How to get into hiking as a beginner

Black Girls Hike: how to stay safe when you're out walking, according to an expert

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Think that hiking is only for white, middle-class countryside dwellers? Think again. Anyone can get into walking, trekking and hiking – as Strong Women’s new walking series proves. Every week, the brilliant founder of Black Girls Hike Rhiane Fatinikun will be sharing a walking adventure and a different tip for becoming a confident hiker. Welcome to week one.

Prior to founding Black Girls Hike, I had no hiking experience. I once even got us lost in horrendous weather. I should have turned the group back the way we came, but instead, we spent hours trudging over a boggy moor in the rain and strong winds with poor visibility. What should’ve been a two-hour hike ended up being a four-hour endurance test! 

Hiking can be hard work; so often walking is dismissed because it’s not as high-impact as running. What some people don’t realise, is that hiking can be both physically and mentally challenging (whether you’re a total beginner or an experienced walker).

Hiking has seen a surge in popularity during lockdown. With team sports and classes restricted for the last 16 months, many have swapped the gym for the great outdoors to exercise and escape. Amazing for both the mind and body, hiking is a mindful exercise that helps you to feel connected to the present. Spending time in nature has been a lifeline for a lot of people during the pandemic, with many realising that there’s no better way to social distance and recharge than on the hills.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned, though, it’s that even the most experienced hiker can get into difficulty; the increase in novice hikers flocking to the hills has unfortunately seen a rise in injuries. Cumbrian mountain rescue teams (home to The Lake District) reported a 70% increase in call-outs in December 2020. A lot of these incidents could have been avoided with adequate planning, some basic skills and the right equipment.

As beautiful as the great outdoors is, many underestimate its dangers, its varied landscapes and how quickly the weather conditions can change. We’ve all seen a clear sunny day become wet and windy within minutes; imagine how changeable the weather is at altitude.

Since my incident getting my team lost, I’ve attended several skills courses and become an ambassador for Mountain Training (the awarding body for qualifications in walking, climbing and mountaineering), whose aim is to inspire the next generation to consider careers and qualifications in the outdoors. We’re also working with them to deliver skills courses for our BGH leaders and members.

Hiking has grown in popularity thanks to lockdown but take it from me, walking isn't always as easy as it seems (although the views are totally worth the hard work!).
Hiking has grown in popularity thanks to lockdown but take it from me, walking isn't always as easy as it seems (although the views are totally worth the hard work!).

This week’s hiking experience

Black Girls Hike UK is a non-profit organisation that provides a safe space for Black women to explore the outdoors and reconnect with nature. Developing services and projects to increase participation and promote the inclusion of Black women in the outdoors, we host nationwide group hikes, activity days and training weekends.

After almost a year of cancelled events, we were recently able to host our Mountain Skills weekend for our new leaders. The course is for people with some walking experience who want to explore more mountainous terrain and develop their confidence. 

This first leaders’ training weekend post-pandemic was a proud moment and a relief. This time last year, we only had three leaders; we now have almost 20 and eight came on the course. Being released from the shackles of Zoom for a weekend of sisterhood was restorative and freeing in more ways than one. 

Our leaders spent two days on the fells, team building and learning everything I didn’t know when I was lost on the moor. We looked at developing the key skills needed to explore the outdoors safely, such as planning, navigation, essential clothing and equipment, checking and understanding the weather forecast, group management and emergency procedures.

Our group has grown dramatically over the past year, with over 20 leaders.
Our group has grown dramatically over the past year, with over 20 leaders.

Rhiane’s hiking tip: master self-talk

Every week, I’ll be sharing a tip that I’ve found useful during my own walks. This week is all about motivation and preparation.

I love quotes. Here are three that sum up my lesson learnt on the moor:

  • ’Hindsight is a wonderful thing. Foresight is better’
  • ’It’s better to be safe than sorry’
  • ’Fail to plan, prepare to fail’

For those new to hiking, I’d recommend a beginner’s navigation course where you can learn to read a map and use a compass so you’re safe on the hills. Being able to plan your own adventures creates endless opportunities. Check out Mountain Training for courses and, of course, come and join Black Girls Hike on one of our next adventures. 

Rhiane is the founder of Black Girls Hike. You can follow her and the group on Instagram, @rhianesworld and @bgh_uk.

Love hiking? Join us in September for the first Strong Women Trek. All proceeds will be going to Care International. 

Images: Rhiane Fatinikun

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