Get On Your Boots

23 09 2009

Today, I want to talk about one of my favorite subjects.



Okay, not that kind (sigh).  This kind:


Hiking boots.  A must for any hiker.  Hiking in sneakers is okay for a loop around Walden Pond, but for more serious hikes, you need the grip, stability, and sturdiness of a good boot.  I mean, you wouldn’t go running in those little blue stilettos, right?  You wouldn’t try strapping sneakers to a pair of skis.  (You wouldn’t would you?  If you would, you should probably start your own blog.)  Having the right footwear will make your hiking safer and more enjoyable.

Figuring out what kind of boot to get can be intimidating, particularly since they can cost a chunk of change.  First of all, here is what you’re looking for:

  • A sturdy yet flexible sole, so you are protected from the rocks and sharp edges but can still move around with ease;
  • Sufficient toughness and padding around the foot so that if you scrape against rocks, trees, or get poked by a twig (happens a lot, actually), your foot will be protected;
  • The right fit: the boot should fit with thick socks, the kind you would wear while hiking (imagine that), they should be snug but not tight, they should not slip at the heel, and there should be a little room around the ankle;
  • Waterproof boots, or boots that can be waterproofed;
  • The right heaviness: there are lightweight, medium, and heavyweight boots…I like medium because they are a compromise between sturdiness and…well, weight;
  • Appropriate ankle support: hiking shoes have a low ankle, but I prefer boots with a higher ankle because I’ve had numerous sprains and need the support…the higher ankle is much better unless you’re hiking only flat trails.

In choosing your boot, you should try on as many as possible, because they are all slightly different and may have very different fits.  You’ll find the most options at specialty outdoors stores like REI and EMS.  These types of stores also have knowledgeable salespeople who can help you find what you need.

My favorite place to try on hiking boots is the L.L. Bean flagship store in Freeport, Maine, because they have all sorts of fake rocks and inclines that you can climb around on while trying on your boots.  But if that’s not an option, just walk around the store, crouch down, stand up, and flex and bend your foot around the way you might while hiking.  Bring/wear your hiking socks.  There’s just no way to guess at how the boot will fit otherwise.

You can find good hiking boots in the $120-250 range.  While cheaper and more expensive options are out there, those in this range are most likely to be high enough quality and suit your needs as a casual hiker.

Once you are the proud owner of new boots, please please please don’t tie them on and immediately go on a ten mile hike.  Spend some time walking around in them — in your house, to work, to the grocery store, wherever — to break them in.  You will probably get some blisters when you first wear them, and it’s better to get those while home — not hours from civilization.

PS: Any guesses at the title reference?

(c) Her Side of the Mountain, 2009.


Oh, the Places You’ll Go

21 09 2009

Today is your day.
You’re off to Great Places!
You’re off and away!

–Dr. Seuss, Oh, the Places You’ll Go!

I promised that I wouldn’t talk only about the don’ts and the warnings, and so here we are, finally, at the first post about The Good Stuff.

But, Her Side, what exactly is The Good Stuff?

Why, I’m so glad you asked.  The Good Stuff is the other side of the Rules.  In the Rules, we’re talking about things you should think about, prepare for, caution against, and learn about in order to make solo camping and hiking as safe as possible.  And you do those things, making this activity safe, so that you can go out and enjoy yourself.  So that you can leave your worries at home and focus on…wait for it…

The Good Stuff.

The first one is very simple.  It’s so simple, in fact, that you’re probably going to roll your eyes.  Ready?

The Power is in the Possibilities.

I know, I told you it was simple.  But just give it a second, let it sink in.  While you’re taking a moment, look at this photo:


by joanarc4.

That’s Delicate Arch in Arches National Park in Moab, Utah.  Pretty spectacular, right?  Oh, wait.  While I’m thinking about it, here’s another one:


by joanarc4

That’s the Great Smoky Mountains on the border of Tennessee and North Carolina.  You can really see why they’re called that, right?  Oh, just one more, for the heck of it:


by joanarc4

That’s the Narrows in Zion National Park, Utah.  Yes, there you hike in the river.  It’s amazing.

So have you thought about the possibilities yet?  Hiking lets you see incredible views, be in incredible places, and feel incredible things.    And that’s just possible locations you can find yourself when you hike.  Why should you have to wait to gather a group to explore those possibilities?

