Outdoor Adventure Awaits…Take a Hike!

Assistance-across-streamEveryone is concerned with fitness these days. Many people are also concerned with watching their personal budget, too. So what activity offers fun and fitness as well as being easy on the wallet?

The answer is hiking, and almost everybody can do it, whether it’s simply utilizing community park trails, meandering foothills, or exploring rugged back country, there is a trail or program available for your own unique needs.

GETTING STARTED

If you have never hiked before, or if you are out of shape, you will want to start out slowly to get your body in condition for your off-road trekking.

As with any new activity, it’s important to check with your physician first and discuss your goals. Ask about medication, and what effect, if any, it will have if you undertake a new activity.

For amputees, it’s also important to check with their prosthetist to make sure their socket is properly fitting. If it’s not comfortable during everyday activities, it won’t be comfortable on a hike and can result in sores or skin breakdowns.

“I recommend starting by walking around your neighborhood, and then increase the distance every time you go out and walk,” said Joe Hurley, director of the Bart J. Ruggiere Adaptive Sports Center, Bromley Mountain, Vt. “This also is a good opportunity to break-in those new boots and start to build your cardiovascular and stamina. Start carrying a small pack (day pack) to help your back and shoulder to get used to carrying one. And don’t forget to stay hydrated. Drink plenty of water.”

Read recommends finding a stadium or school football field that had a lot of stairs.

“Walking up stadium steps works a lot of the same muscles as hiking,” he said. “The more fit you are, the more enjoyment you’ll get from your hikes.”

A gym with cardio-based equipment and power lifting in leg muscles will help when walking up and down hills, and incorporating some weight training will help for core strength.

“Continue building muscle in a local fitness center weight room for core body and abdominal strength. Especially when walking or backpacking, you need good core strength,” said Beth Fox, operation manager, National Sports Center for the Disabled, Winter Park, Colo.

WHAT TO WEAR

There a couple of essential purchases you will want to make to ensure your comfort and enjoyment of the hike – shoes and socks.

Shoes

Choosing the right footwear is essential in preventing blisters and stumbles and allowing the hiker to maintain proper stride and posture. With much research dedicated to designing recreational shoes for specific conditions and activities, experts agree it’s important to match the type of shoe to the activity. A walking shoe is specially designed with material to cushion and cradle the foot to absorb shock and increase stability. Some have anatomically-contoured soles that help the wearer maintain proper stride and lower the probability of injuries; others have higher tops for ankle support. Depending on location and environment, a boot might be more appropriate for sturdiness and safety. Because feet expand during the day, experts recommend trying on shoes near the end of the day, when feet are at their largest.

While your basic walking shoe may work for those neighborhood walks, unpaved trails require a sturdier shoe, with good arch support and a heavy sole, such as the Trail Runners line of footwear. If you have weaker knees or ankles, it’s beneficial to speak with your orthotist, prosthetist, or podiatrist, for advice on the footwear that will work best for you.

“A good pair of hiking boots will help with stability and shock absorption and a boot that has waterproof/breathable Gore-Tex membranes help to keep feet dryer,” Hurley said. “Hiking boots give good support to the ankles and usually have a decent tread to help with grip. As with any boot, a break-in period is strongly recommended.”

Socks

Not to be overlooked, socks remain a necessity of comfort when heading out on the trails. Many athletic socks wick moisture away from the foot, keeping the walker’s foot dry, comfortable, and blister-free. Woolen and cotton socks remain the favorites, but socks are available in any number of materials and lengths and have become an essential piece of walking equipment. Look for socks tailored for walking that often feature padding under the ball and heel of the foot for extra cushioning to prevent blisters and to protect from shock and abrasion.

Choose wool or synthetic over cotton because when cotton gets wet, it stays wet. A mid-weight hiking sock with good cushioning supports the arch. “I wear a thin cycling sock under a hiking sock; I don’t remember the last time I had a blister,” Read said, noting there are several online retailers to purchase good quality socks, including Patagoria, Bridgedale, and Thorlos. He added, “For longer hikes, having an extra pair of socks is never a bad idea as weather and trail conditions can vary. An afternoon storm can make a trail go from dry and easy to wet and slippery.”

Prosthetic socks, generally worn by amputees to cushion the residual limb, prevent pressure sores, and adjust to volume change, are particularly crucial if extended hiking is planned.

Wear Layers

“When taking longer day hikes, you need to be prepared for temperature variations, insects, sun, and rain,” said Fox. “Here in the mountains, the day may start out at 75 degrees, and within an hour it can snow. Be prepared for anything.”

