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On your skin, bug repellant and/or sunscreen may be necessary in certain months and regions. Consider a repellant made from natural essential oils, such as Green Ban or Herbal Armor. The latter earned "Top Bug Spray" honors in 2006 (Camping Gear Awards), and boasts a National Home Gardening Club’s Seal of Approval for both effectiveness and consumer value. Many hiking experts recommend a wide-brimmed hat and loose-fitting, lightweight, breathable clothing if you’re worried about sun exposure.
If you’re just hiking a loop in the city park, you’ll probably have enough room in your pockets for all of your essentials (keys, ID card, cell phone, etc.). But if you’ll be hiking for hours, you might need a carry-on. Use a hip pack, which consists of a zippered compartment attached to a wide belt, when you’re on a short hike and just need a few small items. Day packs will hold slightly more and have shoulder straps (like a backpack), and are suitable for a full day of hiking. The downside is that they aren’t as comfortable as hip packs.
No, you can’t just stop and drink from the creek. Carry water with you always—even in cold weather—to prevent dehydration. For shorter hikes, a small water bottle that holds 24-32 ounces will work well. Attach it to your belt with a carabiner for easy access, or keep it in your backpack. If you’ll be out for hours, consider a hydration pack, which is commonly used by endurance runners and cyclists. A backpack with a built-in “bladder” (water bag) that is connected to a “drinking tube” (long, flexible straw), hydration packs make it easy to drink without stopping to open the backpack or even slowing down. Camelbak, The North Face, and Deuter are common brands.
Mother Nature Rules
Considering everything that Mother Nature is offering to you, the least you can do is to be considerate of her. Follow the golden rule of hiking: Pack out whatever you pack in (i.e. don't leave anything behind). If you’re hiking on a maintained trail, stay on the trail, sparing the vegetation. And if you’re bring food, snacks and drinks along, make sure the only critter you feed is yourself.
The Places You'll Go!
Now that you know what to wear, what to bring, and how to behave, all you need to figure out is where to go. First, check out nearby state parks. You can get information about their trails (and potential fees) on the web. If you live in a city, don’t forget about your nearby city parks—many have hiking trails through wooded areas. For a comprehensive list of trails near you, check out these websites: