Opinion: Hit the hiking trails, but leave the flip-flops at home

Participants take part in a hike at the Platt Nature Center during Connecticut Water's 2021 Connecticut Trails Day observance.

Participants take part in a hike at the Platt Nature Center during Connecticut Water's 2021 Connecticut Trails Day observance.

Contributed photo

Flip-flops are for the beach, the pool, and for questionable public showers, but they should never be for hiking trails.

As people swarmed local parks during the pandemic, many inexperienced hikers found their way into nature for the first time. Although they were eager to get fresh air and great views, many new hikers were woefully unprepared for the challenge of being in nature.

Over the past two years, search and rescue teams have been working overtime to save unprepared hikers who find themselves in unexpected and dire situations. The cost for these rescues has been exorbitant and takes away the funding for other important programs that our parks provide. With just a little preparation, many of these rescues can be prevented.

Now, I am not saying we should restrict access to nature, or that those who are inexperienced should stay off the trail. That type of judgment and gatekeeping has gone on for far too long in the hiking community and every person, irrespective of size, age, skin color, or disability has a right to be in nature without shaming or fear. But, I think we can all agree that being prepared for nature is a prerequisite for being in it, no matter who you are.

On the hottest day of summer 2021, I summited Anthony’s Nose from the Camp Smith Trail in Hudson Highlands, New York. Strapped with my full pack, extra water, food, and a first aid kit, I looked unbelievably overprepared as I passed several hikers with only their flip-flops for protection and Starbucks iced coffees for hydration. But, as I climbed and sweat poured down my back, the trail started to look more like the ending of the Olympic Men’s triathlon, with overheating bodies strewn at various points along the trail. I’m unaware if anyone needed to be officially rescued that day, but I do know that there were several hikers who needed extra support to make it back to their cars.

Hiking preparations aren’t a huge undertaking and are fully accessible to all. At the bare minimum it requires having protective shoes, enough water, and a first aid kit anytime you hit the trail. Most experienced hikers recommend going beyond this and ensuring that you have the 10 essentials anytime you step foot on the trails. These are items you generally have around the house already and shouldn’t require additional purchases for those on a budget.

I don’t want to discourage anyone from hiking. Hiking personally brings me so much joy and peace and I love seeing and helping those new to hiking get outdoors and enjoy all the benefits the trails have to offer. I believe everyone deserves that hiking experience.

But it’s unlikely you’ll enjoy hiking if you aren’t prepared for the trail. Whether it’s overheating, being dehydrated, hurting your feet, knees, or legs, or just plain overexerting yourself, anytime you’re taking on a trail without preparation it’s unlikely to be an enjoyable experience. So, don’t be that hiker. It isn’t fun for you or anyone else.

If you’re not yet confident on the trails and want some guidance before hitting them by yourself, check out any of the hikes led by local experts on Connecticut Trails Day (https://trailsday.org/). These hikes are held on the first weekend in June, take place across the state, and are led by experienced hikers who want to help you learn how to hike and be prepared when you hit the trails. You don’t have to be experienced to hike, but you do need to come prepared. So, leave those flip-flops at home, pack some extra water, bring that first aid kit and you’ll be all set!

Stamford resident Kylia Goodner runs a local outdoor adventure blog dedicated to helping residents get out to hike, kayak and just explore the outdoors.