HOW TO: Five Tips for Urban Hiking
Nearly all of my pilgrimage trips have included some amount of urban hiking through modern cities, including the Camino de Santiago as you arrive at the Cathedral and the California Mission Trail through the major metro areas of San Diego, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. City hiking – in and of itself – is becoming a growing trend for those committed to more sustainable travel and “slow travel”. While some may scoff at not being able to see the forest (or the trees, for that matter!) city walking can be delightful with abundant options for meals and supplies. City trekking can be made remarkably better with some preparation, so it’s through that lens that I offer these five tips for urban hiking.
FIVE TIPS FOR URBAN HIKING
ALWAYS CARRY GPS MAPS / APPS FOR UPDATED CITY INFORMATION
Today most of us carry one of the most powerful handheld GPS devices available: our smartphones. Every iPhone and Android device available has a built-in GPS chip that can show your location reliably even when cellular and wifi signals are unavailable. Using Google Maps, Apple Maps, or GaiaGPS, you can quickly and reliably see updated information about your route, including construction or other temporary factors that could impact your urban hike. Having your mobile device loaded with maps for your planned route can also help you get back on course if you miss a turn or if streets are not clearly signposted.
READ MORE: THE TOP HIKING GPS APPS FOR IPHONE AND ANDROID
READ MORE: GARMIN INREACH GPS RESCUE COMMUNICATOR REVIEW
PRE-WALK YOUR ROUTE USING GOOGLE STREET VIEW
One of the best aspects of urban hiking is the prevalence of Google Street View along most routes. If you’re not familiar, Google Street View photographs millions of miles of roadways every year and overlays maps with this information. By pre-walking your route on Google Street View, you can quickly see obstacles – such as knowing which side of the street a sidewalk is on or where a dangerous crossing may be easier – as well as opportunities, such as a great cafe or bistro along your route that can save you carrying additional supplies.
UPGRADE YOUR FOOTWEAR FOR CONCRETE HIKING
At the risk of stating the obvious, hiking on concrete is completely different than hiking on trails and may require a different shoe system for many. Urban hiking creates more forceful impacts underfoot, increasing strain and heat on your shoes and feet. To offset the impact of hiking on concrete, consider using merino wool socks with medium or high cushioning, like the Darn Tough Medium Crew Hiking Socks. Underfoot padding, like these metatarsal pads, are a great way to better cushion the bottom of your feet.
PACK LESS AND MAKE USE OF LOCAL SHOPS FOR SUPPLIES
It stands to reason that if cafes, groceries and hotels line your route, there are a lot of items that you do not need to pack for urban hiking. Take advantage of lesser needs to carry a smaller backpack such as the Osprey Manta 34L, my go-to pack for international trekking. Seperate all items into MUST and MAY groups; pack all MUST items and confidently leave behind all MAY items, knowing that supplies can easily be purchased along your urban hiking route.
READ MORE: PACKING LIST: TREKKING THE WORLD
READ MORE: REVIEW: OSPREY MANTA 34L BACKPACK
PRACTICE SITUATIONAL AWARENESS
While you’re not likely to find bears and venomous snakes along your urban hiking pathways, there are still significant risks that require heightened situational awareness. Pay close attention to road signs and be alert at all crosswalks to ensure motorists yield to you before walking. Take special notice of potential physical risks, such as being followed in an unfamiliar area, and seek assistance immediately if you feel unsafe. Lastly, be aware of changing weather conditions and seek protection in a cafe or building lobby, as you will likely have clear views of the horizon to gauge the speed of weather while urban hiking.
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Husband. Father. Backpacker. Pilgrim. Author.
My recent treks include the Camino de Santiago through Portugal and Spain as well as section hiking along the Florida Trail and the Appalachian Trail. In 2021 I began walking the California Missions Trail in the United States and – once it is safe to do so – I will complete England’s ancient Pilgrims’ Way from London to Canterbury. Afterward, I’ll begin the Via Francigena, the historic way in Europe connecting Canterbury to Rome.