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A warm breeze, the sound of a bubbling brook and the fresh smell of pine in the air are just some of the draws of hiking. There's nothing quite like getting outdoors and enjoying nature.
Although hiking isn't inherently dangerous, being at the mercy of the elements does imply some risk. As a result, it pays to be prepared when embarking on a hiking trip.
Even novice hikers know to avoid bug bites and apply sunscreen before heading outdoors, but there are also some lesser-known potential hazards on the hiking trail. Heeding these tips can keep a person safe.
* Plan ahead. Understand the terrain and the trails before you begin the hike. Visit the park or area's official Web site to access detailed, printable trail maps and other information about the area. Make note of ranger stations, portable bathrooms and any other places you may want to use as pit stops along the way. Give a copy of the trail map to someone staying behind, marking your planned place of entry. In the event you get lost, the person at home can alert authorities to your approximate location.
* Know your environment. Hiking trails can be found all around the world. Some may be arid and barren areas, while other areas may be lush and tropical. Each of these regions brings with them their own share of plants and animals. It is wise to know which species you may encounter along the way so you will know how to treat a bite or a brush with a poisonous plant in the event of an emergency.
* Be mindful of the weather. Before going on the hike, get the latest weather report from a few different sources. This way you will have an average picture in your head of what the weather will be, and you can choose your footwear, clothing and other essentials based on that forecast. Few things can spoil a trip faster than unpredictable weather and failure to be ready for it.
* Pack a supply kit. It's easy to go overboard on gear, but there are some basics that should be hiking essentials. Include a first aid kit, a Swiss Army Knife, matches or a lighter, aspirin, a flashlight, and toilet paper in your supply kit.
* Bring water. Water is essential when going on a hiking trip. By the time you are feeling thirsty, you are already dehydrated. Bring at least 1 to 2 liters of water per person. Keep in mind that this may mean adding 3 to 4 pounds to the pack. When necessary, trade excess weight in other supplies for water, since water is most essential. Drinking from springs or lakes is not adviseable. Animals bathe and relieve themselves in that water, and it might be teeming with bacteria.
* Pack snacks. Bring along lightweight snacks, such as granola bars, dried fruit and nuts. Avoid sugary or starchy snacks that your body will burn up in no time, leaving you feeling hungry again. Keep food in tightly fitted containers so aromas won't lure curious animals in close.
* Embark early. The temperature is lower in the morning, and the sun is less intense in early morning as well. In addition, starting early reduces the chance you will be hiking in the dark.
* Be aware of your surroundings. Although most animals will be content to avoid a hiking party, if they are provoked or caught off guard, they may defend themselves. Watch where you are walking and avoid going off the trail. If scaling rocks, be careful where you put your hands. There may be snakes or small rodents lurking in crevices.
* Carry a field guide. Refer to a field guide to help identify plants, trees and animals you may have seen.
* Take plenty of photographs. Most hikers want to document the sights around them. Capture the moments with photos and be sure to make prints later.
* Carry out only what you carried in. Litter can ruin a natural landscape and put animals in danger. Always bring a trash bag and remove your spent items. Also, leave nature as you found it. Resist the urge to take flowers or saplings or any other samples of the environment.