What are some other possibilities?  I know that when I set out on my road trip, I wasn’t sure I could do it.  I was worried I’d be lonely, or not be able to handle the driving, or take care of car problems, or handle the physical activity.  You know what?  I found out I could do all of those things.  When I returned to “normal” life, I was suddenly more confident that I could handle all the ins and outs of daily life on my own, too.  So another possibility is conquering your fears, squashing your insecurities, and getting to know your own capabilities.

It’s a rush.

One more thing, and then I’ll let you think of your own possibilities.  I’m going to quote Dr. Seuss again:

You have brains in your head.
You have feet in your shoes.
You can steer yourself any direction you choose.
You’re on your own. And you know what you know.
And YOU are the [gal] who’ll decide where to go.

–Dr. Seuss, Oh, the Places You’ll Go

Where do you want to go?  It’s YOUR decision, when you hike and camp solo.  So what’ll it be?

(c) Her Side of the Mountain, 2009.

That Sounds Like “Work”

18 09 2009


If you’ve been reading, so far you’ve learned that there are rules, and cautions, and lists of equipment (which I’ll address soon, I promise) to consider when you’re going to solo hike and camp, and you may be feeling a bit overwhelmed about the sheer effort that seems to go into hiking before you even get to the trailhead.  But listen closely, because this is very, very important:

Hiking doesn’t have to be complicated.

This is not a rule, exactly.  It’s more of a truth.  Realizing this is often the first step for those of us who like the outdoors, who may have done some hiking in groups, but are a bit intimidated by the hiking culture to try it on our own.  I felt that way for a long time.  Avid hikers are so into gadgets and gizmos and trappings (I know I am, at least) that it can squash the dreams of someone who just kind of wants to take a walk in the woods and see how that goes before committing to equipment and mustering up courage to tackle a challenging ascent.

Today, I’m here to tell you that you can.  Absolutely, 100%, you can take a walk in the woods.  Just pick a place that is relatively populated, clearly marked, and not too lengthy of a trail.  Bring a water bottle, and your cell phone.*  And go for it.

One example of the type of hike that is perfect for someone just starting out solo and who wants to ease into it is Walden Pond in Concord, MA.  Yes, that Walden, the one made famous by Henry David Thoreau.


by joanarc4

The loop around Walden Pond is a just-under-two-mile, easy yet pleasant walk, that gets your blood pumping and whets your appetite for spending time in the outdoors.  The views of the pond are beautiful, and it is easy to see why Thoreau would have chosen this spot for his year in the woods.  The trail has some ups and downs — but nothing too steep, and there are no scrambles — and it passes by the site of the old Thoreau cottage, where you can imagine the views with which he was greeted every morning (and if you’re a literature geek like me, it’s a little thrill to stand in the spot where the cabin used to be).

The shortness of the trail (I get around the Pond at a decent but not hurried pace in about 35 minutes) and its accessibility (just outside city limits and easy to find) make it appealing for the “uncomplicated” hike.  Because it is a popular spot, you don’t need all the safety trappings that you would need on a longer, less-populated trail.  You will run into people at Walden…although even at its busiest times I have found myself alone at spots in the trail.

The biggest downside to Walden is — you guessed it — also the population.  During the summer, the parking lot can fill to capacity and the rangers will close the lot until some of the crowd thins.  Sometimes they won’t let you walk in because there are too many people already at the pond, usually swimming and hanging around on the tiny beach.  I avoid that by going as early as possible, shortly after the parking lot opens, when the population of the park is me, a few other enthusiasts, and the people who swim across the pond in training for triathlons.  The crowd is also thinner in the spring and fall.  The key is finding the right balance between overcrowded and crowded enough that you’re not truly alone.

The point is, there are places, usually state parks or local conservation lands, that you can take a hike with a bottle of water and your cell phone and feel (and be) safe.  It’s a good way to try hiking solo to see how it feels, or, if you’re a busy urbanite like me, to just get outside and get some activity without having to devote too much time and effort into preparation and planning. 

What hikes have you found to be the right level of populated, the right length, and the right accessibility for “uncomplicated” hiking?

*At some point, I will explain that First Aid Kits are absolutely non-negotiable and you must have one with you when you hike solo.  In this rare exception case, if you take a hike like what I describe here, where there will be lots of people around and you’re not that far from civilization…well, just use your judgment.

