If you want to get out of the house, get some exercise, and enjoy the great outdoors, there is no better way than to go for a hike. Of course, “going for a hike” can mean many different things. For some people, it may mean climbing a mountain or trekking through the far reaches of the wilderness; for others, it may mean taking a stroll along the trail at the neighborhood park. After you decide you want to go hiking, the next step is to determine what kind of hiker you want to be. Some hikes require a lot of planning and preparation, while others very little. Basically, it just boils down to using common sense.
Most people prefer to take short day hikes. If that is the case, there are just a few things to keep in mind. First, you will want to know how long the hike will take and what level of difficulty it is. Most guide books contain this information, and you might also be able to look up the trail online. If you are not in the best shape, you probably don’t want to tackle a grueling uphill climb your first time out. For novice hikers, I recommend trying an easy or possibly moderate hike (if you are feeling ambitious) of no longer than 4 miles. No matter what, always bring along some water – one bottle for every two hours of hiking is a good rule of thumb. Make sure you give yourself enough time to get up and down the trail before dark; you don’t want to start a 4 mile hike at 5 pm if it is going to be dark by 7.
If you are feeling more adventurous and planning to go hiking at a remote location, there are several important factors to having a fun and safe trip. First, be aware of the environment you are entering. What type of animals live in this habitat? Are they dangerous to humans? Hiking in rattlesnake country means you will need to watch your step and wear thick leather boots, if possible. If your hike will take place in bear territory, make sure you take all the necessary precautions. Wear bells or something that will make noise so that the bear can hear you coming; many bear attacks occur when people accidentally surprise them. If you are staying overnight, make sure you have bear-proof canisters to store food in, and never keep food in your tent or lying around the campsite.
It is also very important to bring emergency supplies with you. Every long-distance hiker should have matches or a lighter, a flashlight, a compass, first aid supplies, some extra food and a water purification kit. Those are your basic necessities if you get lost or stuck in the woods. If you are venturing into a remote wilderness area, you might want to bring along signal flares as well. If possible, take along a map. When hiking in a colder climate, it is also a good idea to bring along a blanket and extra layers of clothing. Extra socks are especially helpful in preventing frostbite.
If you follow these simple guidelines, you should be well on your way to a good hike. The only other advice I have is to bring along a camera – you never know what you might see in the great outdoors!