Hiking 101: When the outdoor bug bites

I have always been a gym girl. However, all that changed when I decided to climb Mount Kilimanjaro in January 2015. I made the decision in June of 2014 and immediately started training. It involved spending my Saturdays walking in Karura Forest, the Arboretum or hiking a mountain. Together with a group of friends, we hiked hills and mountains several times. We went to Ngong Hills, Lukenya Hills, Mount Longonot, Mount Kilimambogo, Aberdare and Mount Elgon. Walking in Karura and Arboretum was relatively easy. We started out with easy walks as we built our muscle strength and lung endurance. The real test as a rookie hiker was when we did our first hike in Mount Longonot. If you are starting out as a hiker, what should you keep in mind?

Why?

I know this sounds cliché. You need to have a reason for hiking. It could be to lose weight because you love the outdoors, are looking for a fun activity that you can engage in with friends, want to use hiking as a bonding time with your spouse and/or kids or, as a reason to travel and see different parts of Kenya. You also need to decide if you will be hiking solo or with a friend/group. If you are more than one person, you must discuss why so as you go along, your expectations are met.  

Where?

There are many places you can hike in Nairobi County and other neighbouring counties. A good place to start is the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) parks like Ngong Hills, Kilimambogo, and Longonot where you can do a day hike in the company of a guide. They have the rates on their website which is good in helping you plan.  

When?

This depends on your schedule. A purely personal decision. For the KWS parks, public holidays are normally peak time. Have that in mind. Longonot is particularly popular on Saturdays with school and church groups. 

What you need

The list is long but I will highlight the most important things to make your hike comfortable.

  1. The most important item for a hiker is the shoes. You can use sneakers but it is highly recommended that you invest in a good pair of climbing boots. There is the option of getting new ones from sports shops or buy second-hand ones. I started with sneakers then I bought a pair of boots online. This is the best investment you can make. Your feet must be comfortable to avoid injuries. You may end up buying several pairs before you get the right fit – but don’t worry. If your feet are happy, you will be happier!
  2. Shoes are worn with socks. Ensure you have good cotton socks and a pair of sock liners to absorb the sweat. I repeat – if your feet are happy, you will be happier!
  3. Pants and shirts – This depends on how comfortable you want to be. The Kenyan climate is generally warm year round. You can get sports gear from sports shops or second-hand markets. Avoid bright colours as they will stain quickly.
  4. Backpack – You will need a day bag to put your snacks, water, an extra shirt or light jacket. Get a small bag that is comfortable and does not hurt your back or shoulders.
  5. Water bottle – You need to hydrate so invest in a good water bottle that is leak proof. I highly recommend a camel bag that comes with a straw and doesn’t require you to physically remove the container. You need to take a litre or two of water.
  6. Sun barrier – Wear a hat and/or sunglasses to protect your face and eyes. On hot days, you can suffer serious sunburn. For the rest of your body put on some sunscreen.
  7. Walking stick – I found this to be the most important gear especially when coming down steep slopes. Get the adjustable stick that can easily fit in your bag when you don’t need it.     

Tips on snacks:

A day before you hike, have a good meal and sleep well. Avoid alcohol. For a day hike, make sandwiches and put them in a plastic food box to avoid smashing them. Add fruits like apples or bananas and nuts.