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Hiking 101 with Charlie

Martha Stewart Living Television

Hiking 101 with Charlie

Acadia National Park, in Bar Harbor, Maine, is known as the U.S. site where French explorer Samuel Champlain first touched ground and as the first spot in America to be hit by the sun's rays each morning. The park's intriguing history began in the 1830s, when a wave of artists settled in Acadia to take advantage of its stunning rustic beauty; wealthy industrialists soon followed, including the Rockefellers, the Vanderbilts, and the Fords. By the turn of the century, many of the landowners had donated thousands of their acres to the state of Maine to found New England's only national park; some, such as John D. Rockefeller Jr., even helped to landscape the terrain.

The park's 147 miles of trails range from nearly vertical slopes to easy ocean-side strolls. For any level of hiker, however, there are some general tips to keep in mind and equipment you need to carry. According to Charlie Jacobi, a natural-resource specialist at Acadia, you can ensure that your hike is safe and enjoyable by following a few sensible guidelines.

Check the weather before you set out on your hike, and pack appropriately. Be sure to determine how long your hike will take, so that you can make it back to the starting point before nightfall. If you're hiking in a group, choose a trail that is suited to everyone's abilities. Your shoes should be comfortable and have soles that provide enough traction to prevent slipping on the trail or rocks. If you allow your knee to lock with each step, your muscles will get a brief rest, giving you more stamina as the hike goes on.

If you're taking a backpack, it should be large enough to carry essential equipment but not so big that it's cumbersome. If your equipment weighs more than ten pounds, buy a backpack with a hip belt, which helps distribute the weight of the load. There are a number of things that a hiker shouldn't be without, including adequate water -- plan on allotting two quarts per person per day. Also include food for meals and a high-energy snack, such as trail mix, to eat as you walk. A map, a compass, and a guidebook will keep you oriented and on track. Some guidebooks also include points of interest and a history of the area you're exploring. You will also want to carry sunscreen and insect repellent to protect against the elements and bugs. A first-aid kit is essential, and matches and a flashlight will prove invaluable if you get lost and need to spend the night on the trail.

Be mindful of altitude changes and sudden fluctuations in the weather. Experienced hikers wear layers of clothing made from both natural and synthetic fibers. Cotton breathes well, but it absorbs moisture and may leave you cold if you perspire or get caught in the rain. Synthetic fibers such as nylon or polypropylene don't absorb moisture and are ideal for hiking gear.

Most important, you should take care not to disturb the environment. Anything you bring with you should leave with you as well. If you are staying overnight, some things can't be removed, such as human waste, and water from cooking and cleaning. Use a trowel to dig a hole, where waste can be properly disposed of, at least two hundred feet off a trail (some parks mandate longer distances). But be careful not to dig the hole near natural water sources or where people or animals might come into contact with it. Don't venture off the trail more than necessary, as this will disturb the natural environment. Each hiker should be allowed to experience the same sense of discovery as the hiker before him, which is one of the best parts of a nature hike.

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