When the weather cools down, the traffic on Arizona’s scenic trails gets pretty heavy. This is not surprising, and who can blame our state’s year-round and seasonal residents? Arizona offers hundreds of trails for all skill levels, the weather is perfect during the cooler months, and we’ve got some spectacular views! If you’ve ever been hiking before, you know there are many different kinds of people you meet on the trails; from older couples to young kids and families; to experts and people who don’t realize it’s a bad idea to hike in sandals. These people are more than just a brief encounter filled with friendly greetings. Whether it is life advice or hiking advice, these people can teach you a lot!
1. The Guy or Gal You Only See Twice
This person is the expert hiker. You only see them twice because they’re going so fast that they pass you on the way up and again on the way down while you’re still working your way up the mountain. They are “in the zone” and probably an athlete in training trying to break their current PR (personal record). They are REI, North Face, and Bass Pro Shop’s number one customer, and they are often decked out in hiking-specific gear. Whether they’re speeding up the cliffs of Camelback or darting up Sunrise Peak's summit, they’ll probably look like they’re training to trek Mount Everest.
Your 5-second encounter is brief, but it’s enough time for you to get a good glimpse of all of that sweet gear.
- Sun protection
- Hiking shoes
- Emergency kit
- Food and water
- Trek pole or hiking staff
In the Valley of the Sun, sun protection is crucial. The “person you only see twice” is a reminder of this. They’re sporting lip balm and sunscreen, and they typically carry small bottles of this stuff with them so they can reapply every few hours. They are not going to let the risk of skin cancer or sunburn get in the way of their next hiking trip. Hats act as another barrier between you and the sun’s vicious rays, but they also help catch sweat from dripping into your eyes. Keep in mind, this expert hiker isn’t just wearing any old Diamondbacks baseball hat. No, this hiker went above and beyond to chose a hat that offers protection for their neck as well.
As you see this hiker go by, you may glance down at your running shoes and notice the comparison. While these may be great shoes for physical activities, they are certainly not fit for long hikes up a rugged trail or mountain. Hikers in the know have two choices when it comes to their footwear:
1) They can opt for hiking boots, which provide ankle support and a thick exterior to protect against stray cacti.
2) They can purchase trail runners, which are lightweight and made for speed.
While running shoes may have good traction on the bottom, hiking shoes bring the traction up to the toes and sides of the foot for optimal coverage and grip on rough terrains.
You were going to pack an emergency kit, but you decided it would just weigh you down. What’s the worst that could happen? This hiker knows the dangers of the sport and brought one anyway. Their first-aid kit contains bandages, tweezers for those pesky jumping chollas, disinfectant wipes, and antihistamines to prevent a bad reaction from a bug bite.
Food and Water
While you’re already halfway through your plastic water bottle, the expert hiker doesn’t let the length of his hike become limited by the amount of water he has with him. Although some hiking experts use a water filter to refill their supply at a freshwater lake or stream, Arizona does not usually supply this luxury. Instead, the expert hiker carries a water pack and an extra water bottle at his side. You wonder if he’d share as you envy his supply, but he’s long gone before you can ask. Food is equally important. As you hike, you burn off a lot of calories that need to be replenished. You notice the expert carries some fruit, trail mix, and a protein bar.
Trek Pole or Hiking Staff
Are those hiking sticks REALLY necessary? If you stopped to ask the hiking expert, he or she would have a long explanation ready to go. They offer stability and help distribute weight added by a backpack. Much like ski poles, they help immensely for forward propulsion! The Arizona Bone and Joint Specialists team highly recommends these devices to patients who are recovering from an injury because they keep their body stable, allowing them to safely rebuild muscle. Trek poles or hiking staffs may also offer stability to reduce the risk of possible injury, making them a great investment.
This hiker serves as a 5-second reminder of what to bring on the next hike and how to be more prepared. Even though they were too “in the zone” to chat about all of their equipment, their lessons go without saying. You learn that if someone takes hiking safety this seriously, you should too, even if it means having an extra item in your bag. It could mean the difference between a good time and an injury. If you recently injured your knee or hurt your ankle, consider coming in for an evaluation at Arizona Bone and Joint Specialists to make sure you are strong enough to support your body on uneven terrain.
2. The Mountain Biker
The mountain biker is another type of person you see out on the trails. Similar to how snowboarders always claim skiers get in their way, trail hogs and large families are a mountain biker’s arch nemesis. Bikers frequent the McDowell Mountain Regional Park and the never-ending trails of the Sonoran Preserve, but they know Sedona is where it’s at! This person is the thrill seeker of the trails. You probably met them as they shouted, “on your left,” trying to get you to move out of the way. You scurry to the side of the trail in an effort not to get run over.
