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7 Hiking Ideas to Personalize Your Trek

Hiking in nature is good for the soul, no doubt. But what makes it good for your soul? Hiking ideas from food to fashion abound, but Explorer Chicks are usually looking for more meaning and purpose. Guess what? It might be as simple as throwing something you already love into your hiking habit. (Hey, we’re all about simple around here.)

In one of our newsletters we shared an article written by Jennifer Pharr Davis for National Geographic, sharing her top ten hiking tips. In the article, Pharr Davis (who holds a speed record for the Appalachian Trail) touches on everything from safety to making smart choices—all in an effort to encourage people to get the most out of their hiking time. While all of her advice is great, one tip (#6 to be exact) is particularly interesting: Personalize your hike. “To enhance your connection with the outdoors,” she notes, “find a way to incorporate your off-trail interests into your hiking adventure.”

So what are some ways you can make your hikes, your hikes? Take pictures? Of course. Volunteer? Absolutely. Mix drinks? Sure. Here are seven ways Explorer Chicks like to bring their other interests along with them on the trail.

1. Cook in the backcountry

Use hiking as an excuse to step out of your kitchen comfort zone. From granola and trail mix, to dehydrating your own meals, to campfire baking—backcountry cooking can be just as enticing as 4-star spread. Skeptical? Check out The Campout Cookbook where award-winning authors Marnie Hanel and Jen Stevenson share recipes for everything from wood-fired skillet pizzas to “gourmet” s’mores. (We especially love the dedication at the beginning: “To survivalists with standards.”)

Not feeling quite so foodie? At Explorer Chick, we know a thing or two about quick, easy ways to feed hungry hikers. Here are two simple and satisfying recipes from the Dream Team.

Asian Chicken Wraps

One of our “go-to lunches” during our Red River Gorge Backpacking Workshop.

  • Tortillas
  • Bag of slaw
  • Bag of cooked chicken (or substitute tuna or salmon)
  • Wontons or slivered almonds
  • Shredded cheese, optional
  • Asian sesame dressing

Grab a tortilla and throw your ingredients of choice in the middle. Wrap up and hungrily devour. Go back for seconds, maybe thirds. (You’ve still got a few miles uphill left to trek, after all.)

Coffee, Hazelnut, and Banana Granola

(adapted from Martha Stewart)

Explorer Chick Courtney uses this to bribe her sometimes hiking-reluctant family along on some forced family fun and fresh air. Works every time.

  • 3 cups rolled oats (not quick-cooking)
  • 1 cup raw hazelnuts
  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter, cut into pieces
  • 1/3 cup packed dark-brown sugar
  • 4 teaspoons instant espresso powder mixed with 3 tablespoons water
  • 1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
  • 1 cup dried banana chips

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Combine oats and hazelnuts in a bowl, set aside. Toss remaining ingredients (except banana chips) into bowl and microwave for about 1–2 minutes, or until butter melts. Stir to combine. Pour that over the oats and hazelnuts and stir until coated. Spread onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake about 30 to 35 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes. Let cool completely, then stir in banana chips.

Related: Creating the Ultimate Campfire Cooking Kit

2. Craft your own gear and supplies

We dig spending our REI co-op dividends as much as the next Chick but don’t overlook gear you can DIY for hiking and backpacking. From making homemade bear bags to paracord survival bracelets, scour Pinterest and channel your inner Girl Scout. We’ve included a few or our favorite ideas below. Now go get crafty, you foxes.

Fire starter

You know all those rolls of toilet paper you have at the mo? Once they’re used up, hang onto that cardboard tube. Next, put a container next to your dryer and put any lint you collect from the lint trap there. Finally, dig out that old jar of Vaseline that’s sitting in your medicine cabinet that you never use, but can’t bring yourself to get rid of. Now, combine some of your lint hoards with some petroleum jelly and stuff it into the toilet paper tube. Slice into rings about an inch thick. Viola! You just created some wicked fire starter (any Prodigy fans out there?) and recycled to boot.

Sleeping bag liner

While we provide just about everything you need to backpack and camp overnight during our Red River Gorge Backpacking Workshop, we do ask you to bring your own sleeping bag liner. Sure, you can easily order one on Amazon, but why not think outside the smiley box and make your own?

Over at the Aspen & Pine blog, they’ve deemed sleeping bag liners “the unappreciated adventure gear,” and offer a great no-sew method that can be done in a day. Feeling extra? Check out the options at Backpacking Mastery if you’re good with a sewing machine.

Portable “backcountry bar”

Now here’s some necessary DIY gear we can get behind, zero skills required. Utilizing a toiletry kit and travel organizers, gives a great how-to.

