From summit ridges to lush, green valleys, fast-running streams to bone-dry brush, Hawai'i's public access trails offer an unrivaled variety of unique hiking experiences sometimes on a single trail. Advertiser reporter Michael Tsai has taken a look at some of O'ahu's best novice, intermediate and advanced trails.
Keep a rhythm: The key to staying fresh and strong on a long hike is to maintain an even hiking rhythm. (Speeding up and slowing down will tax your body sooner.) Find a cadence that keeps your legs, arms in synch, and that allows you to maintain a consistent pace without feeling breathless. You may need to adjust your pace for unstable terrain or steep ascents, but keep your breathing in rhythm.
Rest intelligently: If you start resting when you're tired, you're already at a disadvantage. On a longer hike, rest early and often (every 45 minutes to an hour, at least), but for no longer than 5 to 10 minutes less your muscles stiffen.
Hydrate: A harder-line rule than the previous: If you start drinking when you're thirsty, you're in trouble. With greater exertion and respiration comes more rapid dehydration, and dehydration leads to decreased strength, stamina and coordination. On hikes of longer than an hour, drink at least 8 ounces of fluid every 20 to 30 minutes, or more if it's hot.
Keep your balance: In hiking, maintaining balance is the difference between a safe, enjoyable outing and potential serious injury (or worse). Staying in rhythm will help you make your way past root, rocks and potholes without overthinking each step. Try to keep your feet at least a foot apart in your stride, don't cross one leg over another to get over or around small obstacles, and don't let your arms and legs cross over the center plane of your body (doing so will automatically throw off your balance). When walking in ruts, walk slowly down the center; stepping toward either side will cause the outside of your foot to slip.
Manage obstacles: Hiking without obstacles is walking, so get used to dealing with roots, rocks, fallen trees and other inconveniences. In general, it's better to step over an object than on top of it, and safer still to walk around the object rather than over it.
Be careful with ropes and handholds: Grabbing roots or branches can be tempting during a steep ascent or descent, but it can damage the vegetation and cause erosion. If you have to grab something, make sure it's firmly rooted and anchor yourself with your opposite foot as you pull. If you need to grab a tree or branch when descending a steep hill, remember that the farther you extend your arm forward or sideways, the more force your body will have to absorb as you move toward the tree and the higher your risk of pulling or tearing your chest, shoulder and arm muscles.
Know your ups and downs: When climbing or descending hills, it's important to keep proper posture to ensure good balance and to minimize stress on your back, hips and legs. In general, try to align your body perpendicular to the imaginary horizontal plane at the base of the hill. For steep grades, you may need to lean slightly forward going uphill or slightly back on the downhill. When going uphill, keep your feet about shoulder-length apart (or narrower), shorten the length of your stride, and place the weight of your step on the inside of your feet. When going downhill, first cinch the laces firmly but not too tightly to prevent your toes from banging against the front of your shoe and to prevent movement that can cause a blister-causing hot spot on your foot. As you descend, keep your knees bent and let your feet react to the contours of the slope. Try not to jump or lunge, which may cause you to carry more momentum than you can control.
Stay oriented: Proper navigation starts with knowing exactly where you are on a trail. If possible, bring a map of the trail or a guidebook with detailed descriptions of key features and junctures, and consult it regularly. At each significant bend, fork or change in surrounding habitat on an out-and-back trail, turn around and take a mental snapshot of what to look for on your return. This can be helpful on any trail if you get lost and need to backtrack.
Prepare: Every good hike has an element of discovery built into it, but that shouldn't preclude you from doing your due diligence with regard to access, conditions and other dynamic concerns. At the very least, check the Na Ala Hele Web site www.hawaiitrails.com for the latest updates on your trail of choice.
Track your progress: The longer you hike, the more acute your sense of time, distance and pace. These will help you keep track of your progress as you translate hiking guide expectations to real life application. If you're using a topographical map, it's very helpful to have a compass and altimeter to make sure you're where you think you are.
Look around: All too often, hikers spend more time looking at their feet than at the wonder of their natural surroundings. Not only does this deprive you a fine sensory experience, it can also leave you woefully ignorant of trail markers, landmarks, junctions and other important cues to staying on the right path. Make it a point to stop periodically and look around, making sure your surroundings match up with the descriptions in your trail guide. On out-and-back trails, be sure to look backward every so often so you'll know what to look for on your return trip.
Learn how to use a compass: GPS devices are cheaper and simpler to use than ever before, but before the GPS, there was the ever-reliable (and not battery-dependent) compass. While precise application of all of the compass uses can be complicated, most day hikers can add a level of confidence and security to their jaunts simply by understanding how to read and manipulate the compass needle, orienting arrow, direction-of-travel arrow, orienting lines and compass housing, in accordance with a map or directions. It doesn't take long to master, and it's a potentially life-saving skill.