It’s Time To Take To The Hills

Hiking is one of the best ways to strengthen muscles and develop endurance. It can help burn twice as many calories as moderate walking, and utilizes more muscle groups. Before embarking on a hiking trip, one should bring the necessary provisions and dress appropriately.

Taking a hike through the wilderness may look like a simple, carefree pastime. But experienced hikers and backpackers will tell you that hiking involves more than just putting one foot in front of the other. You need stamina and know-how to safely navigate your way up a mountainous trail. The good news is that hiking skills are easy to master and well worth the time to learn.

Hiking is a fun way to build endurance and strengthen muscles. Scrambling up and down hillsides with a backpack can burn twice as many calories as moderate walking while working most of your major muscle groups. Hiking also leads to better cardiovascular fitness by increasing your heart and lung capacity. It even works wonders for your mind and your mood.


Prepare Yourself

If you don’t already do some form of regular aerobic exercise any activity that makes you pant and sweats a little for at least 20 minutes a day start exercising before you take up hiking. A brisk walk around your neighborhood for 30 minutes four or five times a week for three weeks should be enough to prepare you for a moderate hike. If you plan to carry a 20-pound pack on your back, you’ll want to increase your workouts.

Climbing puts extra stress on your quadriceps, the muscles on the front of your thighs. You can strengthen these muscles by bicycling and running. Since few hiking trails are completely smooth or flat, you also might want to practice walking over uneven surfaces, or up and down stairs.

Here is one pre-hike preparation you probably haven’t thought of: Trim your toenails! Long toenails can cause pain when you hike down a hill. Trim them about two days before your hike so your skin won’t be too tender, and always cut them straight across.

On the morning of your hike, eat a light breakfast of fruit or some complex carbohydrates such as whole-grain cereal (but just a small bowl). A heavy meal will weigh you down on the trail. If your hike starts out with a tough hill, walk around on flat ground for about 15 minutes to warm up your muscles.


How to Climb Like a Pro

Too many novice hikers have come down from the mountains with a twisted ankle or sore back. Knowing the proper hiking techniques will help you prevent injuries. Here are some tips from the editors of Backpacking magazine:

* On extremely uneven ground, be careful to plant your foot firmly on the ground before taking the next step.

* When stepping up to higher ground, take pressure off your knees by planting your foot, then pressing down on your thigh with your hands to help lift your weight.

* When climbing, use small, quick steps rather than long, slow steps.

* If you start to lose your footing when going down a steep hill, try sliding down on your seat. It may look funny, but it can be much safer!

* The best way to climb up and down the muddy hill is a side step.

* Rushing up the trail will increase your chance of injury, so take it slow. Remember, a hike isn’t a race.

* Take rest breaks if you start to feel overly tired. A word of caution: Too many breaks can actually make you feel more fatigued.

What About Weather?

If you are hiking under the hot sun, take extra water with you so you can drink six ounces every 15 to 30 minutes. If the temperature gets to 90 degrees, cut your hike short to avoid the risk of heat stroke. In hot weather, try not to hike between noon and 2 p.m. when the sun is at its most intense. To protect yourself from the sun, wear a brimmed hat and apply sunscreen regularly.

In cold weather, keep your head and your trunk warm and eat frequent, small high-energy snacks. Start your hike wearing several layers of clothing. The clothing closest to your body should be a wool blend or a synthetic fabric that will hold the heat in.


Travel Light

Unless you plan to sleep overnight on the trail (which isn’t advised unless you are an experienced hiker), you can probably fit everything you need for a day hike in a fanny pack or a small backpack. Remember, the less weight you carry up the hill, the better. If you need to carry a larger backpack, pack it so that the contents are balanced.

You don’t need to invest in expensive hiking boots for a day hike. According to Robert S. Wood, a hiking enthusiast and author of the book Dayhike, well-cushioned running or walking shoes are fine. “Heavy backpacking boots are a thing of the past for carefree day hikers,” he says. If you buy new shoes, wear them around the house for a week or so to break them in before your hike.

Now that you know the do’s and don’ts of one of the oldest forms of exercise, it’s time to take to the hills.

What to Taking on a Day Hike?

Canteen or water bottle Garbage bag Sunglasses Sunscreen Swiss Army-type knife Flashlight Toilet paper Fresh fruit Trail map First aid kit containing:

Adhesive bandages of assorted sizes, a roll of 2-inch adhesive tape, safety pins, package of moleskin, scissors, tweezers, needles, matches wrapped to be watertight, any prescription drugs you need, calamine lotion, antibiotic lotion, aspirin or acetaminophen, medication for diarrhea. For longer hikes, you may want to add: air splints, thermometer, burn packs, nonstick gauze pads, tongue depressors, eye drops.

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