When you hear of “hiking”, what’s the first thing that comes up your mind? Probably “mountains” or “forests”. Now, those are two keywords that do pair well with hiking and they are just some of the places you see to attempt a hike. A lot of people may want to see those, but then they think of hiking and then get intimidated by the concept. Hiking is basically, by definition, the activity to go for long walks. It’s also considered a form of a workout and it may compensate better than doing the staircase master in the gym!
There are some preconceived notions of hiking that can make people afraid to attempt doing it and for those who never done it, they are left with more mystery of how it’s going to feel. I did not start hiking until 2016. (The first time I ever did was in 6th grade and I didn’t even know what a “hike” was — I just thought we had to follow the teacher up a hill LOL.) Fast forward to 3 years later and hiking more than 50+ trails in my life, I felt that hiking shaped me to be more fit, to face my fears, and every footstep was worth it.
We shouldn’t hold ourselves back from trying to get into this outdoor activity, but these are 6 of the most common reasons why you might be afraid to start hiking. You might resonate with one or a few of these, but reassure yourself these are just beliefs that do not translate to the truth. Anxiety may consume us, but the real effect of hiking is to ease the anxiety.
1. You don’t think you’re the “right type” of person to go hiking.
On glossy cover pages in health or fitness magazines, we may see happy people smiling on top of a mountain. They’re toned, they’re tall, they’re not a person-of-color, they’re probably on the skinnier side, and they are exactly what we keep seeing advertised.
In an essay “What if I’m not white?” by Glenn Nelson, he writes “Because the outdoors remains a largely white domain, it is up to white America to invite communities of color in, to enlist us as allies.” That’s a fact. I live in Arizona where the white population is 77.50% in 2019 and I may stick out like a sore thumb because I’m Asian, but that does not worry me like the wildlife out here does. I’m young looking, in my 20’s, and I’m going to own the trails if I want to! As if that was the real confidence I had before… I was actually shy to get out there when I was much younger because there had to be a “certain” person to conquer trails: athletic and white.
I love knowing that I’m a person of color and I’m an unlikely hiker, just like what the organization Unlikely Hikers represent. It’s a community that represents anyone with disabilities, queers, trans and gender, people of size, people of color, etc. You don’t have to feel excluded despite what our history shows us or what the media sometimes portray with a lack of diversity.
Now, REI is doing something different with showing how inviting the outdoors can be to anyone. They’re doing campaigns that revolve around people of color. There are many outdoors organizations that are huge on all channels of social media that show women can hike, colored people will hike, gay people are hikers, and etc. and these photos, stories, and work we are witnessing from there is opening up more and more of others’ minds.
2. You’ve never been exposed to the outdoors… at all.
Okay, I totally get this one because I was once there. If you come from a family who never introduced you to the outdoors, it’s even easier to get stuck in the flow of what they’re used to (like the indoors). It did not take my 6th-grade school camping trip to introduce me about the outdoors, I was terrified there as I was before. It took me in my early 20’s by my college friends to show me to enjoy the outside. You’re probably not prepared for what is out there (and there are plenty of things to be cautious about) and you probably do not know how to work any activity.
Thank goodness for organizations once again. There are many hiking organizations or communities that will host events to guide people on hiking. You won’t go alone and you can certainly find out ahead if it’s par to your level of fitness. I’m an ambassador for Hike Like A Woman and a participant of the #52HikeChallenge and both of these organizations host events in local communities to gather a group of hikers supervised by leaders to lead the hike. You can also find groups on Facebook to join aside from Instagram profiles to find out more about these types of organizations.
Once you’re out there at least a few times, you’ll get more comfortable on what to do and feeling peaceful with nature… and you’ll get the hang of how to catch your breath when you’re out of it from hiking!
3. Fear of heights.
A lot of us fear of just how steep mountains are and acrophobia (phobia for fear of heights) is what’s stopping us from climbing that mountain. This is a girl who was downright mortified, could-crap-in-her-pants, cry-her-eyes-out, scream-on-the-top-of-her-lungs type of person whenever she got on rollercoasters or could not stay close to barriers that protect people from falling off edges at an attraction. I mean, that was the only thing I was pretty close to experiencing heights at the time.
And now? I can walk up to thousands of feet elevation on mountains and drive there too. You will probably feel vertigo at first, but the feelings may subside. Even if I find myself that I haven’t hiked in a while, vertigo always finds a way to pop up but fearing it will just make me want to quit early and turn back around.
Just relax and learn to breathe in and out, take it slow on the trails, try not to look down as much as you can and focus on where to step in front of you, and visualize or map out where you want to be (that’s probably to make it to the top and end of the trail). The physical effects will be worst when your mental consciousness is telling you “this is not okay” but changing your thoughts and language a bit can bring you to get rid of that fear.