The best way to do that is by dressing in lightweight layers. The first layer, next to the skin should be synthetic to keep moisture from the body. That goes for shirts and pants. The second layer for insulation should relate to the outdoor temperature. If the weather is very cold, then a heavier fleece or liner makes sense. The third layer is the weather resistant shell which acts as a windbreaker or rain shield.

Sun Protection

In addition to sunglasses and sunscreen, hats with brims protect the face from sun and also help shield the eyes. Sunprecautions.com is a good source for brim hats.

Walking Aid

For longer and steeper walks, hiking poles (either one or two) can be helpful for balance, visual perception, and can help with push-off issues. They also take the burden off knees and thighs, helpful to those that have balance or fatigue issues. LEKI USA has a wide selection of walking poles.

“I recommend the kind that you can adjust the height because if you use the poles, they can help with balance. Think of it like extra legs; instead of two points of contact to the ground, you have four points of contact,” Hurley said.

YOUR BACKPACK & WHAT TO PUT IN IT

IMG_1475A backpack is essential, even for short hikes. “For a backpack, the simpler the better,” Read said. “Make sure it has a good shoulder and waist harness. It’s worth it going to a specialty shop for a good fit.”

A few other things to consider when selecting a backpack:

Styles

External and Internal Frames; Day packs.
Day packs, as their name suggests, are designed to be used on reasonably short hikes. They are normally anywhere from about ten to thirty liters in volume and come in various styles. They will all have shoulder straps and some will have a chest strap and/or a belt strap.
External frames have a high weight-carrying capacity. Because of the rigid frame, the external frame distributes the weight better than an internal frame. However, according to the National Center on Physical Activity and Disability (NCPAD), a person with a disability should be aware of any contraindications involving additional weight on the back. An external frame may also be more difficult for individuals who have balance issues. An external frame also does not touch the back. If a person with a disability has a hard time keeping cool, than an external frame pack is a good choice.
Internal frames have the metal frame integrated into the pack. Because the pack stays close on your back, the load moves with you and helps with balance and agility on uneven terrain. Some drawbacks of internal frame packs are that they are harder to pack, keep the back warmer in summer hiking, and do not generally offer the wide range of pocket options. But they are lightweight, which appeal to the recreational backpacker
Load distribution. Choose one that allows you to properly balance the weight so that most of the weight is supported by your back. The better your backpack fits to you, the better it will move with you.

Fit

Select one that is compatible to the size of your upper body. The frame is based on your torso dimensions, not your height. A reputable outdoor specialty retailer can help you with this.

In the Pack

A well-stocked supply kit should be small enough to be carried, and custom-designed for the hiking environment. It should contain vital items, including Band-Aids, bandages, aspirin or pain medication, other daily medications, and first aid supplies, scissors, tissues, a pocket knife, and mosquito repellent.

Maps and a fully charged cell phone with area emergency numbers, extra socks, shoelaces, and equipment are also a good idea. Pack sunscreen, sunglasses, hats, and bug repellent for a truly enjoyable hike in warmer months.

The 10 Essentials

  • Navigation (map and compass)
  • Sun protection (sunglasses and sunscreen)
  • Insulation (extra clothing)
  • Illumination (headlamp/flashlight)
  • First-aid supplies
  • Fire (waterproof matches/lighter/candles)
  • Repair kit and tools
  • Nutrition (extra food)
  • Hydration (extra water)
  • Emergency shelter (tarp, bivy bag, space blanket)

KEEPING YOUR BODY FUELED

Even hikes of short duration will make you hungry and thirsty, so when packing food and water, take into account the humidity, temperature, and distance you will be traveling.

“Your body is working hard when you’re hiking so it’s important to maintain your calorie intake,” said Fox. “Pack food that is easy to eat and packs well such as oranges, apples, trail mix, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, etc. Take one more meal than what you need for extra energy.

Hydration

“You will also need lots of hydration when hiking,” she said. “Bring more water than you think you will need.

While you may be tempted to take a drink out of a clear-running stream, you will be exposing yourself to potential problems from animal waste, chemical run-off, or other bacteria, by drinking unfiltered water. Carry a water filter or water purifying tablets instead. Outdoor retailers sell large capacity water packs that can be easily strapped over your shoulder.

It’s also important to remember that some medications cause dehydration. You will want to find out how much water you need to stay hydrated with your medications.

Doctors recommend adults drink 64 ounces of water each day. Add exercise, and that number increases dramatically. It’s also important to remember that, by the time you feel thirsty, your body is already dehydrated. Even short bursts of exercise require more hydration, and during exercise, a good guideline is to drink 6-12 oz of fluid at 15-20 minute intervals, beginning at the start of exercise. Before setting out, take in at least 16 ounces, and replenish with at least a pint every hour. With portable water coolers, the symptoms of dehydration — headaches, stomach cramps, and digestive problems — are easily kept at bay. Wearable water bottles, slung over the shoulder or back, come insulated and keep water clean, cold, and healthy.

