Outdoors: Smart Hiking

Posted: Thursday, May 04, 2000

SALEM, Va. (AP) -- Hiking is more than just a walk in the park.

Mac Johnson, dean of students at Roanoke College and leader of its outdoor adventure program, offers novice hikers some tips to avoid problems that could mar your enjoyment of the outing:

-- Trial walks. Don't go off on a long hike without getting yourself into condition. ''Backpacking is a rigorous physical activity,'' Johnson says. ''Frequent hikes of five to seven miles are a good way to prepare. The best conditioning exercise is to day-hike carrying a full backpack. This gets your body, especially shoulders, hips, knees, ankles and feet, conditioned to carrying the extra weight of backpacking.''

-- Wear comfortable, well-fitting shoes. ''Blisters are the most common problems for beginners,'' he says. Cross-trainers or running shoes are fine for warmer weather if you don't need ankle support. ''Avoid buying new boots right before a backpack trip,'' he adds.

Also, clip your toenails three or four days before a trip. ''Long nails can jam against the inside of your boots while you're descending...ouch!'' Johnson also recommends taping foot areas prone to blisters beforehand. ''Once you're hiking, stop at the first sign of a potential blister, and treat.''

-- Know what and how to pack. ''Keep your pack weight to one-fourth of your body weight or less. Too much weight, like blisters, can spoil a trip.''

Johnson advises keeping those things you might need in a hurry -- such as a rain parka -- at the top of the pack for easy accessibility. ''You don't want to have to take a lot of gear out of your pack while it's raining to get something you need.''

Tuck trail snacks like granola, dried fruit and nuts into your outside pockets so you can get to them quickly. Plan on carrying at least a quart of water.

-- Your pack should include a first-aid kit with an instruction manual. Contents will be surgical gloves, moleskin or foam, waterproof bandages and pads, gauze, tape, swabs, anti-inflamation medication, Tylenol, Benadryl, cortisone cream for bites and itches, anti-bacterial cream, anti-fungal cream, hydrogen peroxide, Imodium for diarrhea, tweezers, and folding scissors.

-- Wear appropriate clothing. ''Avoid cotton because it's a poor insulator, dries slowly, and when wet, cools the body by wicking away heat,'' says Johnson. Instead, choose synthetic fabrics such as polypropylene, CoolMax, Polarfleece, nylons or wool, which are good insulators and wick away moisture.

''Wear a good base layer of a T-shirt, shorts and socks. Don additional layers on the trail as needed. Keep rain gear and warmer clothes within reach,'' Johnson says, noting that even in warm weather you could get chilled if you've been hiking uphill and reach an open summit, especially if it's windy or rainy.

-- Plan your hike, and hike your plan. Notify friends and family of your starting and ending points, route, and destination, and expected return time. Also provide this information to the forest service in the area you expect to cover, and also let them know where your vehicles will be left. ''These are the folks who will rescue you if necessary, and the information you give them can save your life.''

And don't forget to check the latest weather report before starting out.

-- Respect the environment. ''Keep hiking groups to eight or less, stay on trails, don't cut across switchbacks, haul out all garbage, cut no living trees or vegetation or pull up plants.''

-- And be prepared. ''You owe it to yourself and your hiking partners to be properly prepared for the trip -- physically, psychologically, and gear-wise.'' Proper working gear, a positive attitude, a sense of humor and patience will go a long way to making a trip a success, Johnson says.

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