Spring is just around the corner and it’s a great time to explore your local parks and mountains. But trekking around in the woods, canyons and mountains can be dangerous if you’re not prepared. As with any exercise endeavor, safe hiking requires planning and preparation, self-reliance, and good choices.
Make sure you know your destination before you begin—and check the weather report (but don’t count on it). Once on the move, watch your pace; you should be able to walk and talk during your hike. And be sure to take a ten-minute break at least once every hour, which helps remove the metabolic waste products that build up in your legs while hiking. Of course, bring along the right gear. Here are some essential items you need for your next (safe) hiking excursion:
- Map and Compass: Know your destination and how to get there, but bring a map. With it, you can find campsites, water, and an emergency route in case of an accident. A compass Is especially important in bad weather when you can’t see landmarks.
- First Aid Kit: Also, take a basic first aid class at the American Red Cross or Wilderness First Aid, so you know how to use it.
- Multi-Purpose Tool: With these you can create bandages, remove splinters, open cans and repair gear.
- Flashlight, Extra Bulbs and Batteries: For illuminating dark trails and signaling for help.
- Firestarter and Matches: Fire can help prevent hypothermia or signal for help if you get lost.
- Sunscreen, Sunglasses and Hat: Make sure you have all three of these, because the combination of sun and snow above the treeline can cause sunburn and snowblindness.
Make sure to bring water, a way to purify it and extra food. Without enough water, you’ll be susceptible to hypothermia and altitude sickness. Many events could keep you out longer than expected: a lengthy detour, getting lost, an injury or difficult terrain. Eat before, during, and after your hike—you need fuel to keep going.
What you wear on your hike is very important. Temperatures can change drastically (especially above the treeline) so bring along extra layers. And a nylon outer shell in case of rain never hurts!
Choose your hiking shoes carefully. Those heavy rugged boots may look tempting but remember that every pound of shoe is equivalent to carrying 7-9 pounds on your back. You may want to consider a cross-trainer with ankle support or one of the lighter hiking shoes that are available. Also, the right socks can make all the difference. The coarse threads of thick hiking socks could cause blisters on a long hike. Wear a thin nylon sock as a first layer, or just wear lighter socks. Bring an extra pair for replacement half way. Hikers recommend “New socks + Old shoes” for extra-long hikes. You don’t want to break in new shoes on a long hike.
Finally, consider using a hiking or trekking pole. It can be a great advantage for a long hike. It is estimated the use of trekking poles can add up to 20% efficiency to the body by transferring some of the workload to your upper body. The poles also provide stability, greatly reducing the need for leg muscles to continually provide balance. Use of a pole greatly reduces the chance of a sprained or broken ankle makes stream crossings, ice, loose rocks, and steep areas safer.