“A walk in nature walks the soul back home.” - Mary Davis
Hiking is probably one of the most enjoyed recreational activities there is to do. It’s fairly simple, and on any given day, you will see people of all ages out on the trails enjoying the benefits of nature. But there are definitely some risks to consider and this article is here to provide some tips that will make even the most novice hiker feel more confident when hitting the trails.
1. Clothing/footwear - When you are out hiking, it’s best to avoid cotton when you can. Cotton tends to hold a lot of moisture so when you sweat, or even get stuck in an unexpected sunshower, your clothes will remain wet and heavy and can lower your body's temperature to dangerous levels, especially in colder temperatures. Synthetic materials like polyester, nylon and merino wool are excellent cotton substitutes that will wick away moisture and stabilize your body temperature.
If you want to go hiking, and enjoy every step of the way, it’s important that you have the right footwear (see what I did there?). Not all hiking requires you to have a bulky waterproof boot or even a lightweight minimalist shoe. Most of the time when I’m out hiking, I’m wearing some type of trail running shoe and a good pair of merino wool or polyester socks (no cotton!) which will work just fine for most beginner hikers.
The most important factor to consider when choosing the right footwear would be the shoe’s fit. You want to make sure that your heel doesn’t raise up when you’re walking on the trail and that there is enough room in the toe box so your toes don’t get scrunched when walking down steep declines. Having good fitting footwear is key to ensuring your hike is as enjoyable as possible.
Wear Blaze Orange - According to a 2013 article from the Quality Deer Management Association PA has the most deer hunter density in the whole United States! That’s good for wildlife management, but it can cause some concern for people using state forest lands to just enjoy a nature hike. Even though deer season tends to be when most hunters are in the woods, it’s still important to know that hunting in general is very popular in Pennsylvania and some animals, like coyotes, are allowed to be hunted all year round.
It’s best to make sure that some part of your apparel has the classic blaze orange color so that you can easily be spotted by a potential hunter. I made sure that the daypack I purchased was blaze orange so that way, I always have that color with me whenever I am out on a trail.
2. Know Where You’re Going - Fortunately, we live in an area where there are a lot of state parks and forests with clearly marked trails that are easy to navigate. Still, it’s a good idea to make sure you look and carry around maps of the area with you at all times. Alltrails.com is a great resource to use not only to find places to hike, but also to read what other hikers have written about the trails. Oftentimes, reviews are written frequently enough that knowing important information like recent trail closures or locations of hidden trailheads, is pretty current, and could help you feel more confident before heading out to hike.
Another thing to consider is whether the area you’ve been eyeing up on your commute home is actually public or private land. As of January 2020, Governor Wolf passed a law that would allow property boundaries to be delineated with two purple paint hashes. The paint is here to replace the old “No Trespassing” or “Private Property” signs that often need replacing because of how quickly they deteriorate being exposed to the elements.
It’s not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves. – Sir Edmund Hillary
3. Ticks - There’s no way that I can write an article about hiking in NEPA without talking about the dreaded pest, ticks. Ticks can easily cause great concern when you’re out on a hike, and rightfully so. There are numerous diseases that are transmitted by ticks including, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever and Lyme, however, you could still enjoy the great outdoors as long as you take the proper precautions before and after your hike to avoid getting bitten by a tick.
For starters, a good bug repellant that contains deet has always been suggested as a good defense against tick bites. It is stated that insect repellent containing deet is safe to use on the skin, however, I’ve always just applied it to my clothes and have had great success. Another option would be permethrin which is something you would apply to your clothes only, and will remain attached to your clothes for weeks and will even withstand multiple washes in the washing machine.
Another suggestion from experts is to tuck your shirts into your pants and your pants into your socks. If a tick can’t get to your skin, it can’t bite you. But this technique is not always fail safe because ticks can be extremely small (like the size of a pencil tip) and could sometimes squeeze themselves into the tiniest openings.
The next best thing to do is to check yourself regularly throughout your hike. If you are hiking with a partner, it’s a great practice to keep an eye on each other to make sure there are no ticks crawling around on the other person's back. As for my kids, I can’t help but to check them as often as possible. Areas to pay special close attention to are areas on the body that are usually dark and warm, like between joints (arms, knees, legs).
For more information regarding tick safety, I highly recommend reading this article from Dylon Stuntz at American Forests.org so that you feel prepared to hike without letting the threat of a tick stop you from getting outside.
4. Hiking Etiquette - As I mentioned in the beginning of this blog post, hiking is probably one of the most enjoyed recreational activities that people do. With that being said, it’s a good idea to keep a few basic hiking etiquette tips in mind to ensure a great time is had by all.
Leave no trace - While it’s important that you stay hydrated and energized throughout your hike, it’s also important that anything that you take into the woods with you comes back out with you as well. Not only is garbage on the side of a trail unsightly, it could also become very damaging to the wildlife. Make sure to keep a small trash bag with you and properly dispose of all trash after you leave the trails.
Music - Most of the time, people are out on the trails to escape the everyday routines of life and to enjoy the sounds of nature. There is great debate about whether people should be listening to music while on the trails, and while I don’t want to wedge myself in the middle of the argument, I do want to suggest that if you are one who enjoys listening to the sounds of Wu-Tang on your hike, be sure to keep the volume to a minimum or you may even consider listening with headphones.
Passing - Just as you would use a blinker when you’re going to pass someone in a vehicle, it’s just as important to give the person you are about to pass one the trail a signal as well. Calling out “coming up on your right/left” or even a simple “hello” could do the trick. Just try not to startle them!
5. General Safety - Although all of the aforementioned information could constitute good general safety tips, it might not be a bad idea to take additional measures to ensure your safety on the trails. Some of those measures may include; checking the weather forecast before heading out, letting close friends or family know where you are going to be hiking, carrying a whistle for emergencies, and making sure your phone is fully charged. With all of these practices in mind, there really is no reason as to why you can’t start out on the trails to begin your adventure today!
Stay safe and enjoy your time with nature!
'And into the forest I go, to lose my mind and find my soul’ - John Muir
-Matt Giambra, Environmental Educator