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Hiking Tips
Make Your Day Hike a Success With These Guidelines

Why tramp on a treadmill when you can hike through the hills? Hiking is one of the most enjoyable forms of exercise - not only do you give your legs a good workout (especially if you're going over a lot of hills and rough terrain), you get to enjoy the beauty of the scenery around you. Every part of the world, and every season, has its own unique personality - fascinating rock formations, sheltering trees, cool streams, fresh scents, animals of all sizes and types. You'll also find the hot sun beating down on you, rocks that make your feet hurt, poison oak and ivy... and animals of all sizes and types, including bugs and hungry, hostile beasts. Before you go running back to the safety of your living room, however, keep in mind that you can avoid or lessen most of the potentially bad aspects of hiking by being prepared. Like any physical activity - running, dancing, swimming, etc. - hiking has certain ground rules. In fact, hiking has a few more than most because nature is not exactly a controlled environment (that's what makes it so wonderful). Get the proper equipment and take the necessary precautions, and you'll make hiking a regular part of being active. Forge through the forest without any forethought, and you're courting disaster (or at least a nasty case of sunburn and a few bug bites). The following suggestions will help you make the most of your day hike:

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  • Have a plan, even if you're just making a short trip.
    How else will you know what to bring? A three-hour hike has different needs from one that's going to last all day. You'll also need the appropriate clothing and the right shoes. You don't want to be too warm, and you don't want to carry more than is necessary - or too little. So think about where you're going, what time of day you'll be hiking, the season and the type of terrain this hike entails.
  • Hike with at least one other person, and make sure someone knows where you're going and how long you plan to be gone.
    Even experienced outdoorsmen have been known to make this mistake. You remember that climber who had to cut off his own arm because it got wedged in a rock, right? He has admitted that this may have been avoided had he not been alone. Need we say more?
  • Research the trail and terrain.
    With the wonders of the Internet, this has become extremely easy. Nearly every park has a website where you can find information about the trails - their length, difficulty, landmarks, the best season to visit and more. You may even be able to print out a map. You'll also want to know what kind of plants and animals you're going to encounter. And be aware of the weather - if there's a chance of a thunderstorm, it might be nice to be prepared!
  • Pack light.
    Remember - that video camera, CD player and all those extras are going to feel a lot heavier the farther you are along on the trail. Ditch the CD player first - you should be enjoying the sounds of nature. Consider bringing a disposable camera along instead of your digital - it weighs less. Carry food in lightweight plastic containers so they don't get crushed. Do bring your cell phone, but keep it turned off unless there's an emergency. Wear a watch - it's nice to have one with lots of doodads, but at the very least you'll want to know how much time you have left before dark. Also remember to bring important things, like a first aid kit, sunscreen and an extra pair of socks.
  • Bring adequate water.
    Water will be the heaviest thing you are carrying, but it's also something you must not skimp on. Here are a couple of water tips - freeze your water the night before to keep it cool for the length of the trip. (Since water expands when it freezes, remember to leave enough space, or the container may burst.) You can also put a sleeve on the bottle to keep it cool while you're hiking - this can be an insulated sleeve you buy, or you can use an old, clean cotton sock. If your hike takes you back on the same trail you're going in, you may want to stash a bottle or two along the way to pick up when you return. It's better to bring your own water than to drink from the streams along your trail - streams carry loads of bacteria, possibly chemical runoff, and can make you sick. If you really insist on drinking from a stream, use a water filter. How much water should you bring? Try to shoot for at least two quarts per person - the warmer it is, the more you need.
  • Bring the right type of food.
    If you think, "trail mix" when you think of hiking, then guess again - the high fat content makes it hard to digest. You want food that will give you energy, not weigh you down - the same type of food you'd eat for any other type of physical activity: good, low-glycemic carbs with some protein and just enough fat to be satisfying. Meal replacement bars are actually a good choice - Balance Outdoor and Clif Bars are two you might consider. The bars without the coating are best - remember, that coating will melt in the sun, creating a gooey mess. A piece of fruit or two is also a good idea - apples, pears and citrus fruits are all appropriate choices. A sandwich is always welcome on a hike. If you're only going for the day, you don't need an elaborate outdoor stove and utensils.
  • Remember that sun screen!
    You want to bring home pleasant memories of your day in nature, not a severe case of sunburn. Avoid wrinkles and the risk of cancer - slather every inch of bare skin (including the back of your neck, legs, and any bare midriff) with the highest SPF rated sunscreen you can find, and bring more with you. Also wear a hat to keep your face in the shade.
  • Layer wisely.
    If you're wearing all cotton or wool clothing, you'll be hating life the moment you start sweating. The best items to wear on a hike are those made from synthetic materials that wick moisture away from your skin - fibers with names like gortex and capilene. These will keep you cooler and drier. They're also more lightweight than cotton and wool, and they don't take up as much space when you start removing layers and stuffing them in your pack. Since you'll probably be adding and subtracting layers as you go, you'll find yourself really appreciating this.
  • Good hiking shoes are a must.
    This does not necessarily mean those heavy, steel-toed things. For most short hikes you're better off with trail runners, lighter hiking shoes, or light hiking boots with a bit of ankle support. Like any other shoe, hiking shoes should feel comfortable and easy to wear - sporting a few new blisters in the middle of nowhere is a decidedly unpleasant experience. A good pair of socks is also important. As with your other apparel, you'll want a sock with moisture-wicking features. Bring an extra pair - imagine how good it'll feel to have fresh socks halfway into the hike!
  • Consider trekking poles.
    When you put some of the load on your upper body, you'll save your knees and ankle joints from extra wear and tear. The stability added by trekking poles will also help you cross streams more easily and you're less likely to sprain an ankle. The trekking poles they make nowadays are very lightweight and are adjustable so that they fit easily in your pack - you get a lot of benefits for just a bit of added weight. Trekking poles are getting more popular and the people who use them swear by them. They're not a necessity, but you might want to try them out.
  • Keep track of the time and your location.
    If you've packed lightly and only expect to be out for a few hours, you really don't want to find yourself miles from your destination when night falls. A day hike should be a fun excursion, not a test in survival.

Hike wisely and well!

When it comes to buying hiking gear online we like Backcountry Store - they're outdoors experts.

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