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A beginner's guide to hiking: Everything you need to know to stay safe on the trails
May 29, 2016, 10:28 am
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Feeling burnt-out, grumpy, or just plain stressed? A reinvigorating hike in the great outdoors is often just what the doctor ordered. Get in touch with Mother Nature with these tips for a great day in the woods.

Hiking encompasses everything from taking a quick walk in the woods to climbing major mountains with a 40-pound pack. This article involves the less-intense side of the scale — we are talking day hikes with a small backpack. Regardless of distance, the best strategy to have fun and stay safe is to plan and prepare in advance. Read on for tips to get started and make your adventure smooth and safe.

Research

Getting in tune with nature usually starts on the computer. Before picking a spot on the map, do some research. If you are new to hiking, start with a shorter, less steep hike and progress over time until comfortable with longer distances and more challenging terrain.

As with any physical activity, it is important to get in shape for hiking and prepare the body for moving in a specific way. Start walking outdoors, beginning with one mile and working up to four or five while carrying a backpack.

When training for a major ascent, focus on workouts that boost leg and core strength. A weight training routine can improve performance as well as protect the joints that are often strained during hiking. You are ready for the woods when an hour-long walk with a backpack is a piece of cake.

Do not forget to get new hiking shoes or boots before hitting the trail. For a light, easy hike, choose trail running sneakers, trail shoes, or light hiking boots. For intense mountain climbing or backpacking, go for heavy-duty hiking boots that provide more ankle support and cushioning.

Action plan

Once you are ready to hit the trail, follow these guidelines for staying safe and comfortable.

Check the weather

It is important to know what kind of weather to expect so you can prepare and modify plans accordingly. Check the Internet or consult with a park ranger. If big storms are expected, play it safe and take a rain check.

Pack essentials

  • Fill a small day pack with a list of important items for any hike in the woods.
  • Stay on the right trail with a good map, compass, and/or GPS.
  • Take care of eyes and skin with UV-blocking sunglasses, plenty of wide-spectrum sunscreen, and a hat.
  • Pack a few layers of extra non-cotton clothing. You never know when the weather might change.
  •  Even if you are only planning to be out during the day, bring a lightweight flashlight and make sure it has fully charged batteries before leaving the house.
  • Get your required first aid supplies, waterproof matches for fire and a repair kit consisting of  anything necessary to repair such as a Swiss army knife or other multi-tool, duct tape, shoelaces, needle and thread.
  • You would require some nutritious lightweight meal to get your energy going. Also pack water varying on the length and intensity of the hike.
  • Get an emergency space blanket, tarp, or even an extra-large trash bag in a pinch.

Suit up

Avoid cotton clothing because it takes forever to dry and does not provide warmth when wet. A combination of cotton socks and sweat could also leave you with blisters. Use wool or synthetic materials instead.

Tune in

When hiking, pay close attention to your body and surroundings. Keep an eye on the position of the sun in the sky so you know whether you are moving at a pace that will get you home before sundown. If feeling tired, stop for a break and a snack, and drink plenty of water.

Inform someone

Always inform friends and family about the trip and map, and check in with someone before heading into the woods. It is a good idea to travel with at least one other person for safety.

Stay safe

  • On the trail, respect the environment and be vigilant to potential dangers.
  • Do not touch, pick up, or eat any plants, flowers, fruit, or animals, especially if they are unfamiliar.
  • Study safety precautions if hiking into an area known for poisonous snakes, bears, mountain lions, or other potentially dangerous wildlife.
  •  Protect against bugs and insects by keeping skin covered.
  •  Use only designated fire pits, clear away flammable leaves and pine needles before striking a match to prevent forest fires, and make sure the fire is fully out before moving on

Keep your manners

The trail can be a rough-and-tumble place, but it has its own code of etiquette and unspoken rules. Arguably the most important one is to leave no trace when hiking. Leave flora and fauna alone, and generally minimize impact on the trail and campsites. Remember: The only souvenirs should be photographs and memories; the only thing left behind should be footsteps

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