As summer runs into fall, lots of runners enjoy cross training in the form of scenic hikes. Wisconsin and the upper Midwest offer countless spots for striding through the wilderness and taking in the autumn colors. Summer heat and humidity give way to cooler temperatures that only add to outdoor sports enthusiasts’ energy levels.
Plus, hiking pretty trails offers a wonderful opportunity for runners to log a few miles, while sharing the outdoors with non-running friends.
Still, autumn hiking carries a few cautions and concerns of its own.
Here are a dozen pointers for safe and enjoyable autumn wilderness walks.
Consider these 12 tips for fall hikers, to ensure more pleasant walks in the autumn wilderness.
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1. Look to layers for autumn hikes.
Outdoor temperatures and weather conditions can change quickly, so smart hikers dress in layers. The inner clothing layer (next to the body) should be constructed of a moisture-wicking fabric. Additional layers may be added for warmth and protection against wind or possible precipitation.
A lightweight windbreaker, tucked in a pocket or backpack, is an excellent safeguard against autumn weather surprises. Gloves may also prove useful for warmth or to protect hands on rougher climbs.
2. Choose safe shoes for autumn hikes.
Sturdy, comfortable hiking shoes with solid support and good traction are essential on the trail, particularly during the autumn season. Flexible shoes are often preferable to heavy, clunky boots for hiking. Also, hiking shoes or boots should always be broken in before they are used for actual wilderness walks.
Soft, moisture-absorbing socks help to prevent blisters during long fall hikes. Many autumn hikers carry extra socks for mid-hike changes, or in case feet should become dampened during the trip.
3. Always wear a hat for hiking in the fall.
Whether the weather is warm or chilly, a wide-brimmed hat offers protection from sun, precipitation, falling leaves and more. Add a chin strap or stampede string to keep the hat on in windy conditions.
Sunglasses (with ultraviolet protection) are a smart addition for autumn hikes as well.
4. Have hydration on hand, even during fall hikes.
Even on cooler autumn days, hikers need hydration. Bottles or canteens (filled with water or sports drinks) are essential.
Hikers choosing out-and-return trails for autumn walks often stash extra waters or other beverages on the outward trip, so they need not carry the weight for the entire round trip. (Loop hikers, of course, do not have this luxury.)
5. Pack snacks for wilderness walks in autumn.
Healthy trail snacks (such as bananas, dried fruit, energy bars, granola, and nuts) are must-haves for hikes at any time of year. This is particularly true with walks lasting more than a few miles.
Smart hikers stow trail snacks in zippered plastic bags, which can then be used to collect colorful autumn leaves, pine cones and other natural bounty. In addition, these baggies are ideal for retrieving garbage for later disposal.
6. Lather on lotion before fall hiking.
Moisturizing sun protection lotion is a must, even during autumn hikes. High altitude increases the risks of sunburn and windburn, and the bare fall trees offer little shelter.
7. Watch your step on fall wilderness walks.
Those falling leaves make autumn trails colorful, but they can also be slippery, especially when dampened. Plus, a leafy trail is difficult to navigate, as cracks, crevices, holes and other hazards may be hard to spot. Autumn hikers tread carefully wherever the ground is covered.
8. Keep to the clock when hiking in the fall.
Daylight grows shorter in autumn, so hikers need to watch the clock. Experienced trail hikers often set out early, perhaps even before dawn, so they can be sure to find their way back before dark. Plenty of hikers set alarms on their smart phones to remind them when it’s time to head back.
9. Seek stealth during autumn hikes.
Because trees are barer in the fall, hikers who hope to spot wildlife in the woods must practice extra secrecy and silence. Noisy walkers (and talkers) may scare off birds and forest creatures they had hoped to see.
10. Heed hunting seasons for fall wilderness excursions.
Of course, in many regions, autumn also signals hunting season. Fall hikers are advised to wear bright colors, such as neon orange caps or vests, for safety. If hunters are nearby, hikers can make their presence known audibly, by talking, singing or whistling. (This may alert wildlife, but it may prevent hunting accidents as well.)
11. Find photo opportunities on fall hikes.
Autumn beauty is a seasonal photo op for nature lovers, and hunters are no exception. A fully charged smart phone is a must for a fall hike – for safety’s sake, but also for photography. Lots of hikers also tote lightweight cameras or videocameras as well.
12. Watch the weather during autumn hiking.
Autumn weather is ever-changing. A single day may change from mild to monstrous in minutes, particularly for hikers climbing to higher altitudes, where ice and snow may even be found.
Experienced hikers always check current trail conditions before beginning a wilderness walk, in the autumn or anytime. Forest rangers or park service staffers may provide updates on weather and trail statuses, such as avalanches, fallen trees and landslides.
Don’t forget the year-round hiking essentials.
Veteran hikers always pack these basic necessities for wilderness walks: binoculars, cellular phone, compass, first-aid kit (including antibiotic cream or ointment, antihistamine, band-aids, blister medication, disinfectant wipes, first-aid tape, flashlight (and batteries), gauze pads, pain medication, tweezers), matches, pocket knife, rope, trail maps, whistle and other commonly used items.
Overnight hikers will also require camping equipment (tents, sleeping bags, cookware and more) of course.
What is the most important thing a fall hiker must take along for an autumn excursion in the wilderness?
The number-one essential for hiking, in the fall or anytime, is a trail buddy or companion. Hiking alone is downright dangerous, and a walking partner can add smiles to the miles and joy to the journey. Besides, what hiker would not want an extra pair of hands to snap a few photos in the most picturesque points of the trail?