**That photo at the top is from, which sells lots of “demotivational” products.  Go ahead, click on the photo, have fun shopping. 

(c) Her Side of the Mountain, 2009.

Isn’t It Dangerous?

9 09 2009


So let’s get this out of the way. The number one question anyone has about camping and hiking as a solo female is:

“Isn’t it dangerous?”

The simple answer is yes. Solo camping and hiking is always dangerous, whether you’re a man or a woman. Some people think it’s crazy to hike alone and should never be done. Solo travel of any kind has its risks — solo travelers, women in particular, are targets for thieves, con artists, and other unsavory characters — but when hiking the uncertainties of nature must be factored into the equation.

What can happen while solo camping and hiking? Anything that can happen while camping and hiking with others — except that there’s no one around to help. If you fall and hurt yourself, you could be stuck until someone comes along and finds you. If you get bitten by a snake, or encounter a wild animal, you’re on your own. And, of course, there are always stories like this to strike fear in the hearts of anyone — male or female — wanting to hike alone.

If it’s so dangerous, then, why take that risk? Why do it at all?

That’s a question you have to answer for yourself. For me, being on my own while hiking is serene, giving me time — time I don’t often make for myself — to think. Being on my own while camping makes me feel capable and accomplished. See? I can pitch a tent. I can cook a meal outside. I can fend for myself and take care of myself. It’s invigorating.

Despite the risks, solo camping and hiking can be done safely, if you know the risks and take preparations and precautions. That brings us to Rule Number One…

(c) Her Side of the Mountain, 2009.

Carpe Diem

8 09 2009


Buffy 2Willow: Carpe Diem.  You told me that once.

Buffy: Fish of the Day?

Willow: Not carp!   Carpe!  It means “Seize the Day.”

— Buffy the Vampire Slayer, “Surprise”


During the summer of 2004, I received a letter that changed my life. Having recently graduated from law school, I was studying for the bar when the engagement letter from the firm I would be joining arrived. “We are excited to welcome you on Friday, October 15th, 2004,” it said. October 15th! I was scheduled to take the bar exam at the end of July. I would have over two months free before I had to start working.

Immediately, I started to think about traveling.

The idea that floated through my mind first was to take The Road Trip. You know, the one that a bunch of my guy friends had taken at one time or another, sometimes solo and sometimes in groups, driving cross country to “find themselves.” Since I love hiking and camping and the outdoors in general, and had lived my whole life in Rhode Island and Massachusetts, seeing the rest of the country was very tempting. But I dismissed the idea.

First of all, I had no one to go with. My friends all had jobs and other obligations and didn’t have such a lengthy span of free time. I had never traveled alone, and the idea frankly scared me, less because of safety and more because I was worried I would be lonely or bored without anyone to share the experience with.

Second of all, I was a woman. Sure, my guy friends had packed up their cars and driven around the country, camping and hiking and meeting people, but surely I couldn’t do that. I liked to think of myself as independent, but that independence included not being dependent on the approval of others for self-worth, and being able to make decisions about my life without needing someone to confirm the wisdom of those decisions. It fell short of knowing how to build a fire, or lift heavy objects, or get myself out of sticky situations. That’s when I called friends and family — or a boyfriend — for help. Right?

Ironically enough, it was my then-boyfriend who convinced me that those two reasons were bad reasons for not taking The Road Trip. He had done it a few years before and said it was one of the most important experiences of his life. “Look, you’re smart, you can handle yourself,” he said. “You have friends all over the country. I promise you won’t be bored, not with everything there is to see and do. When are you ever going to have this chance again?”

I decided he was right. I decided that being a woman, and having to travel alone, was no reason not to do it. I took a deep breath, plotted my route, packed up my car, and drove west. Over the course of six weeks, I drove through twenty-six states, visited fourteen National Parks, and saw and did so much that I’m still in awe of that time in my life.

Of course, it wasn’t really that simple. There were a lot of preparations and precautions to be taken before and during the trip. There were bad moments along with the good. There were mistakes I made, and also some very good decisions.

And that’s what this blog is about. Because camping and hiking as a solo female can be safe, and it can be one of the most incredible experiences a woman can ever have. I still do it, and it still affects me the same way as it did during those six weeks. If it’s something you want to do, then Seize the Day…or Fish the Day, if you must…but don’t hold back out of fear or uncertainty.

(c) Her Side of the Mountain, 2009.