Safety is the First Step of Any Hike

Safety is the First Step of Any Hike

Paths that meander alongside creeks and shady groves of trees, open space bursting with flowering plants and inhabited by deer, birds and other wildlife--the outdoors is calling you right now. It’s a perfect time to take a day hike--not only does Orange County have a wealth of trails to explore the natural beauty of the region, but hiking is a great form of exercise.

An hour-long hike can burn 468 calories for a 160-pound person, and walking can help guard against many chronic health problems such as obesity, heart disease and type 2 diabetes. But a healthy hike is a safe hike, and many of those safety precautions should begin before you even set foot outdoors.

Here are some planning steps to take before hitting the trail:

Know where you are going. Get a trail map and find a path that fits your level of expertise. If you are a novice, don’t try a long, uphill climb with rocky terrain. Most trail maps will tell you if a path is easy or tough, how long it is, if the trail is paved or not and more. Often, you can find these maps online for advance planning, but make sure you pick up a hard copy of the trail map at your destination so you can carry it with you on the hike. Once you know where you are going, make sure someone not on the hike knows where you’ll be and the estimated time of your return, in case of emergency.

Put your best foot forward. Cross-training sneakers or trail shoes are good for light hikes; longer treks with hills or dirt paths may be better suited for hiking boots. Make sure they are broken in properly before wearing them on a hike, as new or ill-fitting shoes could cause blisters.

Be prepared. You’ll want to have some supplies on hand for your hike. They include sunscreen, sunglasses, a hat or other sun protection; water (at least two quarts); some snacks, such as dried fruit, trail mix or granola bars; a compass; a first-aid kit with basics such as bandages, gauze, tweezers, antiseptic ointment, hydrocortisone cream and any prescription medications; and a comfortable backpack to carry it all in. If it’s a long hike or you’re in unfamiliar territory, bring some extra food and water as a precaution. Other safety items include a flashlight in case you are stuck on the trail after dark, a water purification tool and a whistle to call for help; a mobile phone is handy to have in case of emergencies, or to let your contact at home know you’ve safely finished your hike, but you can’t always count on cell reception in remote areas.

Predict the weather. Loose layers are good, especially if the clothing is made of moisture-wicking fabric to prevent it from getting damp. A jacket is a good idea if there’s even a chance of rain. You can always peel off the jacket or your top layer of clothing and put it in your pack or tie it around your waist if it gets warm. If your hiking day promises to be a hot one, aim for an early start before temps rise. As the day goes on, find shady spots where you can walk or rest to stay out of the sun. And definitely stop and rest for at least 30 minutes and drink water if you feel nauseous, have a headache or are cramping--these are signs of possible heat exhaustion.

Once you’ve hit the trail, there are some other safety measures to keep in mind. Stay on the trail. Keep an eye out for animals--stop at the ranger’s office before the hike and find out what animals live in the area. Don’t touch unfamiliar plants; again, a talk with the ranger can give you information on poisonous plants along the trail. Prevent injury with a healthy stride. And don’t feel the need to rush--it’s important to take the time to enjoy your beautiful surroundings.

Phillip Cecchini, MD, is a board-certified family medicine physician at Mission Hospital. The hospital is part of the St. Joseph Hoag Health network of care. For more information, visit  www.mission4health.com.

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