On a recent hike on Neversink Mountain Preserve, John Gallen Jr. came across an injured hiker. The hiker had stumbled, fallen and was bleeding. With his first aid kit, Gallen was able staunch the bleeding from what appeared to be a small severed artery. He helped the hiker to safety. Falls can happen to anyone on the trail, but being prepared can make a difference. 

Gallen, an experienced hiker, said the first aid kit is something he never hikes without, whether it's a familiar stroll in the 900-acre preserve or a trek through the Andes or Himalayas. 

"I think she was younger than some of the Band Aids in that kit," said Gallen, president of Ethosource, an office furniture company in Morgantown.

For Lisa Peterson, a board member of the Horse-Shoe Trail Conservancy, waterfalls are a lure to hiking across the United States, Canada, Norway, Sweden, Germany and Switzerland, as well as Italy and Asia and Latin America.

"When I’m on business travel, my hikes are alone," said Peterson of Brecknock Township. "So this leads me to offer some advice on the importance of having a plan."

Peterson said hiking is an opportunity to be with nature.

"It’s peaceful," she said. "Sometimes one can hike an entire day and see no other person. And in many of these places, they are so remote that cellular phone service doesn’t exist. So a hiker needs to think along the lines of being self-reliant."

Here's more advice for your first hikes:

Always carry plenty of water.

The Schuylkill River Greenways recommends you do not drink untreated water from streams or creeks you come across. Boil water or use purification tablets before using water from streams or the river for drinking or cooking.

Gallen said bring a snack, too, no matter how short your hike is going to be.

Wear a pair of comfortable shoes.

"Another common mistake is to buy big heavy footwear, which is really unnecessary for a local day hike even if you’re on the Appalachian Trail, known for heavy rocks," Gallen said. "If you do not have a large pack on your back you do not need to be wearing boots, and, in fact, your experience will be much more enjoyable with comfortable trail shoes or sneakers."

Peterson said minimize the chance of blisters by wearing footwear appropriate for the hike that you know will be comfortable for the duration of the hike.

"Wear clothing appropriate to minimize insect bites like ticks and mosquitoes," she said."Wear clothing appropriate to minimize contact with poisonous plants that may brush your legs like poison ivy."

Research where you are going.

"I would say one of the most common mistakes or oversight that new hikers make is not researching where they plan to go and underestimating how long it will take to walk a certain distance," Gallen said. "Especially if that distance is uphill. When walking uphill 1 to 2 miles an hour is about as fast as you’re going to go."

Bring a map and a compass to help you navigate the trails, particularly on the long distance trails, says Schuylkill River Greenways. Check the weather forecast, and avoid hiking in extreme heat or cold.

"Study the landscape, the weather patterns, the wildlife, and everything else you need to know about the area," Peterson said. "While this is especially true if one is hiking at a vacation destination that isn’t considered 'home turf,' it’s also true when one is close to home. For example, the terrain and wildlife of the north west terminus of the Horse-Shoe Trail is different from the terrain and wildlife of the south east terminus of the Horse-Shoe Trail at Valley Forge. Some hiking locations, like in the southwest desert, having blazing hot conditions during the day and freezing cold conditions that same night. Some locations have ticks while others might have mosquitoes. "

Plan ahead

Know where you are going, download a map, check out a trail app such as All Trails.

Tell a friend or family member where you plan to go and when you expect to be back.

If you get lost, stay put and call for help. Please be advised that cell phones may not work in some locations.

Carry a whistle and use it if you are in distress. Do not eat plants or berries you find along the trails.

Pack a bag

In addition to water and a first aid kit, bring a compass, a trail guide, a whistle, a watch, bug spray, an extra pair of socks and clothing, sunglasses and sunscreen, a trash bag, a safety blanket, a rope, a knife, personal medicines, your cell phone, a flashlight, and extra batteries, Peterson said.

A watch:  Know when to turn back.  If it’s a day hike in and out, you’ll need to reach your vehicle before it gets dark.

Bug spray:  Bugs can get worse in some areas, so just because the mosquitoes aren’t bad where you parked your car, they may be horrible when you get a mile into the hike.

A trash bag: If it starts raining, a trash bag offers some helpful protection from the rain. And use the trash bag for your litter. Trails typically don’t have trash receptacles. Carry out what you carry in and leave no trace.

A safety blanket: These are also known as space blankets. They are a mylar sheet which is lightweight and heat reflective, but will reduce heat loss in your body if it’s cold and will provide a shade shelter if it’s hot.

A rope and a knife: A rope comes in handy for hanging wet clothing and to hang food and gear away from wildlife like bears. A pocket knife comes in handy too.

Personal medicine: Pack a day’s worth of your personal medicine in case of an emergency and being out longer than you expected.

Cell phone: While your cell phone might not have signal strong enough to make a call at every point along a trail, hopefully you can find an area with signal if you do need to make a call. In advance of the hike, download a trail map. GPS is an important feature that your cell phone offers.

Flashlight or headlamp: In case you misjudge your time back to your car, have a flashlight or headlamp so you can safely navigate the trail.

Local trails are great

"One of the early lessons I learned about hiking locally is that you can’t really get lost," Gallen said. "You are never far from a road or a house, and so the best advice I can give is to research where you’re going to get out there and enjoy it. We have diamonds in our own backyard with wonderful trails at the Berks Nature preserve on Neversink Mountain, Mount Penn, Nolde Forest, and about 50 miles of the Appalachian Trail passes within 30 minutes of Reading.

Mind your manners

The Reading Eagle has a guide to trail etiquette at https://bit.ly/3hSEo5t. Remember to treat the trail and others you might meet with respect. You may not expect to see anyone, but it is also wise to bring your mask in case you do. No one wants to be worry about coronavirus when they are on the trail. 

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