SIX STEPS TO SAFE HIKING
Whatever your level of fitness, a hike in the woods may be just the change of pace you need. To fully enjoy day hiking, follow these simple steps.
STEP 1 – CHOOSE AN APPROPRIATE HIKE
Make sure you hike trails that suit your physical ability and the abilities of others who are hiking with you. Take the time to research where you are going and the condition of your hiking party. Use detailed descriptions of trails, including distance, altitude, difficulty, and estimated time to complete the hike. Cape Cod National Seashore trail guides are among the best resources for hiking information.
Choosing the right trip is only a small part of what you will need when you hit the trail.
STEP 2 – FILL YOUR PACK
Bring along a lightweight backpack filled with:
- WATER – Drink plenty of water. The amount of water you need for a longer hike can get heavy. You may want to get water from streams along the way. Do no assume that water from streams is safe. Use a water filter or purifying tablets if you use stream water.
- FOOD – Choose high-energy goodies that will not disintegrate on the trail: energy bars, granola, bagels, pita bread, candy bars, oranges, apples, and raisins.
- FIRST AID KIT – In a waterproof container, stash some antibiotic ointment, band aids, moleskin, and an ace bandage.
- FLASHLIGHT – In case sunset sneaks up on you, you will be prepared.
Cell phones can be great for navigation, but they do not always receive a signal at Cape Cod National Seashore. Make sure you take along a trail guide, compass, and map.
STEP 3 – DRESS APPROPRIATELY
First and foremost, make sure your hiking shoes or boots fit properly and are comfortable. Never wear flip flops or sandals, especially because the Cape is a hotbed of ticks. Consider carrying two pairs of socks in case they get wet.
Always wear a hat to protect yourself from the sun.
Middle layer – This layer should be light-weight and breathable – flannel, wool, down, or fleece. You may want extra middle layers in colder climates.
Avoid wearing cotton. It will hold moisture on your body and interfere with temperature regulation.
STEP 4 – STAY ON TRACK
Now that you are ready to head off, be sure to stay on the trail. Whenever possible, hike with other people. Allow the slowest person in your group to set the pace, especially if kids have come along. Take frequent breaks for water, snacks, and rest.
STEP 5 – STAY HEALTHY
Hiking requires the same cardiovascular fitness that running, cycling, and other endurance sports demand, but relies on different muscle groups, which can leave you aching in unfamiliar places.
Concentrate on your leg muscles and core during strength training. Keep in mind that you will need to combine that with some cardiovascular training for endurance.
Trekking poles (or ski poles) provide extra stability on challenging terrain and take some of the strain off ankles, knees, and hips. To keep your feet comfortable, be aware of sensitive areas and treat them with moleskin before they progress into painful blisters. Also, break in new hiking boots before taking them on a serious trek.
Dehydration can occur as a result of strenuous activity and not drinking enough water. It can give you a headache and make you feel tired, irritable, and lightheaded. Make sure to drink plenty of water before, during, and after your hike.
STEP 6 – BE ALERT FOR CRITTERS, ESPECIALLY TICKS
Consult your trail guide to learn which animals you may meet along your trek. Check with the local ranger to find out if there are any special rules you need to follow.
Bring along bug spray and insect repellent. And always stay on the marked trail to avoid deer ticks, which can cause tick-borne diseases like Lyme. Staying on the trail can also help you avoid poison ivy.
By following these steps, you will be prepared to enjoy your time in the woods. To help preserve the woods for others, follow the rules of low-impact hiking: leave only footprints, take only memories, and kill only time.
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