The Founders of LatinxHikers Want to Help You Get Outdoors

The idea for the LatinxHikers Instagram account was born on a hike, of course. In 2017, Adriana Garcia and Luz Lituma were exploring the Havasupai Indian Reservation and Zion National Park with a group of friends when they began to see a lot of signs. The two friends had always talked about how they felt like they never saw people who looked like them out hiking or camping.

Both were outdoors enthusiasts. Garcia was raised in a very outdoors-oriented household. Her father grew up ranching and farming in a mountainous desert area of Mexico, and her mother is from Tennessee country. Growing up, she spent every single day playing in the woods behind her house and camping in her local state park near Chattanooga.

Lituma, on the other hand, grew up in Queens, New York, in an "overprotected" household with parents from a small town in the Amazon. She didn't explore the outdoors that much because her parents were working most of the time. But a 2016 trip to Peru inspired her to explore more—she unexpectedly hiked the 17,000-foot Vinicunca Rainbow Mountain. "After being able to hike in such high elevation, I told myself that I could do anything!" she says. "That's when my whole way of travel changed, and I mainly started wanting to explore national parks in the U.S. That's when my love for trails and the outdoors began. I noticed later on that this love for nature was always in me since I am a product of people who come from the jungle."

The friends had bounced around ideas of starting a podcast or talking about their experiences. But it really started to come together on that 12-mile hike to the turquoise waters of Havasu Falls. "We rounded the corner, and I remember going down to the falls, and we started to look in the water and see people play in the water," Garcia says. "We kind of looked at each other and we're like, 'What? There are people that look like us here. Brown people.' Just little things like that got us really excited because that's not exactly like that in the Southeast where we're from. We got excited about that and one thing after another. We were hiking, and we saw this ladder, and it had something written in Spanish. We don't really see Spanish written on signs. Even if you go to REI, there's nothing written in Spanish."

Then, when they were hiking through The Narrows at Zion National Park, they started throwing around ideas. The combination of the beautiful environment they were in and the creative photographer and artist friends they were with inspired them to start an Instagram account. On the hike, they thought of names and settled on LatinxHikers. But there was one catch: They couldn't get cell service in The Narrows to claim the name. "Luz took off running back and got on the shuttle bus back to the campground where we had service to claim the handle," Garcia recalls. "No one had it, thank goodness, and that's how it started."

The account's first photo was of The Narrows, and from there, the two women started sharing their different experiences and favorite places to go. It became a storytelling journal of sorts. Three years later, it's evolved into a growing community of over 12K followers.

Lituma says she wanted to create a space where she could give others a chance to see how approachable these places were. "LatinxHikers is a space to talk about our experiences and share our stories about our personal lives and the outdoors," she explains. "We didn’t think it would turn into anything big but started noticing how needed the community was after receiving DMs full of gratitude. People were resonating with what we had to say and excited to see a space that represented them since there was such a lack of representation in the outdoor industry."

The account also works with different organizations like REI and Marmot to bring more awareness and get more people outdoors. And while the group does cater to the Latinx community especially, it does welcome everybody.

And it's not just a virtual community, either. The pair started leading hikes and having events in Atlanta for Latinx individuals and people of color because they noticed there wasn't a community or resource like that in the area. For the two friends, it's also about inspiring others to feel empowered. "By seeing two women doing these things—going hiking, camping, and backpacking—it's empowered a lot of people to do it themselves," Garcia says. "Then, they come to our events, and they feel comfortable and safe, and they want to go and do that themselves and take their friends."

And while they've had to pause in-person gatherings for the time being because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the future is still looking bright for the pair and their community. They've seen their audience grow even more in the past couple of months, in part because many people are looking to get outdoors and heal. And they welcome everyone who's interested in learning more. "We want everybody to get outside, obviously safely, and without using up all of our [collective] resources," Garcia says.

In the spirit of that idea, we asked Garcia and Lituma to share their best tips for hiking and getting outdoors, from what gear to bring to what safety precautions to take. Here's what they had to say.

Hiking Tips

1. Do Your Research

When you decide where you want to explore, make sure you do your research on the area. Take a look at the trail maps and decide how far you want to hike and what type of difficulty level you're looking for.

"Being a woman, and especially a woman of color, there are more things that I have to think about when I'm going out," Garcia says. "My thought process when I'm researching a place is I want to know if it's going to be safe for a woman to go there solo. Is it going to be safe for a person of color? Is it going to be way out in the woods and be kind of scary or creepy? Are you going to be out there without any kind of protection and have some kind of incident?"

