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Did you know that walking in nature for just 90 minutes causes changes in your brain that can boost your mood and your creativity? Even 20 minutes of “forest bathing” can lower your heart rate and blood pressure, and boost your overall sense of well-being.
For the most part, hiking is an inexpensive, low-risk, and accessible form of exercise. But nature can be a demanding teacher. Even if you’re an experienced trekker, you can run into unexpected challenges. Being prepared is the trick to staying safe and enjoying your time in the great outdoors.
Research your route. Are you physically capable of hiking this route? How long will it take? What wildlife can you expect to encounter? Are there poisonous plants? What are the trail conditions likely to be?
Make a plan and share it. Allow more time than you think you’ll need. For example, Trails.com offers a method to calculate your time, and suggests you add 30 minutes for every 1,000 feet (305 m) of elevation gain. Once you’ve calculated your time, share your plan with at least one other person.
Wear appropriate clothing for the weather and terrain. Check the weather forecast. Bring rain gear and warm clothing (because weather forecasters aren’t always right). Dress in layers. For a blister-free hike, wear boots that fit you and that are broken in, and pair them with the right socks and a proper lacing technique.
Don’t get lost. Bring a detailed trail map, a GPS device, and a compass (and make sure you know how to use them).
Bring more than enough water. Not drinking enough water is one of the greatest mistakes hikers make. How much water you need depends on the climate, your level of exertion, and your own needs. Bring water filters and/or purifying tablets if you aren’t able to carry as much water as you’ll need.
And more than enough food. You’ll be hungry. Bring lightweight food, and lots of it, more than you think you’ll need. You could be out longer than you anticipate. Health Canada provides calorie guidelines for different ages, weights, and levels of exertion.
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Be prepared for accidents. Compact, specialized first aid kits for hikers are readily available. And you have taken that first aid course, haven’t you?
Bring the just-in-case items. You should always carry a headlamp, waterproof matches and a loud whistle for signalling. A reflective emergency blanket can be used to sit on or to keep warm. Throw in a bit of lightweight cord, and you can use the blanket to make a temporary shelter. Bear spray is recommended, but be sure you know how to use it safely.
Protect yourself from sun. Even on cloudy days. Sunscreen and a brimmed hat will protect you from sunburn. And don't think that one application means you're set for the day. Health Canada recommends you apply sunscreen 20 minutes before your hike and reapply every two hours. Lightweight, durable sunglasses will protect your eyes from dust and glare.
Avoid getting hit by lightning. Jokes abound about lightning http://www.ec.gc.ca/foudre-lightning/default.asp?lang=En&n=73364E34-1 strikes and their rarity, but in the wilderness, it's a valid concern. It’s a real risk if you're the tallest thing on an exposed rock face, or standing near tall trees, for example. Seek shelter in a low-lying area such as a ditch, a depression or under a thick growth of bushes.
Load up, but not too much. You’ll need a backpack to stow all your gear. It should be big enough to carry everything, but also comfortable to wear. Your pack should weigh no more than 25 per cent of your body weight, and lighter is preferable. Don’t forget a rain cover for your pack if it doesn’t have one built in.