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Getting Ready to Hit the Trail

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Come out to Rouge Park for a great day on the trail!
Rouge Park will awaken your senses to the sights and sounds of nature. In winter, the Little Rouge Creek gurgles under glossy ice cover, breaking through here and there as the sun warms the valley. In spring, evergreen boughs on the Cedar Trail are full of busy birds chirping away as they get their nests ready. In summer, the Mast Trail meadow glows with wildflowers, visited by birds and insects who love this sun-kissed habitat. In fall, the Vista Trail's forest offers golden-leaved views as far as the eye can see.

Trail walking is a natural workout. Be prepared for uneven surfaces, but don't avoid them. This type of walking helps build overall balance, and works the smaller muscles in your feet, calves and ankles that help with stability. Always be conscious of your posture, to relieve lower back strain and to open up your diaphragm for better breathing.

Also be ready for some small slopes, meaning you will go up or down… but again, don't avoid them. These give you cardio bursts (intervals of increased heart rate). Just take your time and go slowly. You'll be proud of yourself when you get to the top!

You might want to get a walking stick/hiking pole, to help a bit more with your balance, and give a boost when you come to an incline.

Follow the tips below for an energizing walk or a nature stroll, and join us on the trail for a guided outing.

KEEPING THE PACE: A winter pace is much different from a summer pace. In the summer, sweating is a natural way to keep cool but you don't want to go so fast you exhaust or dehydrate yourself. But in the winter, it's that coolness that can make you really chilled. So, in the winter, keep a pace that doesn't make you break out into a sweat in the first 5 minutes of your walk. Ease into the outing, and keep a pace that keeps you warm, not hot, but not breaking a sweat.

Any time of year, make your breaks many and short. In winter, it's so that the heat you've created doesn't dissipate from stopping, wind, or sitting on a cold rock or log. In summer, it's so that you can make sure you are staying hydrated. Pack a seat-sized piece of closed cell foam (i.e. half a camping sleeping mat) for when you do sit down for a longer winter break, so you don't lose heat from your bottom. Year-round, it's a comfier alternative to the ground.

EAT, DRINK AND WALK: Plan your snacks to be easy to grab, easy to eat as you go if needed and packable. Have water close to hand so your can drink as needed too. Don't hide them deep in your backpack. Trailmix is the perennial favourite, but as long as it's not empty calories, pack whatever you want! Don't underestimate hydration, even in winter. Keep at least 1 litre of water with you and don't skimp on drinking it. Double this in summer. If you plan a longer break, then you can think of a thermos with soup and one with tea or coffee.

DRESSING FOR THE WEATHER: Combined with pacing and food, the next key is to be dry and comfortable. Layering helps you manage your body heat as your outing progresses, so you can have just the right combination at any time.

Put this 3-layer system together for a warm and dry outing:
BASE/WICKING LAYER: This is the layer against your skin, top and bottom, which will wick away your perspiration. In summer this should be all you need. But don't go overboard by being underdressed... which can lead to too much sun exposure and not enough wicking.

MID/INSULATED LAYER: The next layer is usually a polyester fleece or 'thermal' top and bottom to start retaining your body heat but still wick away sweat. If it's very cold, try 2 mid layers.

OUTER/WATERPROOF LAYER: The top layer keeps snow or rain from getting into your other layers. Look for a wind/waterproof jacket and pants, plus, look for features like armpit zips, leg zips, 'Napoleon' pockets and adjustable hoods for more versatility. Avoid 'rain gear' as it's not designed for breathability. Gaiters help keep snow from getting inside your boots.

Above all, avoid cotton, even jeans. Cotton absorbs moisture (sweat, snow, rain); chilling your skin and making you work harder to keep warm. Keep the cotton for after your outing - change into fresh shirt, socks and boots when you get the car. Trust us, it makes a big difference!

Winter: When you buy insulated boots, look for the 'active temperature rating'. This gives an idea of how warm your boots should keep your feet, based on how much you are moving. Stay even more trail-ready with boot-traction devices (like Icers, Microspikes, Yaktrax), and snowshoes. We like Micro Spikes best!

