Go Take A Hike!
In this day of the automated wireless society that we live in sometimes a return to nature might be a great way to recharge and remember where we came from.
In the next few paragraphs I will describe a great way to enjoy yourself and treat the family to great times in the wild open outdoors. Beyond the malls, the movie theatre and your favorite electronics stores, lies a place that yearns to be discovered and enjoyed which can create great memories for years to come. Of course you can document the whole trip on the digital camera, bring it back, download it and send natures images to all your friends and family. Hiking and walking in the great outdoors can be both rewarding and healthy for the whole family.
Let's start by picking a place to go. Depending on whether you're a beginner or an expert at hiking will determine where you want and in many cases can go. Let's first go beyond your local or regional parks and pick a place where nature is real and you can truly indulge yourself in wild bliss. You might want to check local bookstores or the internet for books and maps of national forests in the area that you reside. If no forests are near you, state parks and wildlife reserves are another great place to go. Once you find a suitable destination read up on hikes and descriptions of trails that are in the vicinity. Always pick a trail that you know you can do safely as that is very important in the outdoors as I will describe to you in more detail later in this guide. Study the newfound information and study it well. Make sure you know how to read the maps and symbols that come with them. Getting topographic maps of the area you want to hike is great also as it will show you contours of hills and mountains as well as roads, springs, mines and other information that might not be in the guide book or map you got from the forest service. You can get topographic maps from any reputable outdoors store or directly from the USGS (U.S. Geological Service). Once you're familiar with the area then it is time to head out and get some supplies.
Things to bring with you:
1. Water and snacks. Make sure you have plenty of water so dehydration does not occur.
2. A first Aid kit comes in handy for scratches, scrapes and insect bites out on the trail. If you're going in to a poisonous snake area, a snake bite kit can be somewhat helpful, but don't depend on it as a cure all. An Ace (elastic) bandage , which is good for sprains and can also make a good wrapping for broken bones.
3. Cell phone or CB radio, small flashlight and a good pocket knife.
4. Maps, guidebooks, compass, small mirror (for signaling in case you're lost), phone numbers of emergencies services and friends, binoculars, field guides to plants and animals in the region and any other things you might find important for you to carry.
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5. A good pack to carry everything. Since we are mainly concentrating on day hikes and maybe a one night campout, a small or medium size back pack is all that is needed. If you plan longer stays, then a good expedition pack will be needed.
6. Good comfortable hiking shoes and socks. If you're going to be in rocky areas lug soled boots are best. My favorite is always a high top leather boot with strong laces and thick soles. They might be a bit heavier but will give you great service and protection while you're out.
7. Any prescription medication, glasses and possibly water purification bottle, filter or tablets if you plan to drink from lakes or streams. There are many little pests and parasites that can make you real sick if you drink water straight from the source
Wilderness safety is always foremost and very important to your survival and the survival of others in your party and any wildlife you might encounter. Also included in this section is outdoor courtesy to better your outdoor experience.
1. Never bite off more than you can chew. Meaning always pick a hike that is not beyond your ability. If you find you're not fit for what you thought was possible turn back while it is still enjoyable and you're able to return. Better a short hike than possibly being the focus of the local search and rescue.
2. Never feed or spook wildlife. In most areas it is illegal and can get you a fine but more importantly can get you seriously injured or worse. Keep your distance as even that cute little squirrel can give a nasty bite much less what a grown deer can do and we all know the capability of a bear or mountain lion. Leave the wild in the wilderness. The animals there don't need help in feeding. I know it might sound cruel but leave injured animals alone as well as their fear can be dangerous and sometimes their pack mates will attack to protect them. Tell a ranger about it and let the professionals do the work. Also don't spook pack animals on the trails as you, the animals and their riders can be injured in such instances. Step to the side of the trail and let them pass. If passing them always ask owners permission and do it quietly. If you feel like you are in danger of attack from an animal try to appear larger than you are by lifting your arms up (lifting your coat along with your hands may even make you look more formidable). Make noise and sternly talk to the animal. Don't crouch or run as that will cause them to most often see you as prey and attack. Stand your ground and fight back if attacked. For bears making a lot of noise is best. Stay away from venomous creatures and listen for rattles as it is a warning to stay away.
