Bedford Land Trust: How to prepare for a nature hike

A hike or walk outdoors is a wonderful way to relax and exercise at any time of year. People of all fitness levels and experience can enjoy nature walks and hikes safely with some simple planning and considerations, whether hiking by themselves or with friends.

It is important to have a plan, including whom you will hike with, where you will hike, and when you will take your walk. Obtain permission from the landowner for hiking and parking. Be aware of rules and regulations that pertain to the area where you are hiking, an internet search can help you to understand the types of activities permitted on the property and whether pets are allowed.

Be sure to consider the abilities of the people hiking with you when selecting your route. There are many phone apps and websites that can help you learn about excellent hiking trails that will fit your requirements and interests. Many people like to read guidebooks and study maps to become familiar with the area where they intend to hike prior to their trip.

It is important to consider the season and weather when planning to spend time outside. Watch the weather report and be prepared to turn back if the weather should change unexpectedly. In the spring, trails might be wet or muddy, requiring extra care and travel time. Extreme heat and extreme cold can cause health problems, so it is essential to consider your ability to contend with the temperatures of summer and winter. In the fall, you should be aware of hunting seasons and wear hunter orange; and in the winter, ice can make for slippery conditions. Biting insects like black flies in the late spring and ticks can hamper your enjoyment of your walk. Insect repellent and wearing long pants, long sleeves, and long socks, and tucking pant legs into socks or boots and tucking shirts into pants help to deter such pests. Also, avoid nests of stinging insects like wasps and bees by staying on marked trails.

Once you have determined your route and timetable, leave your trip plan and a back-up plan with family or friends and sign in to any trail registries, many of which are available at the trailhead. Make sure you follow the plan you have established, including what you will do if there is inclement weather or if someone in the group is injured.

On the day of your adventure, dress appropriately and wear sturdy shoes with ankle support. Bring plenty of snacks and water for the hike you are planning. You should not assume that water you find on the trail is safe to drink; most water sources must be boiled or filtered before consuming.

Hiking uses a lot of energy, pack snacks like energy bars, fruits or trail mix to keep up your strength.

Essential items to bring along on your hike include a stocked first aid kit, cell phone, map and compass, warm clothing and hat, a flashlight, a fire starter, a whistle, a rain jacket, a pocket knife, insect repellant, sunglasses, and sunscreen. If you bring a GPS unit, remember that they are not effective under tree cover and may need extra batteries.

Consider learning to recognize poisonous plants common to your area, like poison ivy, and avoid them. If you see a wild animal, remember never to feed or approach it.

Like most wildlife, black bears generally hear people coming and avoid humans. If a black bear approaches you, making loud noises may scare off the bear. If the bear does not leave, back away from the bear slowly. Watch moose from a safe and respectful distance and remember that moose are bigger and faster than people. Bulls in the rut (mid-September to mid-October) are unpredictable and cows are protective of their calves. For more information on bear and moose, visit the New Hampshire Fish & Game website (www.wildlife.state.nh.us).

If you become lost or someone in your party is injured, remember not to panic. If someone is hurt, apply basic first aid and follow your back-up plan to seek help as needed. Cell phone service is not guaranteed in remote locations, but peaks and ridges may offer a better opportunity to call for help in the event of an emergency. If you become lost and are still on the trail, it is usually best to stay on the trail. Study your map and consider finding higher ground to identify landmarks such as streams and ridges.

If your last known location is within a reasonable distance, try to return to it. If you are not successful, stay in one place and wait for assistance. Friends or family would tell rescuers of your planned route, so it is best to be near where they would expect you to be. Put on brightly colored clothing and blow your whistle loudly to attract attention. The standard distress call is three short audible calls or visible signals.

Remember to keep your group together and to leave no trace of your hike by staying on the trail and collecting all rubbish. Get outside and enjoy a walk in nature. Discover Bedford Land Trust trails throughout Bedford. For more information and trail maps, visit www. bedfordlandtrust.org.

Rebecca Martin

Bedford Land Trust Trustee