Year-Round: Boots are the best way to go, but trail shoes for completely dry summer trails can be part of your choices (but not the only one). Always try boots with the socks you plan to wear on your outing, as well as any orthotics or inserts you normally use and give them a good try out in the store. Make sure boots are well above the ankle and ideally waterproof.

When you buy boots or trail shoes, look for ones that offer ankle support, a very solid sole and don't bend that easily. This means your boots don't 'give' too easily as you move on uneven trail surfaces, that you don't feel every rock under your feet, that your feet don't get tired quickly in your boots, and that your boot soles don't soften as your feet heat up the boot.

Socks: Athletic socks with cushioning and wicking materials will help ward off blisters and chafing. Make sure the socks are higher than the top of your boot or shoe. Again, stay away from too much cotton in socks. A blend of Merino wool with synthetic fibers is a popular choice for socks.

BACKPACKS: As you progress as a walker, you will see the benefits of a good backpack. Stuffing things in your pockets weighs you down and impedes your movement. So don't feel like you're staying overnight if you have a backpack to carry things on your walk. Smart packing will make the difference - not too heavy, but well organized so you use the space well and everything has a home. Buy a pack that is a little bigger than you think you need, so you have room to add a spare layer or jacket in winter, for example.

Get a pack with some 'bells and whistles' that allows quick access to items, for example, and that has a waist belt to get the fit that much snugger to your back. Your pack should fit you from just above the hip bones to the top of your shoulder blades, and be snug against your back without straining. Some models do have sizes to fit back length. Padding is always helpful, and an internal frame is even better. Basically, you should feel as though it's part of you!

FINISHING TOUCHES: Don't forget your sunglasses, binoculars, sun and lip protection, a seasonal hat, mitts/gloves/scarf for winter, and the 'sit mat' of closed cell foam when you have a rest. And of course, bring your camera to capture the Park's amazing winter and show your friends what they missed!

WALKING IN WINTER: Rouge Park's trails are maintenance free in winter.We don't salt our trails or clear them of ice and snow. If it's particularly bad weather, come out when things have settled. Contact Rouge Park to find out a general picture of the trail conditions. (905) 713-3184 or rougehike[at]pc.gc.ca.

Wear boots meant for trail walking. They will have soles made for the demands of natural surface trails and grip better than a 'street' boot which is usually smooth soled. You might also get insulated trail boots. Running shoes? Bring them back out in the summer.

As we mention above, boot traction greatly improves boot to trail contact. The best in the biz are Microspikes, Yak Trax and Icers. Avoid imitators: if they look flimsy and are extremely low cost, it's not worth it.

Add walking/hiking poles. They have end points specifically made to grip and help you gain more 'purchase' on the ground. Plus, they can be adjusted for a more ergonomic fit. If you have a wooden walking stick, make sure it's got an end point as opposed to rubber.

Walk with friends or a group and stick to your plan. In case something does happen, you are not alone. Always, and at least, carry your cell phone, ID, water and a snack and an extra layer. Let someone know where you plan to walk; name the trail you plan to be on to narrow things down. Follow the Park's marked paths and avoid heading off trail. Get to know our trails.

Days are getting longer, but it's still best to be out with the sun. Heading out in the afternoon? Plan your walk to finish at least 30 minutes before sunset and finish with light.

1. Respects the rules of the trail, wherever they walk
2. Respects wildlife areas so everyone can enjoy spotting birds, deer, etc.
3. Takes pictures of flowers instead of taking them home
4. Shares the trail with other users
5. Stays on the marked, mapped trails
6. Helps others on the trail however they can
7. Takes their garbage with them… even someone else's (within reason!)

WHERE CAN I BUY MY GEAR?: This is not an endorsed list, but certainly good places to start:
Sport Chek, Mountain Equipment Co-op, Mark's Work Warehouse, Atmosphere, Sporting Life, Sport Mart, Le Baron, Bass Pro Shops

Use these tips to get ready for trail walking and hiking and you'll be on the way to a great outing!
CLICK HERE for more about hiking in Rouge Park and to download our Visitor Guide.

Have a question? Drop us a line at rougehike[at]pc.gc.ca or call 905 713 3184. We can get back to you between Monday and Thursday.

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