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Hiking is a form of walking, undertaken with the specific purpose of exploring and enjoying the scenery. It usually takes place on trails in areas of relatively unspoiled wilderness.

The word hiking is understood in all English-speaking countries, but in the United Kingdom the same activity would more often be referred to as walking. Off-trail hiking is sometimes called bushwhacking or bush-bashing. Overnight hiking is more specifically called backpacking, or (in New Zealand) tramping. Hiking in the mountainous regions of Nepal and India is sometimes called trekking.

Table of contents
1 Comparison with other forms of touring
2 Rules of hiking
3 Hiking safety issues and unforeseen circumstances
4 How to hike
5 See also

Comparison with other forms of touring

Hiking is one of the fundamental outdoor activities on which many others are based. Hiking is the only way to reach many beautiful places overland. Enthusiasts regard hiking as the best way to see nature. It is seen as better than a tour in a vehicle of any kind (or on an animal; see horseback riding) because the hiker's senses are not intruded upon by distractions such as windows, engine noise, airborne dust in large quantities, and fellow passengers. It has an advantage over standing in one place because the hiker may cover a wide area.

On the other hand, hiking over long distances or over difficult terrain does require some degree of physical ability and knowledge, as well as a backpack to carry food, water and essential equipment. Hikers may be caught in inclement weather or suffer mishaps. Some jurisdictions (for example New Hampshire) now require inadequately prepared hikers to pay for their own rescues.

Rules of hiking

Hiking safety issues and unforeseen circumstances

Any hike, regardless of duration or the familiarity of the route, may possibly go awry. Possible mishaps include injury, unexpected inclement weather, and losing the trail. A simple set of equipment may allow the hiker to escape from any of these predicaments. One list of such equipment is the Scout Outdoor Essentials. The ultimate decision whether or not to bring any of this equipment is entirely at the hiker's discretion, and many hikers opt to leave most or all of it at home.

Another simple safety precaution is to give the itinerary and expected time of return to someone not on the hike. If the hiking party fails to return reasonably close to the projected time, this person will notify authorities and search parties will be summoned.

Cellular or satellite phones can be a valuable aid. While a call to authorities may not bring rescue helicopters, a phone can be used to get up-to-date weather forecasts and first-aid instructions. Additionally, it allows closer communication between the hikers and friends at home with regard to search parties, pickup, and other issues that may arise. This practice is not a guarantee of safety, because electronic devices may break or fail, and their presence can create a false sense of security. Users may take risks they would not otherwise take, because they feel they could just call for help. Some purist hikers frown upon satellite phones because they believe that technology should not be brought into the outdoors without serious need.

Extra clothing can be critically important, in cases such as unexpectedly low temperatures, or falling into bodies of water (wet clothes cause hypothermia).

The importance of the mind

Even the best and most useful supplies are of no avail to hikers who cannot or choose not to use them properly. Confusion and disorientation can pose a greater danger to the hiker than any physical trauma. Impairment of mental faculties can result from causes as diverse as hypothermia, severe dehydration, malnutrition and a low blood sugar level, or a fall involving head injury. Falls are particularly hazardous for backpackers, because the pack impedes balance and increases the force of the fall.

An equal danger is misplaced priorities. Hikers who consider reaching the destination to be of the greatest importance risk placing themselves needlessly in hazardous situations. Successful mountaineers take safety to be the first priority, enjoyment to be the second, and the summit to be third.

Hiking in groups

Hiking alone is the ultimate level of solitude. However it is more dangerous than hiking in groups. In any survival situation, a companion may be more helpful than any piece of gear. If one hiker becomes injured, the other can administer first aid and call for help. If an inexperienced lone hiker becomes lost, he may be more likely to panic and make bad decisions than a group of two or three hikers. If the weather turns foul, a group of hikers can pool its manpower, brainpower, and body heat.

Within a large group of hikers, there will usually be disparities in pace. In addition to making the hike less enjoyable, these disparities may create hazardous situations. A large party will often split into a "fast group" and a "slow group". If one of the two groups takes a wrong turn, it might be difficult for them to be reunited.

If the party does not split, some members may hike at a faster pace than they should, which will increase their risk of injury. For these reasons, it may be safest to hike in a group of people with similar paces. However, considerations of pace should not deprive the group of a skilled hiker who would be of use in any survival situations that might arise. Just as a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, so too should the pace of the group be no faster than the slowest person.

How to hike

What to pack, and how

Choosing what you should take with you will depend a lot on where you're walking and how long it will take. However, there are a few items that are always sensible to bring:

When packing a backpack, try to place the center of gravity around the level of your upper back. An excessively low center of gravity will impede your agility, but an excessively high one will make you vulnerable to toppling if you begin to lose your balance.

On the trail

See also