2. Have a Good Pair of Shoes and Socks

Garcia says this can be a good pair of boots or sneakers, plus socks. It depends on what you're doing, as some hikes require more special gear than others. "If you know you're going to get out there and you're clumsy—like I'm super clumsy—get you some boots that go up higher over your ankles that can help protect you if you do happen to fall over so you're not twisting your ankles," she says. "I especially say that for beginners because, if you're not used to going over that type of terrain, it's best to have protection around your ankles."

She's currently wearing Teva's Grandview GTX ($175) on hikes, which are waterproof: "I love their hiking boots because you don't have to break them in, and they're super stylish for what they are."

3. Find a Buddy

While it may be tough to go on hikes with other people outside your household because of current social distancing rules, this is good to keep in mind. Garcia says when she started getting into backpacking she joined a Meetup group. "I learned so much from that because there was a lot of people that had done hikes like the Appalachian Trail and these really long hikes and knew what they were doing," she explains. "It was really good to be around really knowledgeable people, and I felt safe. So I'd say find a group of people, like-minded folks, that you feel safe and comfortable with and join a Meetup group or find a Facebook group."

4. Pack Wisely

What you pack depends on what type of hike you're going on, but Lituma says you should always bring a water bottle and a snack, no matter how short the hike is. "No one plans to get lost, but sometimes if you're not properly prepared, it happens," she explains. "If you get lost, you will at least have food and water until you get help!"

Other gear you can bring includes a day pack, sunscreen, and mosquito spray. And don't forget to wear comfortable clothing!

5. Take Some Safety Precautions

Lituma suggests bringing pepper gel. "I purchase it because, if you use spray on a windy day, chances are you're getting sprayed as well. Gel is more direct and doesn't spray everywhere." She also recommends telling a friend or two where you're going before you head out.

6. Be Extra Careful If You're Alone

Lituma is currently traveling alone, so she has some tips for hitting the trails solo. First and foremost, she says you shouldn't tell strangers that you're alone or disclose your exact location on social media. She also picks up a sharp branch or heavy rock on the trail when she's alone to provide herself some comfort.

In addition to telling your friends where you're going, you can have a friend follow your location, like with the Find My Friends app on the iPhone.

And always have an exit strategy, Lituma says. "Wherever you are—this might come second nature to many women—it's important," she explains. "Whether you're at a campground showering or at a gas station pumping gas."

7. Use Apps

There are so many apps you can use to plan out your hike, and most allow you to download the map before you head out on the trails in case there's no service. Some apps they recommend include AllTrailsGaia GPS, and Google Maps.

8. Be Respectful of Your Surroundings

That includes both the environment and the people you meet. Don't leave anything on the trail, especially trash. Garcia suggests bringing a trash bag along with you to store your waste. And right now, it's important to wear a mask when you're around other people on your hike to keep them safe.

Respecting the history of the land can also be a part of your research. "Read about the native people that lived there beforehand," she says. "Don't just go out unknowingly. It's always good to put in that little bit of research before you go out."

9. Stay on the Trail

Going off-trail can disrupt the ecosystem. "Just stay on trail. You can look at it and take photos of it, but don't touch the wildlife, don't feed the wildlife, don't go outside of areas you're not supposed to go out of because there's a reason why you're not supposed to go in those areas," Garcia says.

10. There Are Ways to Be Frugal

Garcia says getting outdoors doesn't have to cost a fortune. Although it might be hard to shop these platforms at the moment, she suggests looking at Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, garage sales, yard sales, thrift stores, and army and navy surplus stores for gear. Outdoor retailers like REI have "garage sales" for members, and many sell used items. Shopping online at other websites, like Backcountry and Sierra Designs, can save you some money, too.

You can also look to universities. Garcia says she has rented gear from the outdoor program at the university she attended.

11. Don't Be Intimidated

Some people might feel intimidated by the term "hiking" because they assume they need a lot of gear and that they're going to summit a mountain. That's not exactly the case. "We just call it fancy walking," Garcia says. "We're walking, but we might walk up a hill, or we might have to walk over roots or walk on some rocks. I think a lot of the time there's elitism that goes on in the outdoors. You go to REI and you see everyone dressed up and wearing these nice outfits to go out there, and you don't need all of that to go outside."

You can start small, like with a flat nature trail—that's still hiking, she says. And when you think of it that way, it's hard to find an excuse to not explore nature and the outdoors.

Next up: 5 Compelling Reasons to Add Hiking to Your Fitness Routine

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