The benefits of hiking

Find a way to get outside regularly this fall and your body will thank you. Here’s how hiking can help

By Jen Masseau

Take a hike!

While the dropping temperatures may make you want cocoon up indoors until warmer weather returns, the best way to beat the winter blues is just the opposite: Countless studies tout the perks of outdoor activity. Being in nature has been found to reduce stress, boost energy and immunity, and improve self-esteem. Time spent in nature can even increase creativity, curiosity and problem solving ability.

Hiking is a great way to get out there. It’s fun, requires very little equipment and can be done virtually anywhere. “Being outside is always a chance to clear the mind and de-stress,” says Willie McBride, co-founder of Portland, Oregon-based Animal Athletics, which offers guided hiking and trail running excursions and outdoor fitness training. “Anything that gets people out and moving their legs and breathing the air [while] engaging mindfully in an activity is good.”

Hiking is also a full body workout that improves cardiovascular health and stamina and builds lower body muscle. And it’s flexible for all fitness levels: choose your route’s distance, difficulty and the intensity at which you’ll complete it. Hiking can be a walk in the park, or a vigorous mountain climb—Canada has loads of great trails—it’s up to you, and it’s all good.

Tips for the trails

In June, I flew to Portland, Oregon for a preview of Ecco Sport’s fall lineup of hiking boots and shoes (now in stores). As a treat, I got to experience their performance on the rugged trails of Portland’s Forest Park and the Columbia River Gorge on the Oregon-Washington border. Animal Athletics’ McBride and partner Yassine Diboun were enlisted to lead our excursions, and were full of boundless energy and information.
Here are some of McBride’s day hiking tips:

• “Plan ahead and choose an appropriate route for your skill level. It’s great to pick challenging goals and push yourself but you definitely want to err on the side of caution as you travel further into the backcountry.”
Watch your step. “Fallen leaves on the trail can hide dangerous obstacles like ankle-twisting rocks.”
“Stash a space blanket and small headlamp in your pack at all times. In fall it’s easy to push yourself harder in the cooler temperatures, and easy at times to forget about the shorter days and less day light.”
Pack a few key in-case-of-emergency items. “Bring a cellphone. Carry a real map (and know how to use it).”
Respect your surroundings. Animal Athletics practices the principles of “Leave No Trace” for environmentally and socially conscientious hiking. This means “being thoughtful to other trail users, animals, and the earth…not only trying to have zero impact on an area you travel through, but leaving a place better if possible than when you came—for example, by picking up others’ trash,” says McBride.

Another key to a fun, comfortable hike is dressing appropriately. See the next slides for some of the gear I relied on while hiking in Oregon, as well as other recommended items.

Functional footwear

Made from highly-durable Yak leather with GoreTex waterproof lining, a reinforced toe cap and a rugged rubber outsole with deeply-grooved lugs for traction and stability, these boots are tough.

They’re also comfortable right out of the box: On my Oregon-Washington hiking trip, I wore these for the first time on a 15 kilometre hike—first up Beacon Rock with an elevation gain of 600 ft (183 m), followed by Hamilton Mountain at an elevation gain of 2000 ft (610 m)—and my feet were well supported on the trails and blister-free at the end of day, no ‘breaking-in’ required.

Put a (lightweight) load on

A backpack with an integrated hydration bladder (a flexible heavy plastic envelope with attached drinking straw) is an easy way to make sure you remember to drink your H20 while out on the trails. This bag has just enough extra capacity for your day hike essentials (snacks, camera, map, an extra sweater) while keeping it light on your back. A unique system of stabilizing straps holds it securely against your body to stop it from bouncing while you hike.

Ready-for-anything jacket

This jacket’s exterior is seam sealed and waterproof, while the interior lining is boosted with thermal-reflective technology to trap heat. The whole package is lightweight and breathable, and zippered underarm vests allow you to let heat out when you’ve worked up a sweat.