Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Take A Seat: The Art of the Hiking Break

Perfect rest rock on Jay MountainTrekking through the Adirondack backcountry is arduous; so much so that it’s a wonder it’s even considered a recreational activity. Whether you hike well-worn trails or bushwhack unbroken wilderness, the effort requires a massive amount of energy. It leaves you thirsty, sweaty, and bone-tired. After trudging many miles, most adventurers just want to stop and take a break for a while. There is nothing wrong with that; you earned every minute of it.

Resting is a natural part of the outdoor experience. After traversing for a few hours through the Adirondack backcountry’s dense forest and lakes, streams, bogs and blowdown obstacle course, even a super-hero would need a break once in a while. Taking a break displays neither weakness nor laziness; They are a necessity and provide the opportunity to recharge – the more grueling the adventure, the more rest breaks are necessary for recovery.

There is more to taking a break than sitting on your butt.  There might be a snack, a drink, or a chat with fellow adventurers Rest breaks are important for the health of your feet too. Just pulling off those sweaty socks during a break helps reduce blisters. Just be careful to direct those stinky toes downwind from your hiking compatriots or suffer their wrath.

Rest site on Lot 8The frequency or duration of rest breaks varies with the hiker, the length of the trip, and the season. The ability of the trip’s participants is potentially the most important factor determining when and how long to rest. Consider this while selecting hiking companions or suffer the resting consequences.

Some are strict about taking breaks. These goal-obsessed individuals tend toward having every minute accounted for, even scheduling free time. These are the kind of folks who put “have fun” on their weekly to-do list. Thru-hikers often follow a strict schedule, with breaks at regular intervals, timed to the minute, all in an effort to squeeze the maximum miles from a day.

Some thrive on strict break scheduling, but I find it a tedious chore. A visit to the backcountry is an opportunity to throw off the shackles of a busy life, why bring an itinerary?

I know taking a break isn’t free; it costs momentum and progress toward the goal. In the colder months, evaporation can make you chilly, or hypothermic. In warmer months, sitting around makes you an easy target for biting insects and cuts short more than a few hiking breaks.

Rest site on Hidden LakeMy own resting behavior in the backcountry often runs contrary to common convention. Instead of fewer and shorter breaks, the opposite is often true. On my own, I take the time to enjoy my surroundings. I usually stop, shed my pack, have some water and eat a snack. Since I’m typically solo, chatting is a rare treat. My gear stands in for a companion, but the conversation tends is mostly one-sided and  dull.

Observing the wild as it goes about its day is one of the rewarding parts of trekking through the wilderness. During a break in hiking (and its consequent movement through the forest), the quiet returns. The birds begin singing more enthusiastically, small mammals emerge from their burrows to scurry the forest floor, and occasionally a larger one may wander into the area.

Seeing that is worth sacrificing an artificial deadline or two, is it not?

Photos: Above, a perfect resting rock on Jay Mountain in the Jay Mountain Wilderness; middle, a esting site at Hidden Lake in the Five Ponds Wilderness; and below, a resting spot on Lot 8 in the Jay Mountain Wilderness (photos by Dan Crane).


Dan Crane

Dan Crane writes regularly about bushwhacking and backcountry camping, including providing insights on equipment and his observations as a veteran backcountry explorer. He has been visiting the Adirondacks since childhood and actively exploring its backcountry for almost two decades. He is also life-long naturalist with a Master of Science in Ecology from SUNY ESF and 10+ seasons working as a field biologist, five inside the Blue Line.

Dan has hiked the Northville-Placid Trail twice and climbed all 46 High Peaks but currently spends his backpacking time exploring the northwestern portion of the Adirondacks. He is also the creator of the blog Bushwhacking Fool where he details his bushwhacking adventures.




7 Responses

  1. Bill Davis says:

    Right on Dan. I don’t get not going with the rhythm of the hike even if going for the goal. I have to admit though the only place I wear a watch is on the trail, as one must know the time to darkness and estimate pace. Repeating hikes, I find I will wind up resting upon the same rocks. I enjoy your articles, happy exploring.

  2. Wait, taking a break–what’s that?!! 🙂

  3. Curt Austin says:

    I enjoy reading about these fine points of backpacking. There are so many interesting details, especially when solo. Is it OK to talk to yourself? Do you put fresh batteries in your headlamp before each trip? Do you write the date of installation on them? Do you wear a watch? What do you do to pass the time after dinner? Can you lay in a tent past daybreak? Do you bring calories to match your expenditure, or allow a little starvation? Are you a no-salt adherent, or do you bring salty food? Water purification – let’s not go there. Two poles, one pole, or none? Ever bring safety goggles for bush-whacking? Where do you keep your car key? Or keys? Do you bring deodorant? Leave some in your car? What else do you put in the car for your parking lot celebration? Do you, like me, stop the car a few miles down the road and walk around, to ward off stiffness? In your socks?

    The schedule business is not a small detail, though. A profound question, but with serious practical implications. I hope to do the Northville-Lake Placid Trail this year – it would be cool to try it without a schedule.

  4. Tim says:

    I need to take more time while hiking. I do much of my hiking in the winter when it’s not so pleasant to take more than a short break. I remember once sitting in the summer in the same spot at Stephens Pond, barely moving for 2 hours. I saw (and heard) so much! I was so quiet, I saw a snake slither by.

  5. Marco says:

    Breaks bring out the forest and critters like a camp site never does. Talking to your pack? Well, I talk to my canoe, so, I guess I’m OK with that. Drifting along a quiet lake shore or down a small stream are both very pleasant. Critters don’t seem to mind that much if you are on the water. Hiking IS work. But, like playing any sport, it is fun.

  6. Jim S. says:

    Every hike of mine starts out to be similar to a great range traverse, but those wonderful rest breaks seem to change my itinerary.

  7. Paul says:

    Keep moving! Any good hike should seem more like the Batan Death March than fun!

    Seriously though this time of year I hate when you stop and start to get cold. That is why I love hiking in the early fall.