The first things I usually think of doing after a hike are grabbing a bite to eat, scrolling through my camera roll for an Insta post, and plugging in my CF card to see the damages I've done with my camera. Unbeknownst to many hikers, there are a few general practices, which are beneficial after any length of a hike. I personally live by these practices and encourage others to do so as well.
Here are four of my best post hike practices.
1. Check yourself and your friends for ticks.
It's inevitable that you'll run through some brush or tall grasses during your hike. Many times, it's the path you create that gets the perfect shot of the landscape. Hidden in these grasses are critters of all likes. Our main concern in California is the blacklegged tick, which can transmit Lyme disease. If contracted and not treated, this has the potential to become a serious problem.
Checking yourself for ticks is quite simple. Pat yourself down from head to tow and keep an eye out for any dark brown or black ticks. Always remember to check exposed skin, like your scalp, and remove any ticks you find on your persons. To prevent and protect against exposure to ticks, be sure to dress appropriately for your location by wearing long sleeves and pants along with high socks.
For more information, please reference the California Department of Public Health's resources on Lyme Disease and the University of California's Integrated Pest Management (UCIPM) site for the identification of blacklegged ticks.
2. Clean your shoes.
I didn’t incorporate this into my post-hike routine until I was hiking with friends in Hawaii and realized the effects of soil-borne pathogens transferred by shoes. As a trained horticulturalist and botanist, it is imperative to keep our workplace sterile, especially in nursery settings. The reasoning for this is because many pathogens can be transmitted via soils. If soils are contaminated with foreign substances, there is a chance of a widespread epidemic in the crop. This is a similar concept in hiking, though for us, we are capable of not only spreading soil borne pathogens, but invasive species seeds as well.
After your hike, knock as much mud and dirt off your shoes as possible and give them a quick rinse before heading out. Though this may seem like an unnecessary step to getting on with your day, it will help prevent the spread of pathogens and invasive plant species that may disrupt the native ecosystems of California. Moreover, if you are traveling to multiple states or countries, this is a vital act to preserve the native communities you are visiting.
3. Stretch it out!
I find it beneficial to stretch after workouts to keep my muscles flexible and relaxed. While recreational hiking may not seem like a strenuous sport, it is wise to stretch out your muscles post-hike to reduce lactic acid buildup for soreness and muscle fatigue. As a long distance runner, I always take a minimum of half an hour to properly stretch out my ankles, calves, thighs, hamstrings, back, and shoulders. I simplify this routine for hikes by focusing on my legs and lower back. It’s also imperative to stay layered to keep your muscles warm and circulate blood flow.
Don’t forget to stay hydrated and grab yourself a protein rich snack to recover quickly!
4. Wash your clothing with hot, soapy water.
Two of my classmates in college were experiencing their most restless week because they’d been sleeping outside in hammocks. Why you ask? They both broke out in rashes two weeks after a backpacking trip from coming across poison oak and didn’t want to contaminate their dorm for the sake of their roommates.
Poison oak leaves are covered in a waxy oil substance also known as urushiol, which is irritable to our skin and in many cases cause severe rashes. The plants are easily identifiable by their shiny smooth margined, lobed leaflets of three, which may show a red hue during late summer to fall months. They grow as both shrubs and vines, so stay cautious out there!
Avoid touching the leaves and stems throughout the year and consistently wash your clothes after your hikes. Use hot soapy water to break down these oils. If you or your clothes have come in contact with poison oak, the oils may contaminate the rest of your personal items and can last for months or years at a time. If you think you’ve brushed poison oak, rinse off with Tecnu, a homeopathic medicated poison ivy scrub, and cool water to remove the oils. For more information on the identification and treatment of poison oak, please reference UCIPM’s site linked below.