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Hiking is a recreational activity that involves outdoor walking, usually on a path, through a natural area. As hiking usually involves elements such as roots, streams, or an incline, it's more strenuous than walking. Hikers use equipment such as hiking boots or shoes, and a backpack. There are many types of hiking: day hikes are short trips on marked trails, and overnight backpacking hikes are longer trips that require camping gear. Mountaineering, considered a separate sport, refers to hiking up mountains, and often involves specialized rock climbing equipment.

The History of Recreational Hiking

Hiking became popular in England as the Industrial Revolution led to more leisure time for the growing middle class. A desire to spend time in natural settings and enjoy the fresh air of the countryside led to the formation of groups such as England’s Ramblers Association, which was formed to maintain ancient footpaths.

In the United States, Abel Crawford and his son Ethan cleared a trail to the summit of New Hampshire’s Mount Washington in 1819. This 8.5 mile path is the oldest continuously used hiking trail in the United States. The Appalachian Mountain Club, America’s oldest recreation organization, was founded in 1876 to protect the trails and mountains in the northeastern United States. In 1916, the National Park Service was created to protect national parks and monuments. When the National Trails System Act was passed in 1968, there were just two national trails: the Appalachian National Scenic Trail that runs from Maine to Georgia, and the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail which stretches from Canada to Mexico through Washington, Oregon, and California. There are now 20 scenic, historic, and recreational national trails {Question: In the whole world? North America?} that cover over 40,000 miles.

Hiking Gear and Attire

The Mountaineers, a Seattle-based hiking enthusiast group, came up with a list of the 10 Essentials that all hikers should carry, and this list remains a standard for hikers to this day. The essentials are navigation (a map and compass), sun protection and insect repellent, extra clothing, illumination (flashlight or a headlamp), a first aid kit and a whistle, a lighter or waterproof matches, a knife or multipurpose tool, extra food, extra water or water purification tablets, and emergency shelter, such as a blanket.

The 10 Essentials should be carried in a sturdy, lightweight backpack. Daypacks that are 1,800 to 2,500 cubic inches are suitable for hikes that don’t involve camping. Features to look for include water-resistant material and construction, a hip belt that helps distribute the pack’s weight evenly, and an adjustable harness. Many styles are compatible with hydration systems that fit into the pack and eliminate the need for a separate water bottle. Internal frame backpacks that are 3,000 to 5,000 cubic inches are best for multi-day hiking trips.

Hiking boots, or lighter weight trail shoes, offer many safety and comfort features that ordinary athletic shoes don’t have. Hiking boots are waterproof, or water resistant. They have thick, sturdy soles that help a hiker maintain his or her balance on a slippery or uneven trail, and many styles have rugged “rock guard” areas around the toe and heel area to protect the feet. Trail shoes are low-profile styles, and hiking boots give more ankle support. Be sure that any pair of shoes is broken in before a hike. The right socks will help keep feet dry and blister-free. Thin sock liners worn under socks wick moisture away from the feet, and cushioned wool-blend socks are cut down on friction.

Dressing in light, moisture-wicking layers is advised for hikers. The best hiking clothes are breathable, waterproof, and rugged enough to stand up to branches and rocky trails. Many hikers find that using a walking stick or a trekking pole gives added stability on the trail and can prevent stress and injuries to ankles and knees.

Safety and Environmental Concerns

Planning ahead and having the proper equipment is the easiest way to prevent hiking injuries. Research the trail and pick a hike that’s the appropriate distance and difficulty level. Wear proper gear and pack the 10 Essentials mentioned above. Hike with a buddy or group, and let someone at home know where you are going and what time you expect to return. To avoid contracting the intestinal parasite giardia or another digestive ailment, never drink untreated water. Treat the water by boiling it, using purification tablets, or using a filter.

To protect the environment, hikers are encouraged to follow the Leave No Trace principles, which include packing out all trash, not removing any natural materials such as rocks or plants, and staying on trails to minimize impact on a natural area.

Hiking Associations and Trail Networks

Related Hiking Resources

About.com California Travel: Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail [1] About.com Camping Video: Purifying Water [2] About.com Climbing: Mountaineering [3] About.com European History: Industrial Revolution Overview [4] About.com Camping: First Aid Kit [5] About.com Sports Medicine: Hiking Injury Prevention [6] About.com U.S. Parks: Appalachian National Scenic Trail [7] About.com U.S. Parks: Backpacking Camping Gear [8] About.com U.S. Parks: National Parks Service [9] About.com U.S. Parks: National Trails Day [10] About.com Walking: Essential Gear for Hiking [11] About.com Walking: Hiking Boots [12] About.com Walking: Walking Sticks [13] American Hiking Society [14] American Trails National Trails System Act Overview [15] Appalachian Mountain Club History [16] bout.com U.S. Parks: National Park Service [17] Buckeye Trail Association [18] Colorado Trail Foundation [19] Continental Divide Trail Society [20] Florida Trail Association [21] Rails to Trails Conservancy [22] Tennessee Trails Association [23] ABCs of Hiking Terms [24] CDC Giardia Facts [25] Consumer Search Day Packs [26] Leave No Trace Principles [27] A Mountaineers 10 Essentials [28] National Parks Service [29] Outside.com Hydration Systms [30] Ramblers Association History [31] REI Hiking Socks [32] TrailSpace.com Internal Frame Backpacks [33] U.S. Forest Service Hiking History [34]

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