Social distancing and continued coronavirus concerns have prompted many to turn to walking, hiking, and running/trail running for exercise as gyms and other group exercise activities remain off limits. Spending time in nature hiking, walking, or running is a great way to move your body out of work-from-home pose, get some exercise, get away from the news wheel, and stop “doomscrolling” the headlines for a bit of mental and physical refreshment.
I’ve put together a few best practices to guide you in your safe and socially aware hiking during this time.
If you are sick, stay home!
Fever, cough, dizziness, new loss of taste or smell, you know the drill: isolate and stay home. Follow the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines and protect yourself and others by staying home ands recovering!
Check out your state and local guidance
State and local government rules on where and what kind of recreation can happen are changing rapidly and vary from place to place. Some trails or parks may be closed or only open to locals. Be sure to check if your park or trail is open, if the parking lot at the trailhead is open and if a parking pass is required, and whether masks are required during your outing. You can visit the managing agency website (e.g., Forest Service, City Open Space) for the latest information on trail availability/accessibility.
Keep social distancing in mind: Trail use is up during the coronavirus timeframe, as people move outdoors for exercise. Keep this in mind when you are selecting your trail.
Trail Numbers: Ask yourself, how popular the trail is. Apps like AllTrails or facebook hiking group discussions can give you a sense of trail popularity. Trail usage varies throughout the week, with max trail use on weekends; keep this in mind when estimating trail use numbers. Here in New Mexico, early mornings and evenings are best bets in terms of staying away from some of the days’ heat, but that also means weekend mornings are likely to bring the highest number outdoor enthusiasts on to the trail along with you!
Trail type: Does the trail allow for moving around other hikers? Are you in a broad area that allows for you to easily step 3-4 feet off the trail to allow others to pass or to pass other hikers? Or are you in a narrow canyon that will require closer contact.
Stay nearby: Current guidelines in New Mexico mandate that you stay near to home, only traveling for essential purposes. This is the time to utilize your local mountain or city trail networks and infrastructure. Re-exploring these trails can be a fun way to get back in touch with your local trail network. Also keep in mind that different states have different guidelines, so be sure to research these thoroughly if you’re moving across state borders.
Don’t Go Wild
Now is not the time to experiment with a new extreme sport! Riskier activities have a higher likelihood that you will need medical attention if an accident happens, so do yourself and our strained medical system a favor and try to stick to more conservative or safe activities. Trying your hand at hang gliding, trad rock climbing, or solo backpacking in extreme and remote terrain may not be the best bet for someone more used to racketball and gym training. Keep that enthusiasm alive, but keep our social situation in mind. Get your fitness up, do your extreme sport research, and save it for a few months: it’ll all still be there in a few months!
Hiking Basics Still Apply
There may be more people on the trail, and you may be feeling extra-aware of COVID best practices (wash hands, social distance, masks, etc.), but the hiking basics still apply.
Navigation: Know where you’re going, how long you’ll be out, and carry a map/app to stay on track. Be sure to llet another person know your plans in case of emergency.
Hydration & Fuel: It’s the middle of summer, and it’s hot. Carry ample water (high temperatures and brisk hiking likely require about 1 liter of water per hour) for the entire trip. Pack snacks to fuel your activity, and throw in an extra. Keeping in mind the length and difficulty of your hike, plan your food accordingly. Day hikes snacks come in all flavors: robust fresh fruit like oranges/apples, trail mix, energy bars/gels, nuts/nut butters, prepackaged tuna, dried jerkies, etc. make great packable foods/meals. Remember Leave No Trace practices, so pack out any wrappers, tissues, etc.
Gear: Weather-appropriate clothing, sturdy footwear, basic first aid kit, extra clothing layers, and emergency tools (whistle, knife, GPS beacon) are always important to have with you. Keeping with the times, bring your mask and hand sanitizer along as well!
Enjoy it & Be Flexible
My biggest piece of advice is to enjoy the outing, and enjoy being outdoors. These are extraordinary times, and require extraordinary personal and social adaptations. This is a good time to turn from seeing our activities as being restricted into seeing opportunities to explore in new and different ways. Flexibility of mind is always important, not just on the trail!