Guest writer: Jennifer Cassetta, clinical nutritionist, personal trainer and self-defense expert.
November 17 is National Take a Hike Day. To celebrate the big day, either get outside and take a hike or at least plan one for this weekend or over Thanksgiving Day weekend. There will be plenty of time to get outdoors and burn off all of those excess turkey and pie calories.
Hiking has so many wonderful benefits, both mental and physical. Physical benefits of hiking include: cardiovascular strengthening, which can lower heart disease risk, improve blood sugar and blood pressure profiles, build total lower body muscle strength (quads, glutes, hamstrings and lower back), and even help build bone mass because hiking is a weigh-bearing exercise. Your lungs will also thank you for the fresh oxygen that you may not be getting living in a urban area.
Mental and even spiritual benefits of hiking include connecting with nature which brings a sense of peace to any overworked, stressed out individual. Hiking helps you slow down and unplug from technology, which we all need to do from time to time. If you’re lucky enough to encounter some wild animals or plant life that is uncommon to your senses, you’ll get an even bigger boost of pleasure. I’ve only started hiking in the last 7 years after moving to California and I can’t believe I was missing out on it for so long.
No matter where in the country you are hiking, you’ll need to keep your wits about you. There are instances of sexual assault, muggings, mountain lion attacks and even murder that have and will continue to happen out there. Here are a few tips to make sure you stay safe while hiking:
- Always tell someone when and where you are heading out for your hike.
There are still many places in the states that have poor cell service and if you were in danger, you wouldn’t be able to call 911. For example, for long stretches of time while I’m trail running in the Santa Monica Mountains, I have no service and I am extra aware of my surroundings. Before I leave, I let my husband know which trail I will be on and about how long it will take me. When I’m finished, I check in with a text so he knows to expect me home shortly afterward. I encourage you to do the same and keep in contact with someone, especially if your training program involves remote and desolate areas. When possible, go with a friend or buddy.
- Carry a personal safety tool.
A SABRE pepper spray can help protect you from a predator if you were approached and couldn’t outrun your attacker. Your pepper spray should be kept in your hand, ready to go, at all times. That’s why I love the Runner Pepper Gel with the hand strap or bicep strap that makes it ready to use if needed.
- Make sure your phone battery is fully charged before you leave.
Many areas with poor reception will drain the battery while looking for service. If you use apps while you hike the same thing will happen. Close out all the apps you are not using during the hike to preserve battery. If you are going on a very long hike, take a portable battery to charge it.
- Always have lights on you, like a headlamp, now that the sun goes down much earlier.
You’ll need to plan your hike accordingly and make sure that you are heading back well before the sun goes down.
- Always have a first aid kit in your car and remember where you parked your car.
You never know when you may need it for you or for someone else.
- Pack snacks.
When heading out into the wilderness you should always be prepared with snacks. You never know how long you may be gone for. Perhaps you took a wrong turn and have to find your way, or worse, you injured yourself and have to hobble to cell phone service. You should always have some protein bars, trail mix, or other non-perishable snacks that will help keep your blood sugar regulated and give you fuel.
- Most importantly, and so often forgotten, is to stay hydrated.
Pack more water than you think you will drink. It’s usually hotter in the mountains than it is by the sea. You also sweat more than you think you may because it evaporates quickly off your skin. I never will go on a hike with less than 2 liters of water on me. Carry a hydration pack for long hikes and a couple of bottles of water for shorter ones.
- If available, sign in the trailhead register.
The more information the rangers have about who is on the trail and when, the better. This way if you don’t get home when you say you have, someone can call on your behalf and the rangers can take it from there.
Any questions? Now go take a hike!