The internet is bursting right now with studies showing that time spent hiking in nature reduces stress and it’s true nature is cheap therapy.
But I gotta be honest…sometimes hiking IS stressful.
I’d like to say that every day we have a zen like experience wandering through the mountains, completely in tune with ourselves and our natural environment.
But we don’t.
It’s not always a blissful walk through the forest. Often it’s dirty screaming children, bug bites and rainclouds.
So what can we do to have a stress-free hike or to at least reduce the amount of stress felt on a hike?
Here are a few things that work for us.
- Have a plan.
Know exactly where you’re going to hike and how to get there. It’s stressful when you don’t know where you’re going and how long it’s going to take to get there.
- Have a pre-hike routine.
It’s never a good idea to start a hike stressed out because you forgot to fill up the tank with gas or because you woke up late and skipped breakfast.
- Have a good packing list or system for packing.
We start with a basic packing list for every hike and then modify based on where we are going, how long we plan to be gone and what we think the weather is going to do. Getting to the trailhead and realizing that you forgot to pack something as basic as bug spray makes for a stressful hike.
- Do an equipment check before hitting the trails.
Have you ever gotten to the trailhead and realized that the zipper on your pack as broken? When you’re packing it’s a good idea to check your equipment for malfunctions as well.
- Eat a good meal before leaving the house.
Don’t try to start a hike on an empty belly. It’s just a bad idea. Conversely, the days when we’ve filled up on gas station donuts before a hike have also ended with us being tired, crabby and out of fuel.
- Leave it at the trailhead.
If you drive on I-80 headed towards Vedauwoo you know that some jerkwad truck driver is going to cut you off. Things like traffic, the idiot who took up 6 parking places with his gigantic RV at the trailhead and so on can leave you stressed. So, try to leave it all at the trailhead and start the hike fresh.
- Put away the i-Phone.
It seems like I’m able to get good connectivity on my mobile phone in more places lately, which is good and bad. Sometimes when I see an email pop up and I’m hiking I want to respond to it right away and I can’t. That adds unnecessary stress to my hike. So, sticking the phone in my pack when I’m not taking a photo or video helps keep hikes stress-free.
- Bring plenty of food and water.
This one seems like a no-brainer, but we all get grumpy when we’re thirsty and hungry. I’ll take it one step further…have you ever been on a hike and realized that you didn’t bring enough food or water? That’s a stressful situation that in most cases can be avoided.
- Leave the kids at home with a babysitter.
This may make me sound like the world’s worst Mom, but hiking with kids is stressful. There’s the constant watching to make sure they don’t wander off the trail, fall off a cliff or get snatched up by a mountain lion. Then there’s more realistic little stressors like dealing with tears, fatigue, sunburns, bug bites and emotions. If you want a stress-free hike leave the kids at home.
- Give yourself enough time and set realistic distance and speed goals.
I always get stressed out when I set a distance goals that are unattainable. Realistic goals are the way to go, or setting goals a little bit lower than expected. Usually my maximum mileage with both kids is 5 miles but on days when I’ve been able to knock out 6 or 7 miles I’ve felt like a champ.
I do think that hiking can be a great stress reliever but sometimes it takes just a little bit more than driving to a trailhead and expecting zen.
Now it’s your turn. What do you do to make hikes less stressful?