Hiking is a wonderful activity that should be part of our lives, at least once per week. You walk on remote mountains, at the high altitude where the fresh air enriches your brain and your body. As a result, you feel more relaxed, well and more alive.

There are many reasons we should be getting outside more often: Researchers have found that spending time in local and national parks can help us cope with stress and recover from illness and injury.

It can even provide a morale boost. (A small British study in 2007 found that people who strolled through a park reported an increase in self-esteem, compared to those who were sent to a shopping mall—they actually felt worse about themselves.)Because hiking isn’t quite as simple as putting one foot in front of the other, we asked Mandy Pohja, a wilderness instructor with the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS), to give us the top mistakes that tend to trip people up.

They choose the wrong path.

Pohja sees this time and again. Not only do newbies wander onto trails that are too tough, but people looking for an intense workout accidentally choose an easy amble, get bored and go back to the treadmill at the gym. Hiking trails are usually ranked by difficulty on a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 and 2 presenting low risks of real danger.

backpackers-in-Chiang-Mai-trek-Thailand-1090x779“In the third class, you might have to use your hands here and there to balance or scramble,” says Pohja. “In the fourth class, you’re using both hands to pull yourself up, and class 5 is basically rock climbing, definitely not for beginners. Keep in mind, for a rough guide to your level of effort, you should add about two additional energy miles per every 1,000 feet of elevation gain. So if you’re hiking one mile uphill on a mountain taller than 1,000 feet, it will feel like three miles.

They underpack or overstuff

You don’t want to end up with 25 pounds of equipment for an easy afternoon hike and you don’t want to be caught empty-handed in an emergency. For a day hike, Pohja’s pack always contains these essentials:

A map and a compass. Pohja says that national parks are especially good about keeping their maps up-to-date.Sunscreen and sunglasses, especially if you’re hiking above the tree line. There’s less shade, and UV rays are stronger at higher elevations.

Fluids. She recommends 3 to 4 liters of water for each person in your group. “Many people think that they can fill up their bottles in a river, but drinking untreated water can put you at risk for waterborne diseases.”
Snacks. Instead of breaking at the summit for a big lunch, NOLS instructors like to nibble throughout the day. This way, Pohja says, they maintain their energy levels and avoid the discomfort of overeating. She likes snacks that combine carbs for energy as well as protein, like trail mix, jerky, and crackers and peanut butter.

A first aid kit with Band-Aids, athletic tape and an antibiotic ointment to clean wounds.

A rain jacket, regardless of the forecast. “Afternoon thunderstorms are common in the mountains, especially in the West, and a jacket is a small thing that will make a big difference.”
A headlamp or flashlight in case you get stuck outside after dark.

They think hiking poles are for sissies.

Pohja recently helped lead a group of Naval Academy students on a 30-day wilderness trip in Wyoming. “All of our instructors had poles, and we told the students they could bring them, as well.”

None of the midshipmen did, and after a few days of picking their way over boulders and down snowy slopes, they were all confessing to pole envy. Poles take some of the weight off your knees, hips and ankles when going downhill; they’re highly recommended for hikers with knee or hip issues.

Rushing down the hill is cool

Rushing down the hill could be easier and much interesting than climbing up. Literally, there is no need to rush down and increase chances of getting wrecked. Take the road down easy as you need to enjoy in it. The rush can produce you spill and you even get yourself injured. So, do not rush down the hill if you are not chased by the hungry pack of wolves!

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