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When is the last time someone politely asked you to take a hike? At the time you may not have taken them up on their offer. However, if you had followed the suggestion, you would likely have found a wonderful new world.

"Mountains that look impossibly steep and scary from a distance usually aren't so bad once you get there. The key is to just keep putting one foot in front of another," says Laurie Potteiger. She is the information services coordinator for the Appalachian Trail Conference.

If you're looking for an easy way to get away from it all, this is it. Hiking is an outdoor sport or activity you can enjoy either by yourself or with friends. For most people, hiking means wearing a backpack and walking along trails in wilderness areas.

Some terrain calls for physical fitness. However, other areas may be wheelchair accessible.

Some people may describe walking a few downtown city blocks as "a good hike." But that's not what hiking really is.

Hiking is usually done on marked trails, or for the experienced, in unmarked backcountry. Hiking is experiencing the great outdoors, taking in the fresh air, and seeing things you've never seen before. It's also great exercise and a wonderful way to relieve the stresses of everyday life.

No one really knows for sure exactly how many people hike. It's difficult to say because people enjoy this recreation in so many ways. Some people call themselves hikers, but may only go on a hike once or twice a year. Others go hiking every chance they get, like every weekend or more!

Hiker Matt Johnston estimates there are a lot of people who enjoy this activity.

"I would say 40 percent of the population of the U.S. would say that they hike, but only about 15 percent on a regular basis."

Potteiger is in the "very avid" hiker category. She usually goes for hikes twice a week.

She says the Leisure Trends Group and Gallup Organization recently prepared a study for the Outdoor Recreation Coalition of America and found that there were 68.6 million hikers in the U.S.

The numbers also depend on where people live. People who live near large wilderness areas, like the Rocky Mountains for example, are usually more into hiking than people who live far from such places.

There are some good hiking trails around, too. The Appalachian Trail runs 2,160 miles through 14 states between Maine and Georgia. The Continental Divide Trail runs 3,000 miles through the mountains, forests, grasslands, and deserts of the Rocky Mountain states, from Canada to Mexico.

Hiking is trendy. And like many outdoor activities, its popularity keeps growing.

Hiking is something most people do for personal enjoyment. It's highly unlikely you could find work as a professional hiker and get paid for it. However, there are related areas where employment is possible.

Some of the big trails have trail rangers to patrol and educate hikers. There are also spin-off opportunities at hiking magazines, or as outdoor activities teachers and recreation managers.

Getting Started

Generally speaking, hiking is a very low-cost recreation. All you really need is a good pair of hiking boots and a backpack. You should be able to find a decent pair of boots and a suitable backpack for under $150.

Of course, you can also spend big money on this recreation if you want to. High-end boots and backpacks can be very expensive. So can hiking fashions. Remember that when you go out hiking, you're there to see, rather than to be seen.

Of course, if you're really serious, you could invest money on things like altimeter watches and GPS systems.

Hiker Mark Crestohl puts the bottom line in proper perspective. "All things considered, it is a very inexpensive sport in terms of equipment. And of course the trails are usually free or only a nominal cost for day access to public parks."

Hiking is a physical activity. It can be strenuous. Even beginners must be in reasonably good shape. Mountain hiking can bring you to high altitudes, where breathing can become more difficult. As well, when on a long hike, your backpack may be heavy, depending on the amount of supplies you decide to carry.

Potteiger says it's all relative. "Once you get gear that fits you, and you figure out how to...get your pack weight down to a level that is comfortable to you, backpacking is relatively easy in terms of skills," she says.

"You'll never stop breathing hard going up mountains, but if you do it long enough or regularly enough, you'll find the instant you reach the top of a mountain your breathing and pulse will return to normal."

You may want to check in with a local hiking club and see what nearby trails they recommend for beginners. This is important, as you don't want to start with something too challenging. You also need to find out what items you need to take in your daypack.

"Go on local hikes. Join organized hiking clubs. Once you get involved, you can gradually work your way into more extended experiences. Pick up skills related to safety and orienteering as you progress," says James R. Wolf. He is the founder and director of the Continental Divide Trail Society.

"Join a hiking club and go on some of their outings. You'll learn from the combined experience of a lot of people, and can see different approaches in action. Plus you'll have company and safety in numbers until you gain some self-assurance and skill," says Potteiger.

It is very likely that you'll return with blisters on your feet. This will happen no matter how good the boots. Hikers are also prone to other knee and ankle injuries, including shin splints.

Other dangers you may encounter on the trail include hypothermia, sunstroke, dehydration and poison ivy. The best defense against these dangers is awareness. Common sense and proper gear will also go a long way to making your hiking experience safe and enjoyable.


Tennessee Eastman Hiking and Canoeing Club

California Alpine Club


Hiking Essentials
This site has good advice for a safe and fun hike!

The Continental Divide Trail
Learn all about this incredible trail

The Slackpacker's Guide to Hiking Trails and Wilderness Travel
Information and tips for hikers

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