The Essential Guide to Urban Hiking

by Fit After Fifty
A closeup of a person wearing Nike shoes going up concrete stairs

Staying active is perhaps the best way to stay healthy and vigorous. Hiking is a great way to move your body, get your heart rate up and enjoy the great outdoors. If the idea of driving to a trailhead that may be hours away doesn’t appeal to you, but hiking itself does, consider urban hiking as a more convenient alternative.

Adventure Is Just Outside Your Door

Veteran thru-hiker Liz Thomas, who has hiked more than 15,000 miles of trail across the country, is an advocate for urban hiking. She likens hiking through a city to her experiences in the backcountry, “There is that same aspect of exploration, of not knowing what’s around the next corner. You have to go through the same planning process as you would for going out in nature.”
Thomas recommends the following to get a healthy hike inside city limits:

  • Climb as many stairs as you can, which will give you a taste of the elevation gain that a traditional hike might have.
  • Don’t retrace your steps; instead, make your route follow a loop. It’s not the most efficient way to go, but much like on a thru-hike, you always get to see new things. Thomas calls backtracking on an urban hike a “no-no.”
  • Plan your route to go to places that you would not normally visit, adding the adventure that a thru-hike has.


Urban hiking doesn’t require specialized equipment, but here are some things that you’ll want to consider when taking off on foot for a few hours.


If you consider nothing else about your clothing choices, layering takes the cake. Even in the middle of summer, your body temperature can drop if you’ve been working up a sweat and then stop. Sweat is supposed to cool us down, and it does an excellent job, especially if there’s a breeze or if you stop for a bite to eat and sit in the shade. Don’t forget to include a waterproof layer if the forecast calls for rain.


Comfort is king when it comes to footwear, so wear shoes that have enough cushion for a long hike and enough room for your toes to wiggle, and make sure that the back of the shoe keeps your heel from sliding around to ensure stability. Lack of cushioning can aggravate plantar fasciitis, and a too-tight toe box can inflame Morton’s neuroma.

Socks with a little cushion are preferred. Make sure that they fit well — socks that are too big can rub on your feet and cause blisters. Lightweight wool socks that wick moisture away without adding bulk are a better choice than cotton, because cotton does not dry quickly, and the moisture can also cause blisters.


Smartphones are a great resource when hiking because of the online map services available, but if you want to prepare in case of spotty service or haven’t fallen prey to the siren song of the digital age, you may want to include paper maps. A map of the city where you are hiking, with trails indicated, is a great idea, as is a transit map for buses or subways, in case you have to cut the hike short.

Water Bottle

Though you will likely pass places to stop and get water and maybe a snack, you may choose to have water on hand. It’s better to be safe than sorry, as being dehydrated can sap you of energy.


You’ll want a place to put all of this suggested gear, and a backpack is the best choice. You will have hands free to take pictures or use handrails. A simple “back-to-school” type of backpack will suffice.

Make a Plan

You may have to find the locations of public bathrooms, which is one part of an urban hike that is more difficult than a wilderness hike. No conveniently located bushes await for you to duck behind in the city, so make sure that you include that in your loop.
Just like a hike in nature, you should let someone know where your route goes. The unexpected happens when you least expect it, and if you need help and your phone has died or you have no service, having a contact person know when to expect you back will ensure timely help.

Image via Unsplash.

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