After years of hiking, I've learned the essentials for successful outings and getting the most out of a day on the trails.
1. Use a guidebook to plan your hike. Pay close attention to the level of difficulty, distance, and duration. Do not choose a hike that is too advanced for your ability.
2. Check the weather forecast before heading out, and be cautious of wet conditions.
3. Wear comfortable nonslip shoes or boots. Dress in layers, and bring a hat and sunglasses.
4. Bring a small, lightweight backpack, and fill it with basic first-aid needs, a compass, the trail map, tissues, bottled water, and a rain jacket. It's also a good idea to carry a small flashlight, a whistle, and a penknife.
5. Always wear sunblock.
6. Bring your cell phone, and tell a responsible person where you are going and for how long.
7. Obey the region's hiking rules -- follow the markers, and don't veer off the trail. Always hike with another person.
8. Carry a small camera. You never know what you will see: a moose, a wild orchid, an especially beautiful rainbow.
9. On long hikes (more than 4 miles), bring along a healthy snack.
10. Do not take dogs on inappropriate trails. Always carry extra water for pets.