars, pack two more. It’s better to have more food than not enough. Trail mix, almond butter, jerky, and oat bars are a few of my favorites. Quick sugars like fruit strips or honey are useful when you need a little boost of energy.
Map Out Your Trail: I use an app on my phone because it’s easy to download a trail route, and because I always have my phone on me, a map is one less thing I have to pack!
The AllTrails app is perfect for adventurers, just like MyFitnessPal is ideal for workout enthusiasts. The app costs $29.99 for one year of access. (sometimes they have flash deals too!) and offers excellent reviews on current trail conditions, how to get to the trailhead, weather, etc.
Headlamp: Hikes can end up taking longer than expected, so being able to find your way through the wilderness at night is essential. Tip: Don’t forget to switch out your batteries frequently!
Sunscreen. Although the temperature might be colder in the mountains, the UV rays from the sun are more significant in higher elevation. I spray 50 SPF before I begin and re-apply halfway through.
Sunglasses. Sun reflects off of snow and can damage the eyes without proper coverage. No one wants to be squinting for long periods, and sunglasses can help you see the beautiful surroundings.
Firestarter and Matches: It’s essential to prepare for the worst but hope for the best. In case you get lost or fall and need to create a signal, these two items will come in handy.
Layers: This deserves it’s own paragraph (refer to “how to prepare for a hike”), so I’ll keep it short – pack extra clothes!
Multi-Tool: Great for food preparation, first aid and other emergency needs
First Aid: Alcohol wipes and band-aids are great for blisters and preventing bacteria from entering a cut.
Bug Spray: Bring it so you can avoid itching yourself to sleep later.
It might sound like a lot of stuff to bring on your hikes. However, we see on the news often about hikers getting lost in the woods on a trail even if they are familiar with it. It’s better to be prepared and safe than naked and afraid in the woods. (Sorry, I watched that a lot in quarantine)
Remember to Stretch Before and After a Hike
We’re all guilty of going on a hike and immediately sitting in the car for the trek back to the city. When you arrive home, the body feels stiff when you try to get out of your vehicle, and that’s no fun.
Stretching right after your hike will help reduce muscle soreness and stiffness. But don’t forget about the pre-hike stretches too! Here’s how I warm-up and cool down:
Warm-up: I do a few dynamic stretches to prepare my muscles for a hike. I target the quadriceps, hamstrings, calves, hip flexors, and T-spine (feel free to stretch more areas out).
One of my favorite stretches is a walking runner’s lunge with a T-spine rotation. It hits multiple areas at once! For any dynamic stretching, I make sure I’m not holding a stretch longer than 1-2 seconds and spend about 1 minute on each muscle.
Cooldown: I target the same muscles from my warm-up. This time, I’ll do some static stretching, which means I will hold each stretch for 30-60 seconds without movement. Taking deep inhales and exhales as I hold onto these stretches will help release any leftover tension I built up from my hike.
Click here for stretching ideas to get you started.
There you have it. I hope these tips help you prepare for your hike. Now get outside and enjoy what this beautiful state has to offer!
AHWC has no affiliation with any brand mentioned in this blog. These suggestions are the opinions of the writer. For more wellness resources, visit our resource page.