In brief: Hiking: Not just a walk in the park

In brief

Hiking: Not just a walk in the park

Especially in the Northeast, late summer is a great time of year to go hiking. The bugs aren't as bad as they were in midsummer. The weather is cooler. Soon there'll be fall foliage.

But some of us who hit the trail end up in trouble. In 2004, University of Pennsylvania researchers published a study of search-and-rescue operations by the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department. About 40% of rescued people had been injured (most of the rest had gotten lost). As you might expect, fractures were the most common type of injury. Proper footwear and a walking stick or trekking poles (they're like ski poles, but for hikers) will help you stay on your feet, while sparing you some knee aches and pains.

Long-distance Appalachian Trail backpackers (average length of hike, 139 days!) were the subject of an American Journal of Medicine study. In this hardy group, diarrhea was the most common illness. That's a useful reminder that even the clearest mountain brook or pond may be teeming with giardia or cryptosporidium parasites. Blame abundant wildlife or careless backpackers, not industrial pollution. Those microorganisms are in the soil and get into the water via animal as well as human feces.

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