3. Never hike in inclement weather. Bad weather can really throw a monkey wrench into things especially if you are new to the trail but even experts can get into trouble. Rain and snow can cause rock an gravel to become slippery and unstable. Lightning can be deadly. If you are out and a storm develops either hike back out as in a snow storm or seek shelter as in heavy rain or thunderstorms. In lightning the best place to be is indoors but if you're out 5 miles from the nearest shelter here are a couple of tips. Don't stand under large and especially lone trees. Don't wander in an area where you are the highest point as in meadows or large clearings. Get away from metal or rocky surfaces. The best places to be are in small clumps of trees in the forest and protected areas. If caught in the open drop to your knees and cover your knees with your hands so that if lightning strikes it will pass through quickly and be less likely to take your life. The snow and cold present dangers such as frostbite and hypothermia. Unless you're a seasoned outdoors person I would limit hikes to late spring, summer and fall months. That way you can avoid the dangers of winter. Always dress appropriately for the weather and layer yourself accordingly. Even low clouds and fog can present a danger as they can hide landmarks and make it difficult for you to see what is ahead.
4. Always stay on designated trails and paths in the area that you are hiking in and keep maps handy in case you're confused about where to travel on the trails. Compasses are always handy and make sure that you know how to use them. Going off the trail or as some call it cross country travel is dangerous and it is a good way to get lost. You can slip and fall, get bitten by a venomous snake or worse. Make sure that you are familiar with the trails and learn how to read all maps and guides accurately. This will ensure safe travel and a more satisfying time out in the wild.
5. Always let family or friends know where you're going and give them your itinerary. Give them times when you're going and expected times home. Tell them if you're 3 hours overdue to call authorities and let them know of the situation. I know a lot of sources say six hours but I think 3 is safer.
7. Follow all rules and regulations that are posted on signs or provided in the guides. They are there for a reason -- your safety and enjoyment of wilderness areas. Get permits for everything that needs a permit. Read up on campfire, firearm and hunting safety. Just because you know how to use or control it in the backyard or at the range doesn't mean you know how do this in the wilderness. There are many more precautions and things to consider out controlled environments.
8. Treat all water drank from streams, springs, lakes and so on. This is important as you don't want to get parasitic microbes that can cause at the very least a day of the runs! Treatment comes in the form of water purification tablets. Portable water filters and water filter bottles. Don't eat berries, fruit, nuts, etc., that you can not verify are safe to eat. Preferably you should have a field guide to local edible plants.
9. Don't hike alone. Try and use a buddy system so in case one is injured the other can call for help. It is also fun to share the adventures with someone.
10. Stay out of private property, old rotting buildings, mines, etc. Private property is well private property and dilapidated structures can present all sorts of hazards. If you have to pass through private lands to gain access to other areas please get permission before you do so. People who live out in the wilderness often are very aware of who's on their property, even when you think no one is around, they can get quite angry. Of course, they have every right to be angry, as even though you might not mean any harm, others might! Last but not least the private property may contain dangers that you are not aware of and you can be injured or worse.
11. Please be courteous and not loud and boisterous on the trail. Most everyone that comes to these areas want peace and quiet, and to get away from the everyday scene -- that means no rowdy behavior. Always give the right of way to pack animals and watch for mountain bikers out on the trail. A friendly smile and hello usually does the trick.
12. Always report hazards and potential problems to the proper authorities. Things such as fires and rock slides should be reported as soon as possible to prevent further damage and destruction of the habitat area. Always be on the look out especially if the season warrants it.
13. Pack in what you pack out. Always make sure you take out what you bring in and even take out extra trash that careless others have left behind. Leave no trace so that others can enjoy what you have enjoyed.
14. Stay out of environmentally sensitive areas such as meadows and muddy areas especially in spring when things are growing, but always should be the rule of thumb.
15. Last but not least. Make sure the car is safely parked at the trail head. That the parking brake is set, doors are locked and valuables are safely out of view. Also make sure the vehicle is worthy of the trip. Check and make sure the fluids are topped off, that belts and hoses are in good order and everything is running. Some of the mountainous, hilly or long distance travels can put a lot of stress on your vehicle. If you are taking a bus or shuttle. Make sure you have schedules with you and know when the last of these leaves to go back. There is nothing like having a great hike then coming back to find out you're stuck over night and not prepared to camp.
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Once you have gotten familiar with these areas discussed you will be ready and knowledgeable to go out and have a great time in the wild lands that await you.
I know this seems like a lot of things to familiarize yourself with but once done you will have what it takes to enjoy yourself and all of nature properly.
The whole experience of being in the outdoors is certainly a rewarding experience. As you spend more time outside you will learn how nature's ecosystems work, how she regenerates and heals herself, and provides an awe inspiring display of beauty, year after year.
Antonio Russo has been fascinated with hiking and the great outdoors since he was a child and as soon as he could he started exploring the world around him. He has traveled across the United States climbing everything and anything, including volcanoes in Guatemala, where he lived for a while. He now works for Frazier Ski & Pack, servicing everyone who is into the great outdoors personally and through their on-line services www.shopoutdoors.com.