They also provide recipes for five drinks you can make with your new kit: “a Hot Toddy, Manhattan, Upper Peninsula Black Maple Spice, Mint Julep, and whiskey neat.” You’ll be the most popular hiker in your group, and bonus? Everyone will make sure you don’t get lost.

3. Photograph landscapes and wildlife

If you’re already a passionate photographer, hauling your camera and lenses on hikes is a no-brainer. But what about those of us who are stuck in an endless cycle of selfies and aim-and-click shots? If you wanna take some swoon-worthy Insta shots, but can’t ever seem to get it right—why not practice on your next hike?

First, research some basic photography tips for beginners. Major hint: Get a portable tripod! Then, try mastering the two ideas for types of photography that are perfect for hiking: landscape photography and nature and wildlife photography.

Landscape photography

We’ve been there: You’re out in smack-middle of nature—experiencing it to the fullest—and all you want to do is to capture that feeling on camera. Whether it’s vast deserts, looming mountains, or sheltering forests, follow these 7 tips when shooting a landscape:

  1. Create depth by keeping different elements (stream, trees, mountains) of the shot in focus.
  2. Use a wide-angle lens (duh).
  3. Use polarizing and neutral density filters.
  4. Capture water movement using long exposure.
  5. Use water as a mirror to create reflections and other effects.
  6. Include people, but place them off-center in the shot.
  7. Remember the rule of thirds when composing a shot.

Nature and wildlife photography

Being on a hike can make you feel as curious about nature as a pesky—but adorable!—five-year-old: “Cool! What kind of lizard is that? Did you see the neat bark on that tree? It looks like skin. Hey, is it snack time yet?” (You get the idea.)

Arming yourself with some basic wildlife photography know-how will let you take some amazing shots of the flora and fauna you see along the trail. Here are 7 tips to get you started:

  1. Spend some time observing your surroundings at an up-close level.
  2. Use continuous mode (DSLR) or burst (phone camera) to get multiple shots at once.
  3. Purchase lens extension tubes (for DSLR) or a macro lens (for phones) to focus closer at high quality.
  4. Diffuse the built-in flash for better exposure up-close. (Taping white cloth over the flash works great!)
  5. Bounce your flash using special or manual settings to avoid shadows.
  6. Consider the lighting and opt for cloudy days or early mornings.
  7. Pay attention to the colors in the shot and how they will play into the overall feeling of the image.

4. Make things interesting for kids

If you have children and enjoy sharing your love of the outdoors with them—or just need to wear the little cuties out before you go insane—think about some hiking ideas that would personalize the adventure for them. (Hey, you might learn something, too!) Pick a local trail you can visit over and over, then implement some of the suggestions in the One Small Square book series.

The idea is to “square off” a section of a particular ecosystem and encourage children to observe and record the activity and changes in their square over a period of time. Explorer Chick Guide Lauren works with children’s programs in museums, zoos, aquariums and other organizations, and utilizes the series with her students. It features some great trek-friendly titles including:

  • One Small Square: Backyard
  • One Small Square: Woods
  • One Small Square: Pond

5. Write in an outdoor journal

Start an outdoor journal. Take a moment on your hike to record your thoughts, feelings, what you see, what you hear. Inspiration is pretty much everywhere once you step foot outside. Not a writer? Looking for a different kind of journaling than you normally do? There are lots of different “types” of journals. Some ideas that are particularly cool to indulge in during hikes are:

  • Wreck journals
  • Bullet journals
  • Vision/goals journals
  • Stream of consciousness/”morning pages” journals

On a Virginia Hiking and Survival 101 trip, one Explorer Chick even turned part of her journal into a survival skills how-to manual—and shared it with the rest of the group!

6. Volunteer for trail maintenance

If you get your kicks giving back, a) That’s awesome AF and we want to be you when we grow up, and b) would you be willing to take that selfless spirit out on the trail? Find a local trail maintenance or Sierra Club chapter that organizes trail upkeep hikes. Or simply do your part as you take your walk in a natural setting: when going on a day hike, bring gloves and a small trash bag with you and pick up any litter you see.

7. Practice mindfulness and meditation

Love self-help books, yoga, and other “get out of your own head” practices? Take it on the trail! Nature was made for meditation and mindfulness. If you’re a regular practitioner, consider taking a group on an easy hike and sharing your skills. If you’re curious about trying this hiking idea, but think it’s all chanting while sitting in an uncomfortable position, start easy. Download a five-minute guided meditation or mindfulness exercise and get busy being still—no chanting or uncomfy positions required.

What are some ways you personalize your hikes? Let us know on the We Are Explorer Chick Facebook page!

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