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Trail Hiking

Updated on January 31, 2011

Hiking is the sport of traveling on foot in open country, through forests, or over mountains. To enjoy the sport fully, hikers should make adequate preparations in advance. These include the purchase of suitable equipment and the development of necessary skills, such as swimming, the application of first aid, and the building of fires. It is also helpful to learn in advance how to recognize poisonous plants, snakes, and dangerous animals and to know how to deal with them. For a day or more of hiking the body should be conditioned in advance. A map should be studied, and landmarks should be noted in case the map is lost.

The average hiker can cover from 12 to 30 miles in a day, depending on the weight of his pack, the terrain, the weather, and other factors. Proper clothing and equipment are extremely important, especially on long hikes and on hikes through wilderness areas. Food, tents, and sleeping and cooking equipment must be carried for overnight or longer trips.

Hiking Clothing

Comfortable footwear is the most important single item in a hiker's equipment. Two pairs of socks should be worn: an inside pair of white lightweight wool or cotton and an outer pair of loosely knit wool. In cold weather both pairs of socks should be wool. Shoes should be high enough to cover at least the ankle, especially in mountain climbing. They should not fit too tightly and should be well broken in before the hike begins. Shoes with leather tops are best for all-around use because of their sturdiness. Canvas shoes with thick soles are suitable for smooth trails, but not over uneven terrain or in wet conditions. The soles of hiking shoes should be thick, preferably double, and made of rubber or composition material. Leather-soled shoes should not be worn, because they are slippery and retain moisture.

All items of clothing should fit loosely to allow freedom of movement. Cotton garments are adequate for warm, dry weather. Wool offers more protection from dampness and is essential in winter. In general, several light layers of clothing provide more warmth than one heavy garment. Extra clothing should be carried for use when the hiker is not walking.

Packing for a Hike

Minimum weight and maximum comfort are the main considerations in packing. A pack should contain such essentials as food, a compass, maps, a flashlight, a knife, and matches, as well as a first-aid kit and other emergency items. Hikers should always use a pack that is carried on the back by means of shoulder bands, rather than carry loose bundles with the hands or under the arms. Knapsacks, rucksacks, and similar light packs are suitable for short hikes. Larger packs, with or without rigid frames, are needed for longer hikes and for carrying overnight equipment. Rigid-frame packs are most comfortable for the carrying of bulky articles. For steep climbing, nonrigid types are more comfortable and safer. The average full pack weighs 10 pounds (4.5 kg), but as much as 25 pounds (11 kg) can be carried. Hard objects should be cushioned or packed away from the hiker's back.

Safety While Hiking

Inexperienced hikers should avoid traveling alone in wilderness areas. Hiking pace should be adjusted to the terrain, slower on uphill grades and faster on level or downhill stretches. On a highway after dark, hikers should face the traffic and wear something white. Overheating and overdrinking should be avoided. Occasional rest periods should be taken, but they should not be long enough for the hiker to develop a chill. Blisters, one of the most common dangers in hiking, can be minimized by wearing shoes and socks that fit properly and by wearing clean socks each day. Chafed areas should be taped before a blister appears.

In unfamiliar country, hikers should observe landmarks along the way or should mark the trail to avoid getting lost. If lost, a hiker should remain where he is for a reasonable length of time to see if other members of his group will locate him. A hiker without a compass can determine direction by using his watch. Holding it flat, he should point the hour hand toward the sun. An imaginary line midway between the hour hand and 12 o'clock noon designates south. This is true for standard time anywhere in the Northern Hemisphere. A knowledge of the stars and the sun's east-west progress helps determine direction. Finally, any signal made three times is a universally recognized distress sign.

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