Before you begin hiking, think about what you want in your backpack. It doesn’t matter if you plan to be out for less than an hour or all day. What you bring could make your hike more enjoyable.
N. Stuart Harris, MD, MFA, FRCP Edin., is an attending physician at Massachusetts General Hospital Department of Emergency Medicine. He also serves as chief of Mass General’s Division of Wilderness Medicine and director of its wilderness medicine fellowships.
“As 21st century Americans, we spend too little time outside,” Dr. Harris says.
Dr. Harris has spent a lot of time exploring natural areas in Boston and Maine. His research and travels have also taken him to North America’s tallest peak Denali (formerly Mount McKinley) and, most recently, the Mekong River in Laos.
It’s useful to think about the location of your adventure, Dr. Harris explains. Are you planning to climb a steep trail at Blue Hills Reservation near Boston, or, will you be exploring dune paths at Crane Beach in Ipswich?
You also will want to check the weather, Dr. Harris advises. Higher elevations will be cooler. But you will be exerting yourself and your body could warm up, so wearing or bringing layers of clothing is important.
What to wear hiking:
- Comfortable shoes. You don’t need to purchase hiking shoes, but take into account how far you’ll be walking, how heavy your pack will be and select shoes with reasonable foot and ankle support.
- Clean, well-fitting socks.
- Layers of clothing. Make sure you have something to keep you warm and protect you from rain.
- Bug spray. In the spring, ticks are out in full force, so you’ll need to protect yourself. Use a bug spray with DEET to keep them off.
- Long pants. Pants help keep the bugs off. Tuck your pants into your socks for the best protection.
- A hat. It’s a good idea to keep the sun off your face. You can also spray bug repellent onto your hat or clothes to keep bugs away.
What to put in your backpack:
- Food. Bring what you like to eat. There are no rules. Some food is heavier, so consider that when packing. Nuts and chocolate are one example of something that is lightweight and calorie-dense.
- Water. Generally a liter per person should be sufficient. But take your personal thirst, length of the hike and day’s temperature into account.
- Small bandages. If you wear comfortable shoes and socks, you shouldn’t have a problem with blisters. But if you are prone to them, bring along moleskin and soft bandages.
Research increasingly is showing the benefits for spending time outdoors, Dr. Harris says.
Early exposure to natural areas and barnyards is thought to have a positive effect on reducing children’s troubles with allergies, he adds. And other research has shown that being outside can improve our mental health.
“As 21st century Americans, we spend too little time outside,” Dr. Harris says. “When you can, get outside. If you have kids, take them with you. Get in a place where everyone can safely explore. It’s a critical part of being human.”
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