Whether you are looking for a good way to work on your fitness, or just want to get out and enjoy the natural world, hiking is a great way to move your body and clear your mind. We are fortunate to have a good number of opportunities right here around Berkeley.
Opportunities such as the Berkeley Fire Trails and Tilden Regional Park provide plenty of miles with differing difficulties of terrain. If you plan your outing well, you can go on a trek that’s well within your comfort level or provides a bit of challenge, if you wish. Almost all of it comes with great views, too, so it’s difficult to go wrong in terms of natural experience.
You can go wrong, however, when it comes to preparing yourself for hiking. Depending on what your ambitions are, hiking is not as much of a breeze as a slow walk on a treadmill at the gym. Taking the right steps to ready yourself for hiking can help you avoid foot and ankle injuries. On top of that, it can make your time a lot more enjoyable!
The advice we offer in this blog is going to focus more on day-hiking than huge, multiple-day excursions. Those are beasts that you would best be consulting directly with well-seasoned hiking trippers about.
Start with the Footwear
Whatever your feet are going to be spending the day walking in, it better provide the support and comfort they need for the mission! Otherwise, you’re likely to end up with plenty of aches and blisters before you even finish.
For day-hiking, light hiking shoes or boots are often preferred. Look for a semi-rigid or rigid mid-sole and a snug fit around the foot. You do not want the foot to be sliding inside the shoe all day; that’s where misery happens.
Look for a breathable material that will also stand up well to water, such as split-grain leather or synthetics like polyester and nylon. Try on multiple types of shoes to get a good feel for what works best for you (and get an associate to help).
Just as important as your shoes is your socks! Materials like wool—and especially merino wool—feels good against the feet and will effectively wick away sweat to avoid swampy discomfort.
Whatever shoes and socks you choose to wear, do not wear them for the first real time on a hike. Spend at least one “normal” day in them first to make sure there are no problems. You don’t want to find out your shoes are rubbing against you the wrong way when you’re on the middle of a trail with miles to go in either direction.
What Else to Bring
Even if you just plan on spending a day on a trail, it’s wise to prepare to stay out longer in case something happens.
Good recommendations to pack along with you include:
- A map of the trails and a compass (do not rely on your phone to provide either of these items).
- Insect repellant.
- Snacks and water.
- Some extra clothes and rain gear (especially extra socks).
- A headlamp.
- Matches or a lighter.
- A first aid kit.
- A knife.
- A locating device, such as a whistle.
Make sure you know how everything operates before you go out with it, and that it’s in working order before you do.
Assure Your Footing
It can be deceptively easy to suffer an ankle sprain while hiking, especially when the terrain becomes uneven.
Conditioning yourself for improved balance can be more helpful than you might expect. Simple exercises include standing on one foot for 30-60 seconds at a time or walking straight heel-to-toe with your arms out to your sides and eyes focused straight ahead. These both improve your proprioception, or how your body knows where it is in the world, and can help you quickly recover if something makes you stumble.
Your perception should work along with your proprioception, however. Keep an eye where you are walking and take precautions whenever necessary.
A good pair of trekking poles or a sturdy walking stick can be very helpful when it comes to testing out the trail ahead of you. They can also reduce strain on your knees over the course of a hike.
Additionally, use good judgment regarding where you place your feet. Logs and other items in your path may not be stable. Always step over them instead of on top of them, when possible.
Leave a Record
If you plan on taking a hike out in more remote locations that aren’t frequented so often by others, then you need to let people know where you are.
Create a plan of what trails you want to take before you go. Leave it with someone who can take action and get police or rescuers involved if you are not back well after you said you would be.
The registers you may find along trails are also not for fun. They are there so search and rescue teams can know if and when you were there. Taking a moment to sign in and out of them can very much impact the success of a search.
Get Your Feet and Ankles Ready
If you suffer from heel pain, ankle instability, or other troublesome issues, it does not necessarily mean you can’t get out and enjoy the great outdoors! But you might need some extra attention.
Dr. Yuko Miyazaki and our staff can help you address foot and ankle issues that might be holding you back, and provide preventative measures to help avoid injuries on the trails. This might include custom orthotics for added stability, help for arthritic conditions, or just general advice on the best shoes and preparations for your needs.
Our office in Berkeley is here to help with your foot and ankle questions. Give us a call at (510) 647-3744 or fill out our online form to have a member of our staff reach out to you.