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Make The Big Jump

Are you a dayhiker who's ready for an all-nighter? A weekender longing to try a 5-day trek? Or are you ready for a thru-hike? Regardless of your skill level, here's the information you'll need to go that extra mile.

From Weekender To Weeklong Hiker
You’ve mastered the quick, 3-day escape to the state park down the road, and now you’re drooling over a faraway 50-miler. Our advice: Start saving your frequent flier miles, and study the tips below to prepare mind, body, and gear for the challenges of a long, rugged hike.

Gear Tips

Pack:
Capacity of 4,500 to 6,000 cubic inches >>>>> $140 and up

Clothing:
Two pairs of wool or synthetic socks (plus two pairs of synthetic liners, if you use them), an extra set of synthetic long underwear, and a waterproof/breathable rainjacket >>>>> $250 and up

First-Aid Kit:
Should include prescription medications, blister treatment, bandages, a full-size SAM splint, one roll of 1-inch-by-10-yard cloth tape, ibuprofen >>>>> $25 and up

Boots:
Supportive, all-leather uppers and minimal seams for maximum waterproofness >>>>> $125 and up

Pick Your Destination

To find your ideal 5-day trail, consult Web sites (start at www.backpacker.com/destinations), local bookstores, and trail clubs. After you get some leads, call the land-management agency and ask the backcountry rangers for information.

Roam At Will

Free yourself from well-trodden trails by learning how to use a map and compass. Here’s a start:

  1. From your local outdoors store, buy a compass and a 1:24,000 scale (7.5-minute series) topographic map that covers your neighborhood or a nearby park. Or, get the map from the U.S. Geological Survey, (800) ASK-USGS; http://ask.usgs.gov.

  2. Take the map and compass to an outdoors spot you can identify on the map. The more hills, rivers, and other geographic features you can see around you, the better.
  3. Account for the difference between magnetic north (where your compass points) and true north (where your map is oriented to). Here’s one way:
    • With the compass set to 0 degrees, lay one long side of the compass against the MN line.

    • Rotate the whole map, with the compass still sitting along the MN line, so that the compass needle is pointing to north, or 0 degrees. Now your map is properly oriented with the landscape. You’ll need to do this every time you must accurately read the map, no matter where you are.
  4. Note how the contours of the map reflect the landscape around you: Tightly spaced contour lines mean steep drops; wide spaces mean meadows or other flat areas; closed loops in the contours indicate hills or peaks.
  5. Draw a route on your map, then walk it, comparing what you see on the map with the terrain as you pass through it.
  6. Practice this until you can look at the map, visualize the terrain, and reach a destination using your map and compass.
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