Hitting the trail

Tips to put you on the hiking path toward health

Hiking provides a marvelous way to explore nature. And, unlike other more physically demanding outdoor activities, such as rock climbing or mountain biking, people of just about of any group can enjoy hiking.

But unexpected events can still occur during hike. Therefore, hikers should plan an excursion carefully, and practice the best safety precautions.

If you're new to hiking or would like to participate in the activity on a more regular basis, here are some useful guidelines to follow:

  • Get in good physical condition before embarking on a wilderness hike. If the plan involves climbing to high altitudes, make plans for proper acclimatization to the altitude. Also, take into consideration any medical conditions, and discuss your hike plans with your health care provider and get approval before departing.
  • Learn basic camping and hiking skills beforehand, such as reading a compass and building a temporary shelter.
  • Plan the trip ahead of time and assign tasks that people enjoy. Hike in groups as much as possible, especially during cold weather and on hazardous terrain.
  • Check in advance for any area reservation or permit requirements. Never venture into a closed area. Also learn before heading out about rules governing campfires or guidelines about wildlife.
  • Have an emergency plan in place before departing. Inform others in a hiking group of what to do if they become lost or a medical emergency arises. Give children whistles with the instructions to blow it if they become lost.
  • Protect yourself from the sun. Wear sunglasses and a hat or visor. Always wear sunscreen.
  • Dress in layers when hiking into a higher elevation. The temperature often drops three to five degrees every 1,000 feet of elevation. Polyester clothing worn closest to your skin traps warm air next and wicks body moisture away.
  • Stretch before you hike. Hold each stretch for at least thirty seconds. Stretches should work calf, hamstring, quadriceps, groin hip and lower back muscles and knees. You want to feel a muscle slight burn as you loosen up, but it should not be painful.
  • Start out slowly, gradually increasing your pace and distance traveled.
  • Allow the slowest person in your hiking party set the pace. Rotate the leadership role in a group and share decision-making responsibilities.
  • Stay on marked trails in wilderness areas at all times.
  • Monitor your hiking pace. Take frequent rests or vary your hiking rate.
  • Drink water regularly during a hike. Carry water during the hike. Backcountry water supplies can be suspect. Therefore, prepare to treat or filter all water.
  • Pack food high in carbohydrates. Energy bars, granola, candy and fruit can provide a quick pick-me-up on the trail.
  • Carry a first-aid kit equipped for your outing.

— Source: LL Bean; American Hiking Society; American Red Cross

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