A group of hikers navigate Wadi Khsheib in South Sinai. Credit: Enas El Masry
It’s not so unusual to shy away from activities that you’ve never tried before, especially when you continue to associate them with false impressions. Hiking is no stranger to the injustice of prejudice and stigma.
Although commonly popular among the community of adventurers, hiking is otherwise regarded as a niche activity. Having been on many hikes of varied difficulties and in different settings, it’s such a shame to see a lot of people who haven’t tried hiking at least once.
If you’ve never been on a hike before, here are four common misconceptions on hiking that you may want to reconsider:
You Must be Super Fit for Hiking
Stewart Herman, 68, half-way through a 200 km trekking trip in South Sinai. Credit: Enas El Masry
By definition, hiking means going on long, leisurely walks which follow designated paths. This could be anything from a few hours to days on end. Whether it’s done for enhancing one’s fitness, or embracing scenic roads, hiking is an activity that is closely tied with stress release. While this requires a minimum level of fitness to endure the long hours of walking, you must always remember that you are in control of your pace, and the frequency at which you rest.
The more you practice, the more you’ll notice an improvement in your pace, your breathing, and the hiking duration you can maintain before you need to rest.
What most people tend to overlook is that staying fit on the route involves a lot more than your physical readiness. The quality and quantity of food intake, paralleled with the amount of water you drink, the kind of clothes you’re wearing, and the quality of sleep you’re getting (if it’s a long hike), are all factors that influence your hiking performance.
So if you’re not a national champion, or a triathlete, there’s no need to worry about not being fit enough for hiking. Just start with easy, short routes, and work your way up from there. We must warn you though; hiking can be pretty addictive once you’ve tasted the liberating feeling of being out in the embrace of nature away from the urban hassle.
Hiking is All about Primitive Survival
Adel, the lead chef on Sinai Trail, prepares a basic, but delicious breakfast on top of Mt. Saint Catherine. Credit: Enas El Masry
Hiking could be an intimidating idea for those who haven’t tried it. Some notions that lead to such intimidation include the physical effort involved, but mostly, the lack of any means of luxury. Besides the fact that the hiking route you pick can immensely vary in difficulty, you can also alter the level of luxury you want to include in your hiking trip.
Optimally, we would choose minimal luxury on hiking trips. In the city, we are too used to all forms of luxury being within arm’s length. The result is that we become too reliant on them, which in turn numbs our senses, and subdues our instinctual skills to comfortably deal with nature. The minute you conquer the fear of being fully exposed to nature, you’ll realize how much stronger you actually are. Although you may not give up on luxuries in your everyday life, you will at least know deep down how far you can survive without them.
For hiking beginners, you can gradually reduce the amount of luxury you incorporate in your hiking trips, until you can truly survive on the bare minimum. Similar to your hiking pace, you are in control of the amount of luxury you want to include in your trip.
But bear in mind that the more the luxury, the heavier the weight you carry around.
Hiking in the Wilderness is Unsafe
The skull of a dead goat found near the Blue Desert in South Sinai. Credit: Enas El Masry
Once you’re out of the boundaries of the city, you’re at the mercy of nature and everything it brings – snakes, scorpions, wild animals, storms, heavy rains, and much more. Oftentimes, this is perceived synonymously as dangerous.
While nature is inherently harsh, it’s only unsafe if you take it for granted and don’t prepare for it well. When you walk into any foreign country, it’s crucial that you abide by its rules and law – you exchange your currency into the local one, you try to learn the language used there, you read into the local norms to avoid offending anyone, and you inquire about any laws that you, as a foreigner, may be at risk if you break. The same easily applies to nature.
Nature has its own laws which nomadic cultures and seasons hikers and campers know all too well. Breaking this law may not get you in prison or subject you to a fine, but it may very well put you and your fellow hikers in grave danger.
Staying safe in the wilderness involves two main pillars; preparation and situation management. Preparing properly for a hike means you need to be aware of the weather conditions you will hike through, the water availability on the route, exit points that are accessible by vehicles for emergencies, points of cell phone network reception, and the kind of plants you’re likely to encounter on the route, especially which are edible and which are poisonous. Such knowledge guarantees that you are well equipped in terms of gear and navigation.
As you grow your hiking experience in the wilderness, you’ll be able to manoeuvre any incidents that arise. But until then, it is highly advisable to never navigate the wilderness without an experienced local guide.
Hiking Lacks Any Spontaneous Fun
Bedouin guide and hikers embrace their goofiness before heading out into the mountains. Courtesy of The Sinai Trail.
Hiking is both serious and fun; if you take it lightly, or decide to go on unplanned, in-the-spur-of-the-moment trips, you may jeopardize your safety and that of everyone else on the trip. Depending on the length and difficulty of your hiking trip, the amount of preparation would differ.
But thoroughly planning a hiking trip does not mean it’s void of spontaneity and the care-free fun that entails. As a matter of fact, once you’re away from the city and its dwellers’ judgemental glances, you’ll find that there’s plenty of room for being goofy or whatever ‘being yourself’ means.
After the sun had set, and night has fallen, there’s often not much to do besides gather around the camp fire for warmth and food. Without phones, laptops, or other gadgets, entertainment starts pouring from the most genuine places, whether it’s poetry reciting, music playing, singing, dancing, or sharing heart-to-heart conversations.