So, what can a mountain biker teach you about becoming the best hiker you can be? Quite a lot, as it turns out. Mountain bikers teach two things: trail etiquette and traveling light.
- Leave no impact
- Hike in a line
- Greet others
- Take care of your needs, as well as the needs of others
- Stick to the trail
Leave No Impact
People go hiking to experience nature. When wrappers and water bottles litter our mountains, it can negatively affect the area’s natural beauty. More importantly, it can be dangerous. If a biker doesn’t see trash on the trail, he or she could accidentally run into it and lose control. The bottom line is, be kind to the environment and be kind to others who share the trail.
Hike in a Line
Arizona hikers know that trails can get pretty crowded. On the narrow parts, you probably have to wait ages for people to go by. Hiking single file helps everyone share the trail. This way, mountain bikers do not need to slow down and wait for you to step aside. No matter if it’s the expert hiker, a mountain biker, or a horseback rider, hiking in a line will give everyone a smoother experience.
Some people say hi, others smile, and some don’t say a word as you pass by. Don’t you wish you knew what you were supposed to do? The Arizona Bone and Joint Specialists staff all agree greeting everyone is a great way to practice trail etiquette.
Take Care of Your Needs, as Well as the Needs of Others
Another great way to practice trail etiquette is to be aware of how everyone is feeling. Not all hikers in groups are at the same fitness level. If you notice that someone in your group is huffing and puffing, offer to stop so they can catch their breath and drink some water. If you need a break, don’t be afraid to be the one to speak up. Our board certified orthopedic physicians say fluid replacement is vital to staying healthy on the trails. They say dehydration can lead to muscle fatigue, which could lead to weakness or soreness.
Stick to the Trail
It’s easy to veer off the trail, especially if bikers or other hikers are trying to pass. Is that an owl’s nest in that cactus? You might want to run over to find out. As exciting as it is, our physicians highly discourage deviating from the trail. The sides of the trails are unpaved and often uneven. One wrong step could increase your risk of suffering an injury. Cartographers create the trails with you in mind. More often than not, they are wide enough for you to stop and take a drink or take a picture without getting in anyone’s way.
Aside from reminding you of trail etiquette, mountain bikers teach you to pack light. Mountain bikers have all of the same gear as the master hiker, but they don’t have hands to carry the extra gear they may need. As he or she zooms by, you wonder how they can be so prepared while hardly carrying anything. Their secret? They typically carry water on their backs instead of in a bottle. These wearable water bottles usually have an extra pouch to zip up light snacks and emergency kits.
Ahh yes, the families and trail hogs! As we mentioned previously, the trail hogs and families are the mountain biker’s arch nemesis. Why? Because they’re constantly getting in the way of that fluid and fast mountain biker! These hikers are pretty easy to spot because they generally travel in packs of four or more; they are usually loud and not very well prepared; they make frequent stops to either take pictures or wait for others to catch up, and they may be accompanied by small children.
There are a number of things you can learn from the families and trail hogs. Trail etiquette is a major sore spot for these guys, but we covered that in the mountain biker’s section. The two most important lessons that can be learned from these hikers are: 1) the importance of childcare while hiking and 2) knowing your body’s limitations.
Here’s Arizona Bone and Joint Specialists quick breakdown for both:
- Modify your goals
- Choose an age and skill-appropriate trail
- Pay attention
Modify your goals
This rule-of-thumb applies to families and trail hogs because it carries many meanings. Modifying hiking goals means meeting the needs of small children and hikers not up to par with the rest of the group. The family hikers know it’s unrealistic to have their children meet their individual goals and expectations, so they may adjust their hike accordingly. The trail hogs may also make an effort to know their party members’ capabilities and limitations before beginning their journey. If you have kids or friends of different ages and fitness levels accompanying you on your hike, keep your pace and distance in line with them to keep the experience enjoyable for everyone.
Choose an age and skill-appropriate trail
It’s important to do research before you set off so you can choose a trail that is appropriate for all members of the group. There’s a lot you can learn from these hikers and you’ll benefit from the reduced risk of injury. Avoid trails that are neither age-appropriate nor skill-appropriate for other members of your group. Trying to climb up Echo Canyon with young children or seniors is a recipe for disaster that could result in a serious injury! The team at Arizona Bone and Joint Specialists wants patients to enjoy their time outdoors by choosing the trail that’s best for them!
