Enjoying a joint after (or before and during) a long hike might not be the first Colorado activity on Family Feud's survey board, but it's up there. Our mountains and our legal cannabis are both real claims to fame, and taking a hit with nature is just so tempting, despite state laws and national park rules banning public cannabis use. As long as we stay away from kids, avoid drought areas and clean up after ourselves, we're usually all right.
So it was only a matter of time before a group dedicated to high hiking emerged in the Denver area. For the past few years, CannaVenture members have regularly met at trails around Colorado for a toke-at-your-own-risk nature trek, introducing hikers to each other and new cannabis products. To learn how to effectively plan a trip with cannabis, which trails to avoid and how to make sure you're not melted by THC before you finish the walk, we caught up with CannaVenture founder and cannabis writer Ben Owens.
Westword: How do you plan a cannabis-friendly hike? Does adding cannabis to the mix change what else you should bring along?
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Ben Owens: Cannabis-friendly hiking does seem like it would be a natural part of the Colorado lifestyle, and for many it is. The tricky part is organizing group events that are cannabis-friendly, especially in the outdoors. Colorado still considers public consumption (even if you are alone in the middle of the woods) to be illegal, which is why you won’t find many outfits like CannaVenture that are out promoting cannabis hikes. In order for us to host hikes, we must abide by a “consume at your own risk/discretion” policy; attendees who are 21 years of age or older participate in hikes as they would any informal gathering. There is no money exchanged, the hikes are free, and you are free to leave when you want, go farther along the trail if you choose, or light up if you accept the risks of your decisions. Due to Colorado laws, we cannot openly endorse outdoor cannabis consumption unless we are on private lands.
Planning a cannabis-friendly hike for a group means picking a trail that is lightly trafficked, easy-moderate in difficulty, and short enough to be accomplished in four to five hours with multiple smoke breaks. From there, it’s all about coordinating promotion and making sure the crew arrives at the same trailhead. When you add cannabis to the mix, you also have to pay particular attention to hydration and heat, as hiking and physical exertion can leave you dehydrated, and cannabis only amplifies this aspect; bringing plenty of water with you is key to an enjoyable hike, and a few muchies thrown in your pack for sustenance won’t hurt, either.
Some mountain summits have lines going down them because they're so popular. How important is choosing the right trail?
Choosing the right trail is incredibly important for both the safety and enjoyment of the cannabis-friendly hikers as well as for respecting the natural enjoyment of others. The principles of cannabis use that applied when it was illegal are a great starting point for planning your trek: you want to pick a trail that isn’t going to have a big crowd of people, especially families and rangers, and you’ll want to make sure there are places to tuck away off the trail to enjoy your favorite offerings. The idea is to be discreet enough to allow you to enjoy your outing while avoiding disturbing others’ adventures.
Any parks or trails at which you think cannabis use should be avoided?
Any national parks or trails that venture through national forests should be avoided whenever possible. These lands are subject to federal law, which still puts cannabis in the controlled-substances category and could land you with issues if a ranger were to walk up. With that being said, cannabis has been illegal in most places for quite some time, and that hasn’t stopped people from sparking up wherever they may find themselves. But if you’re specifically trying to plan a cannabis-friendly hike with the fewest issues, avoiding any lands and parks that are federally managed is a great place to start.
In your opinion, which forms of consumption (edibles not included) are best for outdoor tokes?
When I’m out on a hike, I often prefer to consume flower in blunts and joints. I stay away from pre-rolls for obvious reasons, but pre-rolling a few of your own offerings will allow for easy consumption along the way or at the summit, especially when winds may prevent you from rolling up while out on the trail. Additionally, windproof options like vape pens and handheld smart rigs like the Peak are great if you prefer concentrates, as they mitigate wind problems, remove the need for torches, and minimize the potential for fire danger.
Which strains would you recommend for a hike?
I don’t typically recommend strains, as they aren’t consistent market to market — we all know the issues with cannabis nomenclature — but I recommend uplifting and energetic cultivars, especially for the ascent. Once you reach the summit, you may want something relaxing and rewarding, or something that may help with pain relief for aching muscles. I tend to advise against heavy, sedating options, as they will add an extra hurdle for you to overcome.
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How do you go about mixing cannabis use with physical activity? Any pre- or mid-game use, or do you wait until the end?
When it comes to hiking, I try to minimize consumption until I’m halfway (or I’ve reached the summit). With that being said, I typically consume a small amount before starting a hike or physical activity to help with focus, forgetting distractions from daily life, and often to help with physical strains encountered while exercising.
I advise hikers to know their limits, first and foremost, and then consume in relation to that. Some may be familiar with an RPE scale (rate of perceived exertion); this allows you to self-regulate the effort you’re putting forth while exerting yourself. Similarly, a rate of perceived consumption (RPC) allows for attendees to gauge how “high” they feel after specific consumption routines and regulate accordingly. I recommend keeping it under a 5 on the RPC scale in order to successfully make it to the summit before sunset. Once you reach your peak, if you want to kick it up to a 6 or a 7, that’s perfectly fine, but I advise against anything 8-plus, especially on harder trails, as the desire to push yourself and your physical limits may disappear at those higher levels.
The most important thing to keep in mind when consuming cannabis on a hike is to keep it comfortable, and only enjoy enough to enhance your experiences, not overwhelm them.