Hiking is a wonderful way to get exercise in the fresh air. There is something marvelous about spending time in the natural world away from electronic devices and constant interruptions. In the woods, you can breathe deeply, relaxing a little bit with each step. However, a hike can be a challenge if you are not prepared. It is important to take precautions so that your walk in the woods is a positive, refreshing experience.
Getting in Shape
Although most hikes are not as strenuous as running a marathon, hiking is still physical exercise. You do not want to get several miles into the forest and realize you do not have the energy to walk back. If you are just getting into exercise, you should do some easy walks to prepare for your hiking trip. Walking around a local high school track is a good way to gauge your ability without getting far from your car. You should also research some easier hikes in your area. See how a mile or two of trail-walking feels before you try something more strenuous.
Some hikers crave solitude and enjoy hitting the trail alone. It is often more fun to share your hiking trip with other people. There are many hiking groups around the country. These groups have experience walking on your local trails and access to trail information. An important benefit of hiking with a group is transportation. If you are hiking alone, you are often limited to shorter loops or out-and-back hikes. With a group, you can coordinate vehicles so that you leave some at the finish of a long trail. This allows the group to do a day hike on a section of a longer trail like the Appalachian or North Country trail.
Finding a Companion
Sometimes it is nice to have a companion who does not feel the need to talk. It is getting more popular to have a dog with you when you hike. With their heightened senses of smell and hearing, dogs experience nature in a different way than humans. An advantage of a canine hiking buddy is the dog may draw your attention to wildlife you may not have noticed. However, not every dog is well-suited to long hikes. Short-legged dogs may have trouble dealing with challenging terrain. Especially large dog breeds can struggle walking long distances. Because of their traits, Bernese mountain dogs are good in some climates and do well on the trails. Other breeds that make good hiking partners include Australian shepherds, Vizslas, Alaskan Klee Kais, and Schipperkes. As with human beings, you should take your dog on some shorter walks to learn its abilities and limitations before taking them on the trail.
When you go to an outdoor equipment store, it can be overwhelming. There is so much camping and hiking gear available for different types of trekking. The equipment you need depends on the hike you are planning to take. If you are just going on a day hike, you do not need an oversized backpack with tons of pockets. Depending on the terrain and your skill level, you may want to try walking sticks for extra balance and support. You should pick a sturdy, reusable bottle for your water supply. A basic first aid kit is a good purchase for any kind of hiking. It is always wise to bring an extra layer of clothing like a sweatshirt for unexpected temperature drops while on the trail.
Protect Your Feet
Hiking shoes are a serious investment. Your feet need protection and support. For an easy day hike, a pair of supportive athletic shoes may be fine. However, for more serious hiking, you want to have a pair of quality boots. These will do a better job of preventing injury to your feet when you trip or hit debris at a bad angle. Good boots also support your ankles, lowering the risk of twists and sprains. You also want a boot that will keep your feet dry as you walk, especially if it starts to rain. Be sure to break in your boots by wearing them casually for a few days before hiking. This will prevent blisters while you are on the trail.
Do Your Trail Research
A safe hike requires some planning. Your preparations should include research into the trail’s length and changes in altitude. A five-mile hike up a mountain will take much longer than a similar distance over flat terrain. In order to stay on track, you also need to know the trail marking system for your hiking area. Many trails are marked by colored patches on trees with multiple patches indicating turns. If you do not know how the trail is marked, you can end up far from your goal.
Best Safety Practices
In addition to equipment, you should have some basic safety knowledge as you hit the trail. Make sure your cell phone is fully charged as you leave. In most cases, it is the easiest way to contact emergency services. Be aware that some hikes will take you out of cell phone service areas. If you do get lost, the best policy is to stay in place so searchers can find you. A hiker’s first aid kit should also include matches to build a fire and extra food if you unexpectedly have to spend the night outdoors.
Know the Hazards
Many of the hazards on a hiking trail are seasonal. If you are hiking in the woods during the summer, be prepared for insects like mosquitoes, black flies and deer flies. Ticks and the illnesses they carry are increasingly a concern across the United States. You need to be able to identify plant species like poison ivy and oak that can cause skin reactions. Poison ivy is especially common growing at foot-level beside shady trails. Depending on your region, you should also be aware of the different species of venomous snakes that may be hiding under rocks or fallen logs, and how to identify them.
A weekend hike may be just what you need to recover from a long work week. Time in the forest can also be a time to get closer to your family members. With a few precautions, your hiking adventure will be memorable, fun, and safe.