Preparing for a Hike
To succeed in hiking and enjoying your next outdoor experience, it is important to prepare for your hike by improving your fitness level, choosing the proper hiking gear, and anticipating the unexpected. Successful hiking is a result of thoughtful and thorough preparation.
Getting Fit Before You Start
Things You’ll Need:
- Sturdy hiking shoes
- Lightweight clothing
- Durable backpack or fanny pack
- Containers with water
- Assorted Snacks
- Cell phone
- Petroleum jelly
- First aid kit
- Basic survival equipment
Understand that the best way to get in shape for hiking is to go hiking. Short of that, there are a number of things that you can do at home or in your gym to prepare for the rigors of being out on the trail. Start with a comprehensive stretching program that addresses all of your major joints and muscles--not just the lower extremities.
Keep in mind that hiking is more than high performance walking, so get ready for your next hike by building a sound aerobic fitness base. You can use treadmills, elliptical trainers and spinning bikes to increase your fitness levels. Outside, go for a long walk in the park. According to the American College of Sports Medicine, you should exercise at least 20 minutes a day, every day, within your target heart rate range.
In addition to increasing aerobic fitness, add moderate strength training to your program, two to three times a week. Add exercises for the lower extremities like squats and lunges and be sure to work on your upper extremities, shoulders and core muscles so that you can support the weight of a heavy backpack.
Once a month, treat yourself to a full body massage to work out the kinks from your fitness program.
Choosing the Proper Hiking Equipment
Before you set foot on the trail, be sure that your hiking shoes or boots have been "well seasoned" by breaking them in at home or by walking around the neighborhood. Using your boots several weeks before your first hike will ensure that the uppers adapt to your feet and the soles bend where they are supposed to.
Buy good quality hiking socks from your local outdoor store. Quality hiking socks are made with a wool and Polypropelene blend that wicks moisture away from your feet. Using 100 percent cotton socks that stay wet during your hike can result in painful blisters.
Coat your toes, heels and other "hot spots" on your feet with petroleum jelly. The jelly will let your toes and heels slide inside your socks and will prevent blisters. If you are out on the trail and you feel like you are developing a new blister, immediately remove your boots and socks and re-apply the petroleum jelly.
Know that there are a number of good quality packs available for hiking and backpacking. Choose one with plenty of storage room for extra socks, food and lots of water.
Remember that a great way to decrease stress on the upper extremities is to carry and use a pair of telescoping trekking poles. Trekking poles can be shortened during steep climbs and lengthened on descents. They are crucial for navigating through shallow creeks, snowfields and other natural obstacles.
Expecting the Unexpected
Before you head out the door, investigate the weather patterns for the areas you'll be hiking. It is not uncommon for hikers to get caught in afternoon thunder showers, so be sure to pack a rain poncho, extra socks and a sturdy hat in case you get caught in the rain. Other useful items are a map of the area, compass, enough food for a day, matches and a flashlight.
Always bring extra clothing with you in case you get stuck on the trail or run into severe weather. Hypothermia can ruin even the shortest hikes.
Bring plenty of water with you, especially if there are several hikers in your group. You should be prepared to drink at least one liter of water every hour that you are on the trail. Have enough water available with you for the entire group. Never drink water out of mountain streams or lakes--it could be infected with Girardia.
Before you leave the car at the trail head, leave a note that contains your name (and everyone else in your group), the time you started, which trail you are hiking and what time you expect to be back. Include an emergency contact on your note, just in case. Let people know that you are back home after the hike.
Tips & Warnings
Get in shape before you head out on the trail.
Anticipate the rigors or hiking at high altitude by starting out easy.
Bring enough food and water to last an entire day.
Observe all Forest Service rules for the wilderness.
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