Children can become easily distracted and parents can become unintentionally thoughtless if they have no experience hiking with little ones. You may have witnessed a child running off while his or her parents were snapping photos of wildlife. Or, you may have noticed the trail hogs chatting away while their friend is resting in the shadows. Don’t be like these hikers! Make sure you’re ready for all possible scenarios. If your child is small enough, consider traveling with them in a kid-friendly carrier strapped to your chest or back. If they’re capable of walking on their own, keep an extra set of Band-Aids, snacks, sunscreen, antihistamines, and water handy should a serious health situation arise. For the hiker in the trail hog scenario, make sure you’re paying attention to others in the group. You and your fellow hikers are responsible for one another, so pay attention to your surroundings, and if you notice someone missing, stop hiking immediately and call for help.
To wrap up, there’s a lot that can be learned from the families and trail hogs. The specialists at Arizona Bone and Joint Specialists recommend modifying goals, choosing an age or skill-appropriate trail, and paying attention to reduce the risk of injury. If you’re reading this post and the advice is “too little, too late,” call Arizona Bone and Joint Specialists to have your injury evaluated by a physician.
4. The Hikers with Dogs
This hiker likes to climb mountains by themselves or hike with small, furry companions. It’s rare to go on a hike and not see this person (or couple) with one or two dogs hiking the trails too. These hikers are generally lovers of animals (of course!) and much like the expert hiker, they’re often “in the zone.” Their dogs are usually hiking in front of them without a leash, but don’t worry, these animals are generally very well trained.
There is one thing that can be learned from these hikers and it has nothing to do with the hiker him or herself. In fact, the hiker with dogs teaches fellow pet hikers to care for the animals that accompany them on the trails.
Here are some dog hiking considerations:
- Follow trail regulations and etiquette
- Pack gear for your dog
- Make sure your dog is physically ready
- Dog clothing is a must
Follow trail regulations and etiquette
The hiker with dogs usually does their research before visiting a trail. They want to respect the trail regulations that are put in place for the safety of others, so they will look into trails that permit dogs. Most U.S. national parks prohibit dogs from joining in on the hiking fun, but smaller parks will typically allow them. If you’re venturing out with your furry friend for the first time, make sure you follow trail regulations, and at the very least, respect trail etiquette. This means, maintaining complete control of your dog at all times and making sure they’re connected to a 6-foot leash if it’s required. If your dog is not used to seeing other dogs, maybe hang back or wait until they’re comfortable around other animals before going on a hiking trip. If the trail doesn’t require a leash, make sure your dog is expertly trained in responding to commands, especially if they encounter small children or adults who may be afraid of them.
Pack gear for your dog
Like most pet owners, these hikers consider their dogs “family.” Just like a parent packs gear for their child, so does the hiker with dogs. Gear for man’s best friend usually includes food and water, sleeping gear (if needed), an extra leash and harness, a pet first-aid kit, and waste-disposing receptacles (poo bags). The staff at Arizona Bone and Joint Specialists hikes with their dogs frequently and advise patients to pack these items for their animal’s safety and enjoyment of the trails.
Make sure your dog is physically ready
The hikers with dogs have made sure their trail buddy is physically ready for the adventure that awaits them. Additionally, the hikers with dogs understand some dog breeds are better suited for this kind of physical activity, which is why they may keep little Fido, their Chihuahua, at home. Still, there are smaller breeds that are capable of hiking through tough terrain, but the hiker with this type of dog has made test runs to prove this. If you want to bring your dog on the next hike, make sure he or she is physically capable of making the journey first! Bring your dog to a dog park and try going on runs with them frequently.
Dog clothing is a must
Most hikers with dogs will agree that dog clothing is an absolute must when hiking, especially if the weather is particularly grueling. Dog vests, coats, booties, a harness and, on occasion, a wearable dog pack can mean the difference between a displeased pooch and a happy hound. For colder weather, consider outfitting your dog with a jacket that covers their belly. A dog vest may be best for warmer climates because it can be soaked in water to keep your dog’s body temperature lowered.
Now that we’ve covered the basics, it’s important to keep these things in mind before your next hike. From the expert hiker to the mountain biker, from the trail hogs to the hikers with dogs, there is a lot that can be learned from these individuals! The team at Arizona Bone and Joint Specialists wants patients, their families, and their friends to stay safe during this prime hiking season and to come in should a serious injury occur. As one of the longest running orthopedic groups in the Valley, Arizona Bone and Joint Specialists is dedicated to delivering compassionate care to patients of all ages. It’s important to recognize different kinds of pain, so if you’re experiencing any muscle or joint discomfort after your hike, do not hesitate to schedule an appointment today! We look forward to seeing you and until then, happy trails!