Hiking: Outdoor Adventure Awaits

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MILWAUKEE, Wisc. – Fitness is often a common topic of conversation for many – getting fit, staying fit, and everything in between.  Many people also are concerned with watching their personal budget, as well as their waistline.  Consider hiking, says TOPS Club, Inc. (Take Off Pounds Sensibly), the nonprofit weight-loss support organization.

In addition to being fun and easy on the wallet, almost everybody can do it, whether it’s simply utilizing community park trails, meandering foothills, or exploring rugged backcountry, there is a trail or program available for your own unique needs.  A great calorie burner, hiking requires little equipment and can be as physically demanding as you choose to make it.  Implement the following tips for an effective, enjoyable, and safe trek through nature.

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Getting Started

If you have never hiked before, or if you are out of shape, you will want to start out slowly to get your body in condition for hiking.  As with any new activity, it’s important to check with your physician first and discuss your goals.

Before trekking, begin a consistent fitness routine to ensure that your body is ready for such a strenuous activity.  Start by walking around your neighborhood, and then increase the distance every time you go out to build your stamina.  Carry a small pack to help your back and shoulders get used to carrying one when you are out on the trail.  Also consider using cardio-based equipment, such as stair-steppers, elliptical trainers, and rowing or climbing machines, to strengthen leg muscles.  Incorporate weight training to improve core body and abdominal strength.

How to Dress

While your basic walking shoe may work for those neighborhood walks, unpaved trails require a sturdier shoe, with good arch support and a heavy sole.  A good pair of hiking boots will help with stability and shock absorption and a boot that has waterproof/breathable Gore-Tex membranes help to keep feet dry.  As with any boot, a break-in period is strongly recommended.

Good socks are also key.  Choose wool or synthetic over cotton because when cotton gets wet, it stays wet. A mid-weight hiking sock with good cushioning supports the arch.  Wear a thin cycling or nylon sock under a hiking sock as a first layer to help prevent blisters, and consider bringing along a second pair to change into halfway through the hike.

Be prepared for anything, including temperature variations, insects, sun, and rain, by dressing in lightweight layers.  The first layer of shirts and pants, next to the skin, should be synthetic to keep moisture from the body.  Look for high-tech materials like COOLMAX®, microfiber, spandex, LYCRA®, UltraWick, and GORE-TEX®.  The second layer for insulation should relate to the outdoor temperature.  If the weather is very cold, then a heavier fleece or liner makes sense. The third layer is should be a weather-resistant shell which acts as a windbreaker or rain shield.  In addition to sunglasses, hats with brims protect the face from sun, keep you cool, and also help shield the eyes.  Wear sunscreen on bright and cloudy days.

What Type of Pack on Your Back?

Day packs, as their name suggests, are designed to be used on reasonably short hikes.  They are normally anywhere from about ten to thirty liters in volume and come in various styles.  They will all have shoulder straps and some will have a chest strap and/or a belt strap.

Internal frames have a metal frame integrated into the pack.  Because the pack stays close on your back, the load moves with you and helps with balance and agility on uneven terrain.  Some drawbacks of internal frame packs are that they are harder to pack, keep the back warmer in summer hiking, and do not generally offer the wide range of pocket options.  But they are lightweight, which appeals to the recreational backpacker.

External frames have a high weight-carrying capacity.  Because of the rigid frame, the external frame distributes the weight better than an internal frame.  An external frame may be more difficult for individuals who have balance issues.  An external frame also does not touch the back. If a person has a hard time keeping cool, than an external frame pack is a good choice.

Keeping Your Body Fueled

Even hikes of short duration will make you hungry and thirsty, so when packing food and water, take into account the humidity, temperature, and distance you will be traveling.  Pack food that is easy to eat and packs well such as oranges, apples, trail mix, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, sports bars, etc.  Take one more meal and more water than you think you will need for extra energy and hydration.  Carry a water filter or water purifying tablets to ensure a supply of clean water.  Outdoor retailers also sell large capacity water packs that can be easily strapped over your shoulder.

Checking Out the Trails

Check out what resources your library offers, such as maps and guidebooks, visit sporting goods stores, and check online to see what hiking trails and nearby attractions and amenities are available.  Look at your route options, which will include the terrain; trail conditions; length of the route; attractions and activities; distance from home; location of established camp sites; the weather; and restrictions, rules, and permits needed to hike at that site.

When choosing a hiking trail, take into account your capabilities.  Hiking trails have designations of easy, moderate, and difficult.  Easy trails are generally short and relatively level. They should be accessible to nearly everyone.  Moderate trails require some degree of physical conditioning.  You should exercise regularly, and be used to the high altitude of the park before attempting one.  Difficult trails are steep and/or long and require good physical conditioning, and, in higher elevations, acclimation to the high altitude in the park.  The National Parks’ Web site (www.nps.gov) offers trail maps online, and you can determine what is most appropriate for you.  Don’t forget to check the weather forecast before you leave.

Always let someone know where you are going and when you expect to return.  This holds true even if you have a partner or are on a group hike.  Take your cell phone, a flashlight, lighter, a lightweight aluminum blanket, and maps.  Know what to do if you twist an ankle, get an uncomfortable blister, or are stung by an insect.  Have a wilderness first aid kit available and know how to use it.

Preparation is key to a successful and enjoyable hike.  Build up your skills and have appropriate outdoor equipment. The better prepared you are, the more effective and fun your trek will be.


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