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Beginner Skills

Hike Smarter: 4 Ways to Hike Right

Learn how to stay dry in a storm, navigate without a compass, and walk right.

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1. Treat your feet

Get boots that fit: snug in the heel, but with enough room in the forefoot to allow for inevitable swelling on long days with a pack. Allow plenty of time to walk around in the store, feeling for pressure points and blister-causing heel slip. Most stores have an incline board; check for movement with your foot pointing both up- and downhill.

Use lightweight, breathable shoes (when trail conditions and weather allow). They’ll reduce heat buildup, and heat accelerates blisters.

Break in heavy boots on dayhikes and around town.

Keep your socks dry (change into a new pair if needed); air your feet at rest breaks.

Treat hot spots proactively with a nonstretch sports tape like Leukotape (plain old duct tape also works).

Cut your toenails short.

Use a lubricant like Body Glide to reduce friction in problem areas.

Lace boots with precision comfort: Tie an overhand loop at the ankle to create a locking twist, and repeat at each eyelet (see below). Adjust tension where needed, or even skip an eyelet altogether.

Got a blister anyway? Use Glacier Gel ($10;

2. Stay dry in a storm

Start with a shell that extends below your hips, so there’s no gap between jacket and pants where rain can sneak in. Cinch the hem snugly.

Roll up the cuffs of your baselayer so they don’t wick water up your sleeves, and cinch your jacket’s cuffs. Avoid raising your arms (giving water easier access to your cuffs) and shorten your trekking poles so your wrists are angled down.

Keep your hood snug, and wear a waterproof/breathable, billed cap (like Outdoor Research’s Revel; $27; underneath to enhance face protection in the worst weather.

Wear gaiters with your rain pants when you’re walking through leg-soaking, wet brush.

Don’t sweat. Even the most breathable raingear can be overwhelmed from the inside if your exertion is too great for the temps. Getting steamy? Open every pit zip and vent, shed layers, and, if needed, simply slow down. In warm, humid conditions, skip the jacket and use an umbrella (see page 65).

Keep your stuff dry. Use a pack liner or dry bags, and don’t expose dry gear to the rain during breaks. “Shadow stick Stand a 3-foot stick vertically in the ground and mark the tip of its shadow with a rock. Wait at least 15 minutes, then mark the shadow again. The connecting line roughly indicates east-west (south is on the sun side of the line).

3. Navigate without a compass

Stars Find the Big Dipper. Extend an imaginary line through the two stars at the end of the outer cup to a medium-bright star (about five times the “distance” between the two Big Dipper stars). This is the North Star.

Plants In the eastern and Midwestern prairies, look for the bright yellow bloom of a compass plant. Its leaves generally align along the north-south axis.

Watch Hold an analog watch level, with the hour hand pointing to the sun. South is halfway between the hour hand and the 12 (Northern Hemisphere only). Yes, there’s a wrong way to put one foot in front of the other. Avoid these three mistakes:

4. Walk right

Over-striding Taking giant steps can lead to overuse injuries like strained quads and hip bursitis. Shorter steps minimize pounding and muscle exertion, making your stride more energy efficient even though you take more steps overall.

Forefoot striking This is OK for running, not walking. Pounding on the forefoot (rather than gradually rocking the foot from back to front) can cause foot and leg problems, including the very painful metatarsalgia.

Shuffling You want to push off with your toes with each new step. Omitting this final toe-off phase (by shuffling or dragging your feet) jars joints from head to toe.

Inside job: Avoid lashing heavy items to the outside of your pack. They’ll throw you off balance and stress pack seams.

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