Food

“Eating a lot of sugar is not something a nutritionist would normally recommend,” says Chris Fenn, veteran nutritionist and adventurer. “But it’s okay to eat sugar during exercise.” Sugary foods are easy to eat, quick to digest, and quickly supply muscle and brain tissue with a rapid rise of blood sugar. “Some sugars are better than others,” claims Fenn, citing the differences between intrinsic (in which the sugar is part of the cell structure and bound up in a fruit or vegetable) and extrinsic (sugar added to breakfast cereals, chocolate, and sweets). With its natural derivation, intrinsic sugars provide a better and more complete nutritional package, along with a selection of useful vitamins, making them more beneficial to any exerciser.

Carbohydrates have been recognized as important inclusion in a long-term exerciser’s diet. “Think of carbohydrate as jet fuel,” suggests Fenn. “It’s quick to burn and provides instant energy.” Experts recommend a large portion of carbohydrates the night before a long hike. A dinner of pasta with tomato or vegetable sauce provides the body with plenty of carbohydrates for the next day’s activities. Because the body can only store small amounts of carbs, experts also recommend replenishing the body with carbs throughout the day by eating cereal in the morning and snacks during a hike.

Even hikes of short duration will make you hungry and thirsty, so when packing food and water, take into account the humidity, temperature, and distance you will be traveling.

“Your body is working hard when you’re hiking so it’s important to maintain your calorie intake,” said Fox. “Pack food that is easy to eat and packs well such as oranges, apples, trail mix, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, etc. Take one more meal than what you need for extra energy.

“You will also need lots of hydration when hiking,” she said. “Bring more water than you think you will need.

While you may be tempted to take a drink out of a clear-running stream, you will be exposing yourself to potential problems from animal waste, chemical run-off, or other bacteria, by drinking unfiltered water. Carry a water filter or water purifying tablets instead. Outdoor retailers sell large capacity water packs that can be easily strapped over your shoulder.

It’s also important to remember that some medications cause dehydration. You will want to find out how much water you need to stay hydrated with your medications.

PICKING THE RIGHT TRAIL

Now that you are ready to hike, where do you want to go? Check out what resources your library offers, visit sporting goods stores, and check online what hiking trails and nearby attractions and amenities are available.

Weekend walkers and hikers staying close to home will find state sites helpful in determining a local trail’s difficulty level. Many parks have trails designed for easy strolling, but are also mixed use, with bikers and rollerbladers sharing the surface.

The Rails to Trails Conservancy is a nonprofit organization dedicated to creating a nationwide network of trails from abandoned railway corridors. With over 12,000 miles of graded trails, Rails to Trails has transformed abandoned tracks into accessible, attractive recreational paths convenient to many of our own back yards. Regularly maintained, they are safe places to enjoy the environment. Rails to Trails is a valuable resource for those with computers and Internet hookups.

It can be hard to find wheelchair-accessible trails that are long enough to provide a worthwhile, family-friendly excursion. Check out Great Wheel Chair Accessible Hikes for some recommendations.

The best trails for wheelchair users include enough distance, a hard surface such as pavement, ample width for a wheelchair or scooter, and gradual elevation changes. Of course, eye-opening scenery is a main attraction, and so is wildlife.

When choosing a hiking trail, take into account your capabilities. Hiking trails have designations of easy, moderate, and difficult. Easy trails are generally short and relatively level. They should be accessible to nearly everyone. Moderate trails require some degree of physical conditioning. You should exercise regularly, and be used to the high altitude of the park before attempting one. Difficult trails are steep and/or long, and require good physical conditioning, and, in higher elevations, acclimation to the high altitude in the park.

“When checking out trails and terrains, look at the surface, the grade and the cross slopes,” Fox advised. “National Parks’ web site offers trail maps online and you can determine what is most appropriate for you.”

Other things to consider at the time of your hike are weather conditions. Read suggested going to the NOAA web site type in your location, and get a pinpoint forecast.

“The Golden Rule is to always let someone know where you are going and when you expect to return. This holds true even if you have a partner or are on a group hike,” Read said. “Take your cell phone, flashlight, lighter, a lightweight aluminum blanket, and maps. Know what to do if you twist an ankle, get an uncomfortable blister, stung by an insect, or sunburn. Have a wilderness first aid kit and know how to use it. Google Wilderness First Aid and find a resource in your area where you can learn what to do for a sprained ankle, a bleeding wound, or other emergencies that can occur on a hike.

“Preparation is key,” said Read. “Build up your skills and have good outdoor equipment. The better prepared the more fun you will have.”