A big reason why I also used to fear heights was due to how bad my balance was. When I had a very bad balance, I could feel myself of almost falling off the edge of a narrow pathway, but that just tells me that I should do trails that will help me build my balance slowly than attempting to a higher elevation gain. As I said before, take it slow and do what’s easy on your body at first.
4. Fear of getting hurt or sick from anything out there.
With a fear of heights, it comes with a fear of getting hurt. You know how I said I could feel myself almost falling off the edge of a trail? That’s because I’m already thinking of the worst scenario. Yes, people do get hurt from hiking and it happens all the time. I’ve been pricked by a cactus in my thigh that turned out to be cellulitis (a serious bacterial infection), I’ve been hospitalized from heat exhaustion and dehydration, and I’ve fell down a few times on trails when I’d lose my balance. Those things probably already sound scary and may turn you away from trying to hike now…
It’s bound to happen though, honestly. But, you know the saying “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”? That’s where this saying can really apply. Nature is strong and sometimes you cannot avoid its power and that’s part of why I got pricked by a cactus as a thorn flew right into my thigh without warning. The heat exhaustion and dehydration scenario were completely avoidable though.
Being a prepared hiker and knowing the risks you will be facing when you go outside there is what will make you a smarter hiker. You have to make sure you have a first aid kit on you, where to go and what to do when thunder and lightning strikes, how much water and food you have on you, know what kind of clothes you’re wearing according to the weather, and having bug/bear/pepper spray on you. The line between life and death can be fine and it’s determined by time and place, but the most you can do when you’re in the outdoors is knowing to prepare for the worst.
You can heal when you get hurt and being hurt, just like anything that applies in life, will be part of the process. You feeling sore aches after hiking is a form of pain too that you must overcome to enjoy the sport and you will see the benefits of it the better and more confident you get.
5. Fear of getting lost.
I’m also guilty of this. If you hike alone, this is more worrisome. I hike solo majority of the time and this is something I do not like to go through, yet it has happened. I suggest always going with someone in the beginning (or always) when you go hiking so that way you have another brain to help you think through things. You need to be prepared with this as well and make sure you have a good set of directions and a map you can follow through or even to study ahead of time. There are also helpful trail markers sometimes that will be useful for you to trace where you have to go.
Having a compass in hand is super useful too. And remember, do not be shy to ask others for directions and for any things to be warned about as you keep on hiking. You should also always listen to your guts. If something in your gut tells you you’re going the wrong way, do not ignore it. It’s a great indication that you’re going to get yourself lost.
I always use the AllTrails app (there are several other hiking apps out there!) and I use it to download a map ahead or record my steps. One tip I highly suggest about having a good direction in hiking is to read several or all of the trail reviews ahead of time and take note of what to look out for in some of the people’s words.
6. Not feeling physically fit enough.
Hiking is a fast calorie burner. It’s a form of cardio. You may already feel like you’ll be extra worn out after you do a hike and that you may not keep up with the demand of a workout where you may use all or a lot of your muscles.
Though, you should already know that many get into hiking because they know they are not physically fit enough and their goal is to be more fit. I personally do not love the gym as much as I love being on a trail and I like to see hiking as a workout I’d want to keep up with at least once a week. The views, the smell of nature, and the feeling of fresh air are great motivators to include in your workout regimen.
There are many workouts you can start off slowly before you hit the trails and I wrote down some of the best exercises to do before a hike on the 52 Hike Challenge blog. I trained at least 2 months before I went on a hike for myself. In this way, you do not have to feel like you’re the only one dying on that trail (and more likely, you won’t be!). Over time, your body will get stronger and your balance will surely improve. Your weight will be maintained.
I have a post with useful tips on how to recover from soreness after hiking here so you can recover quickly or prevent those sore feelings before you get hiking.
These are all reasons that do not mean you have to fear them.
Hiking is the most rewarding activity I’ve put myself through and from everyone else that I connect with that is also into it. I’ve heard many people’s stories about how hiking changed their life, their body, and their mind. You connect with all three points of a healthy person from it: mind, body, and soul. You will become braver out of it and you will feel accomplished out of it.
On top of what I’ve already accomplished in my 20+ years of living, hiking awesome mountains was an accomplishment that felt more beneficial for me and not just for doing something for others. If you’re struggling with loving yourself, getting out of a rut, being too much into your comfort zone, being unhealthy, having a clouded mind, and you need to feel more passion towards something in your life, try going on a hike or few.
You might actually then get hit by the “hiking bug” and be so in love with the adrenaline rush it brings you that you forgot these 6 fears is what made you wait so long to experience nature.