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Hitch on to Hiking!

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There's something about rich, oxygenated air, plentiful greenery and scampering wildlife that promotes a feeling of peace and renewal (unless the aforesaid wildlife happens to be a bear)

There's something about rich, oxygenated air, plentiful greenery and scampering wildlife that promotes a feeling of peace and renewal (unless the aforesaid wildlife happens to be a bear). Just ask urban developers who are building hiking trails into subdivisions to help sell homes; they'd agree that the fresh-from-the-forest-feel is a hot commodity! But if you really are heading out of the city for a soul-reviving trek in the woods, here are a few things to keep in mind during your preparations.

For a two-hour hike, you'll need a decent pair of running shoes. For a longer hike, hiking boots are a necessity because they are built for comfort and have foot support and treads to accommodate the trail's irregularities. When thinking about what type of socks to wear, look for a hiking sock that has cushioning, insulating and wicking action. Never wear socks that are too big, as they can bunch up, leading to blisters.

Make sure that all your equipment can be easily stuffed into your pack. A daypack should have enough room for maps, binoculars, a camera, lunch, snacks, a water bottle, a trowel and any clothing you might want to take off. A pack should have waist straps, extra padding on the back and shoulder straps for comfort. Another good idea is to strap on a fanny pack to give you easy access to your first aid kit (see box) or any thing else you might need during your hike.

Once on the way, make sure you stay on the trails and don't create new paths by cutting through vegetation. Avoid sandy soil, which is very unstable and maintains fragile plant life that prevents erosion. If you are hiking with a group, hike in single file to avoid widening the trail or harming native plant and animal habitats.

Have you ever heard of the hiking expression "pack it in, pack it out?" This refers to taking all your garbage with you as you go. If you need to relieve yourself, or if you have used water from washing out food containers, dig a 15-centimetre (six-inch) hole with a trowel and then cover up everything in the hole with dirt. Put your disposable toweling into a resealable plastic bag that you can discard later.

Treating the outdoors with respect while enjoying the earth's beauty is what environmental hiking is all about. Look out over the landscape, listen to the birds sing and tune into nature.

Staying Fit

Trekking over all types of terrain, and in all kinds of weather with a load on your back, is also a great way to stay fit. A 55-kilogram (120-pound) woman burns up to 279 calories per hour, and a 72-kilogram (160-pound) man burns about 405 calories per hour. But it's a good idea to prepare for a rigorous hike by developing a fitness program that meets your present fitness condition. This will help you avoid muscular pain, fatigue and possible injury.

Hike With a Friend

Joining a hiking club is social as well as informative. Many offer slide shows, naturalist talks and equipment presentations. There are many hiking clubs across Canada, with regional representatives often listed on the Internet. Here are a few Web sites for more information.

The Canadian Trail Guide a1trails.com. There are listings for hiking associations in BC, Alberta and the Rocky Mountains, Ontario, Quebec and the Atlantic Provinces.

The National Trail Association of Canada alpinclubofcananda.ca/trails. The Bruce Trail, the Ganarska Trail, the Rideau Trail and the Voyager Trail are all part of this system.

The Trans Canada Trail tctrails.ca. This cross-Canada trail system, scheduled for completion by 2005, will be the longest in the world.

Natural First Aid Kit

  • a first-aid instruction manual
  • scissors, splints and forceps
  • bandages and blister pads
  • antibacterial tea tree oil or calendula wipes
  • arnica cream for contusions (bruises) or muscular pain
  • pure water
  • sunscreen
  • aloe vera gel for burns
  • neem oil or citronella lotion for repelling bugs
  • homeopathic Apis gel for insect bites
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