The internet is bursting right now with studies showing that time spent hiking in nature reduces stress.
It’s true nature is affordable (albeit not professional) therapy.
But I have to be honest, sometimes hiking is stressful.
I want to say that every time we hit the trails, we have zen-like experiences wandering through the mountains, in tune with ourselves and our natural environment.
But we don’t.
It’s not always a pleasant walk through the forest. Often it’s emotional children, wind, bug bites and rainclouds.
So what can we do to have a stress-free hike or to reduce at least 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 an essential 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 like bug spray or extra snacks 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 any US highway, you know that some jerk is going to cut you off. Things like traffic, the idiot who took up six parking places with his huge RV at the trailhead, and so on can leave you stressed. So, pick a safe trailhead and try to leave it all at the trailhead and start the hike fresh.
Put away the phone.
It seems like I’m able to get 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 backcountry adventures stress-free. Or turning off all notifications.
Bring plenty of food and water.
This one seems like a no-brainer, but we all get grumpy when we’re thirsty and hungry. This is one stressor that can be completely avoided with a good packing list and by always being prepared.
Leave the kids at home with a babysitter.
Confession, sometimes hiking with kids, is stressful, especially babies and toddlers. 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 are more realistic little stressors like dealing with tears, fatigue, sunburns, bug bites, and big emotions. If you want an entirely stress-free hike, leave the kids at home every once in a while (but not all the time, kids need trail time too)
Give yourself enough time and set realistic distance and speed goals.
I always get stressed out when I set unattainable distance goals. Realistic goals are the way to go or setting goals a little bit lower than expected so you can be excited when you crush them.
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?
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