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Know Before You Go: Hiking

By Sophia Breene
9/14/2013 9:52:04 AM

Feeling burnt-out, grumpy, or just plain stressed? A reinvigorating hike in the great outdoors is often just what the doctor ordered. This season, take a break from everyday life and enjoy a day or two exploring what Mother Nature has to offer.

Hiking encompasses everything from taking a quick walk in the woods to climbing major mountains with a 40-pound pack. This article involves the less-intense side of the scale - we're talking day hikes with a small backpack. For more info on overnights (or longer sojourns) in the woods, check out Greatist's article on camping. Regardless of distance, the best strategy to have fun and stay safe in the woods is to plan and prepare in advance of any amble. Read on for tips on getting started and making any adventure go smoothly.

Credit: Greatist

Climb Every Mountain - The Need-to-Know

As strange as it sounds, getting in tune with nature usually starts on the computer. Before picking a spot on the map, do some research. Backpacker Magazine, The National Park Service, and the National Wildlife Federation are all great sources for finding hikes around the country. Kristin Hostetter, the Gear Editor for Backpacker Magazine, recommends choosing a hike that's commensurate with experience and physical fitness. If new to hiking, start with a shorter, less steep hike and progress over time until comfortable with longer distances and more challenging terrain.

As with any physical activity, it's important to get in shape for hiking and prepare the body for moving in a specific way. Hostetter advises beginner hikers to just start walking outdoors, beginning with one mile and working up to four or five while carrying a backpack. A simple option: If you normally drive around town to run errands, grab a pack and set out on foot for a grocery run. Walking to and from the store and schlepping food all the way home simulates how hiking challenges cardiovascular endurance and muscle strength.

When training for a major ascent, focus on workouts that boost leg and core strength. A weight training routine can improve performance as well as protect the joints (particularly the knees, ankles, and back) that are often strained during hiking. You're ready for the woods when an hour-long walk with a backpack is a piece of cake.

And don't forget to break in new hiking shoes or boots before hitting the trail. Heading out in brand-new footwear is a recipe for blisters, uncomfortable feet, and an altogether unpleasant experience. Before purchasing new kicks, do some research about what to look for in a hiking boot. For a light, easy hike, choose trail running sneakers, trail shoes, or light hiking boots. For intense mountain climbing or backpacking, go for heavy-duty hiking boots that provide more ankle support and cushioning. Seek out an expert (i.e., a store employee's) opinion in regard to fit.

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