There are as many reasons to take a hike as there are rewards to be received from doing so. If you’re looking to improve your health, reduce the stress in your life, or simply clear your mind and enjoy the natural environment, hiking delivers almost immediate payback. Consider these reasons to start hiking:
It’s nearly impossible to argue with the healthy upside of getting out and going for a walk in the woods. The Mayo Clinic says hiking has many health benefits. They include controlling your cholesterol, lowering your blood pressure, managing your weight, improving your mood and helping you to stay strong and fit.
“Research shows that regular, brisk walking/hiking can reduce the risk of heart attack by the same amount as more vigorous exercise, such as jogging,” according to Mayo.
Hiking is really just walking in a natural setting. One foot in front of the other is something we are all familiar with.
Compared to just about any other sport, your upfront spending for gear is minimal. Good boots, a few pieces of the proper clothing, a comfortable pack, and you’re pretty much ready to go.
We all spend too much time inside, facing a screen of some sort, distracted by careers and “entertainment.” Hiking encourages you to step away from this indoor life and step back out into nature. Even a trail hiked many times before will deliver surprises that keep boredom at bay.
The satisfaction of spending time on trails is both an immediate and an acquired pleasure. It is always the adventure that keeps us coming back for more. Many find reward in the simple knowledge that these great places can only be seen by foot. Long after we forget every step, every ouch, bug bite and any other discomfort, we will remember the breathtaking views, the pleasant smells and the exhilaration of the experience.
As with anything, it is important to know just what you are getting into when you plan a hike. If you are new to the activity, do some simple reading and research to understand what you should expect from yourself and the environment. Talk to others, or better yet tag along with experienced hikers until you get a feel for what kind of hiking is best for you.
Many hiking areas are on sensitive ground, and it is essential that your passage be marked by only minimal impact. In areas that are heavily used, this is especially important. Stay on the trail even if it is rough or muddy. Venturing off-trail can lead to unnecessary damage and erosion.
Other trail users and property owners deserve our respect as well. Horseback riders and cyclists should always yield to those on foot, but in some situations it may be easier to just step off the trail and let them pass.
If you bring your pets along, be sure that they are under your control at all times, and that you clean up after them as needed.
What to bring
What you need to carry with you on a hike will depend on the duration of the trip and the remoteness of the location, but will always include the “basic three” — food, water and “shell-ter.” (On a day hike this means suitable clothing).
It is especially important to stay hydrated in the backcountry. Drink often and before you become thirsty. Make sure you bring enough calories along so that you don’t run out of energy along the way. Lastly, be prepared for any weather condition that you may encounter.
Other key items to consider:
• Appropriate footwear — comfortable and sturdy enough for the trail conditions you’ve chosen
• A map, and the knowledge to read it correctly
• First aid/sunscreen/bug protection, as needed
• Some way to carry your additional gear — day pack/fanny pack
• Common sense
Almost all injuries and fatalities are preventable. They can be prevented by taking the advice of experts and staying within your capabilities. Climbing on steep or rocky areas is not for amateurs and carries considerable risk.
What to avoid
Keep an eye on the sky. Weather can, and often does, change quickly. Knowing when to turn back can mean the difference between a casual outing and a life-threatening ordeal if you find yourself unprepared for the conditions at hand.
Watch the sky for signs of thunderstorms. The wise climber leaves the mountain before the danger exists. Most of these storms occur in the mid-to-late afternoon.
Rattlesnakes try to avoid human contact. Avoid them by keeping your eyes and ears open. This means no headphones while hiking. Be aware of where you are placing your hands and feet.
Learn to recognize and avoid poison ivy. If you suspect exposure, the rash can be prevented by washing exposed areas with soap and water. You have 2-3 hours to wash off the plant oil (the oil makes the leaves shiny). Remember: “Leaves of three, let it be.”
Do your part
Model appropriate behavior, leave the area better than you found it, and treat everyone and everything with respect. Support your local trail organization!
Submitted by Weber Pathways. For more trails and hiking information, check our website: www.weberpathways.org