Trail blazing

Trail blazing

With its vibrant changes in foliage and crisp weather, autumn is the perfect time to explore running’s distant cousin, hiking. According to the American Hiking Society, there are some 170,000 miles of trails in the United States. They offer a low-impact workout that burns approximately 192 calories per half hour while providing the cardiovascular benefits of any aerobic activity. Hiking is a weight-bearing exercise and like running, it helps prevent osteoporosis, but it’s much easier on the joints. A healthy dose of vitamin D doesn’t hurt either, and that’s just what you’ll get spending hours in the sunlight enjoying all that nature has to offer.

If you’d like to start hiking regularly, it’s a good idea to outfit your feet with waterproof hiking shoes. Similar to specialty running shoe stores, outdoor sports stores such as REI and EMS often have knowledgeable salespeople who can assist you. Any shoes designed for day hiking will likely have good support, plenty of cushioning and lots of traction. It’s up to you to decide whether your feet will be happy in them after hiking several hours. To ensure proper fit, shop late in the day after you’ve walked considerably–this simulates hiking conditions, during which the feet swell. Shop in the socks you plan to hike in. (It’s probably worth owning hiking socks, which are taller to help prevent contact with poisonous plants.) Walk around in the store in your prospective shoes, kicking at the ground to make sure your toes have ample room. Remember you’ll be doing a substantial amount of walking downhill. For this reason, sports stores often sell separate tongue pads that you can insert to keep your foot from sliding forward in the shoe. The shoes should be snug, but comfortable. Many stores will let you wear shoes indoors for up to a week before returning them.

While you’re at the camping store, you might want to look into hydration packs, pre-fab first aid kits and even field guides to help you identify wildlife and plants. These items can enhance both the safety and enjoyment of your hikes. You can order discounted hiking supplies at

Finally, after purchasing shoes, break them in for a week or so around your neighborhood before heading for the mountains.


The American Red Cross recommends hiking in groups, but if you must head out alone, let someone know your planned route. Make sure you’ve got enough daylight ahead of you; estimate 20 minutes per mile. Always apply sun block and drink pienty of water before you go. Dress in layers of bright clothing, especially if there is hunting in your area. Temperatures vary during the day as you move in and out of the sun and reach higher and higher altitudes. Even if the weather is mild enough for shorts, always pack a wool sweater and a lightweight, waterproof jacket. An extra pair of socks may come in handy, too. Store these items in a backpack along with the following:


* Area map with trail distances

* Handkerchief or bandana

* Watch, money, ID, cell phone

* Sunglasses

* Pocketknife

* Spare shoelaces

* Matches in a waterproof tin

* Flashlight


* Apples, energy bars and trail mix to keep your blood sugar levels stable

* Enough water to allow you to consume 16 ounces per hour of hiking

First aid:

* Sun block

* Lip balm

* Insect repellent (DEET)

* Band-Aids

* Alcohol wipes

* Tweezers

* Ace bandage

* Neosporin

* Ibuprofen

* Pepto-Bismol

* Calamine lotion

* Biodegradable toilet paper

* Saline or contact lens drops, if applicable

* Insect sting and/or seasonal allergy medication, if applicable

* Whistle to signal for help or scare away animals

Out on the trail, if you encounter a squirrel or skunk that appears injured or is acting aggressively, it may be rabid and should be avoided. Be wary of poison ivy as well, which grows along the ground or climbs like a vine up trees. Poison oak, by contrast, grows like a bush and is therefore more confined. Poison sumac has much thinner leaves and grows into a tall shrub–but only in wet, swampy areas. If you come into contact with any of these plants, wash your skin and any clothes you were wearing in hot soapy water as soon as possible.

For more information on everything from finding great trails near you to hiking with children, visit or call (800) 607-5509. To learn more about identifying poisonous plants, visit

(Hike Smart: Playing it Safe on the Trail, American Hiking Society,; American Red Cross,; The Compendium of Physical Activities Tracking Guide by Ainsworth et. al., 2000,; Runner’s World Complete Guide to Trail Running by Dagny Scott Barrios, Rodale, 2003, 228 pp. $16.95)

COPYRIGHT 2003 American Running & Fitness Association

COPYRIGHT 2008 Gale, Cengage Learning