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Take It Outside: What You Need to Hike, Bike, and Run Trails
Stride or ride off-road for a hotter body and a cooler mind. Here's your so-easy guide—just add sunshine.
Hike Your Booty Off
Taking your walk on the wild side will help you burn nearly twice as many calories per hour as pavement—and give your mind a little TLC. A study in Environmental Science & Technology shows that exercising in nature can boost your mood and your energy level.
Find nearby hikes—complete with difficulty approximations, photos, and reviews from other hikers—at alltrails.com. Brush up—and buddy up—at REI stores; locations around the country lead guided day hikes and seminars. (Go to rei.com and click the "Learn" tab; choose the "Travel with REI" tab if you're looking for an epic hiking escape.)
Bummer: Unlike ski slopes, hiking trails don't have a standard difficulty rating system. So before you tackle a new route, check the elevation on a topographic map. (Download one free from the U.S. Geological Survey at usgs.gov.) "Climbing between 200 and 500 feet per mile is ideal for a beginner-to-moderate trail," says Julia Trippel, an REI Outdoor School instructor. (That's about a 4 to 9 percent incline.) "If you know you'll hit 5,000 feet above sea level, go slowly and drink lots of water to avoid getting altitude sickness." Rest and hydrate at the first sign of wooziness; chill at a lower altitude if you need to acclimate.
What exercises should I do to prepare for a hiking trip?
Let the thighs have it. Besides logging longer walks—bonus if you take your backpack—strengthening your legs is key, says outdoor pro Julia Trippel. "Exercises that target your quads help protect your knees when going uphill or downhill on uneven terrain," Trippel says. Take the stairs, hit the stairclimber at the gym, or try one of her favorite quad killers, wall sits: Standing with your back flat against a wall, feet hip-width apart a couple of feet in front of you, lower as you bend knees 90 degrees. Hold for one minute, rest, then repeat three times.
Tech Support: The Motion-X GPS navigation app ($2, motionx.com) allows you to preload maps complete with a digital compass to lead the way. Out past sunset? Download the SkyView app ($2, terminaleleven.com), point your iPhone or iPad to the sky, and the out-of-this-world app will show constellations, planets, and space stations.
Day hikes can be grab-and-go simple. Get your checklist of 10 essentials and "plan to tote two to four ounces of food for each hour you aim to be out," says Jordan Campbell, a Marmot ambassador athlete—toss in an additinoal liter of water if that's longer than four hours. To pick the right-size pack for your preferred trek, use Campbell's rule of thumb:
For a quickie jaunt of under three hours, keep it light with a 15- to 22-liter pack. (Eddie Bauer Women's Cassidy 16-Liter Backpack, $80, eddiebauer.com)
For a full afternoon hike, opt for 22 to 25 liters of space, plus front and side pockets to help even out the weight. (Osprey Sirrus 24-Liter Pack, $120, rei.com)
For an all-day hike, take a roomier 25- to 32-liter pack with a waist strap, which can distribute some of the load to your hips. (Marmot Kompressor Verve 26-Liter Pack, $109, marmot.com)
Run for the Hills
If you can find a dirt path, you can turn any run into a whole new muscle-firming, stress-busting session. A study in Psychology of Sport and Exercise shows trailblazers felt they got a better workout and enjoyed exercise more than when they treadmilled. "Your focus is on navigating the terrain and enjoying the scenery, so you can't obsess over the time or mileage," says Lesley Paterson, Xterra off-road triathlon champ and endurance coach.
How do I switch up my technique to run on trails?
Because of the uneven terrain, expect to run more slowly and take shorter, quicker strides, says Tina Vindum, the author of Tina Vindum's Outdoor Fitness. And don't make the rookie mistake of watching the ground beneath your feet: "Continually scan the path ahead, focusing about 10 to 15 feet down the trail, to plan your easiest way forward," Vindum says. On downhills, obey the same mechanics as when you run on pavement. "It's tempting to lean back as you head downhill, but too much weight on your heels will cause your feet to slide out from underneath you," she says. "Instead, keep your nose over your knees and your knees over your toes to control your center of gravity."
Tech Support: The new Eddie Bauer Adventure Guide app (free, IOS) connects you to nearby trail-running routes based on skill level, distance, and whether you're looking for a loop or out-and-back excursion. Type in your desired destination or let it find the one closest to you using your iPhone's GPS. You'll get trail descriptions and info on weather conditions, elevation, and more.
Find the perfect pair of trail-running sneaks with this at-a-glance guide from Amanda Charles, district manager at Boulder Running Company.
Toe Guard: Look for a rubber bumper to nix stubs. "It can make for a tighter fit; you may need to go up a half size."
Lugs: "Running sneakers have grooves carved in their outsoles, but raised treads, or lugs, are what give trail runners their traction."
Drop: This is the difference in height from heel to toe. "Trail shoes tend to have a smaller drop than running shoes; the closer your foot is to uneven ground, the better you're able to respond."
Rock Protection Plate: There's typically a piece of durable plastic inserted into the midsole that protects feet from getting poked when they strike sharp objects. "Ask the salesperson to confirm it's there."
Because most trails lack water fountains, don't leave home without your H20. "I recommend drinking anywhere from two to four cups per hour, depending on the temperature and your pace," says Doug Casa, PhD, professor of kinesiology at the University of Connecticut. (For a more specific number, you can use this calculator.) If you're out for a quickie, grab a liter bottle. Going longer? You'll need a bigger tank like the Camelbak Marathoner Vest, which holds up to two liters and allows you to quaff through a tube ($100, camelbak.com). Bonus: You don't have to take your eyes off the trail while you sip.
Join the Rough Riders
Sure, cyclists are known for knockout legs, but turn onto grittier terrain and you'll get killer toning for your abs, arms, and shoulders too. "Uneven landscape forces you to constantly adjust your balance for an intense total-body workout," says off-road champ Lesley Paterson. The result: You torch 583 calories per hour.
Hit the Trails
You don't need downhill skills to enjoy mountain biking. "Flat fire roads are a great place to start," Paterson says. Check out the International Mountain Bike Association's website to find local rides, clinics, and biking groups, plus printable maps. Or download the Runtastic Mountain Bike app to have it serve up maps and weather reports for trails near you. (Free, iOS and Android)
Mountain bike: Check. A few accessories and you're trail-ready.
Helmet: "Mountain bike helmets come down further in the back than road helmets for more protection," says Barry O'Connor, manager at Fat Tire Farm bike shop in Portland, Oregon. (See the Giro Rift, $55, giro.com, shown here.)
Gloves: Though a fingerless pair works to pad your palms, consider a full-finger glove for extra crash protection, O'Connor suggests. "They should fit second-skin snug." (Try the Pearl Izumi W's Select Glove, $22, pearlizumi.com)
Shoes: "Get aggressive treads for walking off your bike in rough or muddy terrain," he says. Go for light hikers like The North Face Women's Ultra Fastpack GTX. ($140, northface.com)
Tech Support: Capture any ride with the GoPro Hero3 White Edition minicam on your handlebars. ($199, gopro.com) For safety, attach the ICEdot Crash Sensor to your helmet; if it feels a big thump, its app will text your GPS coordinates to your emergency contacts unless you disable it via your cell phone. ($149, backcountry.com)
How do I brake so I don't wipe out?
Follow Paterson's tips for conquering the tricky situations below.
Hairpin turn: "Aim your handlebars in the direction of the apex of the turn, slowly apply the brakes and lean your body in the opposite direction."
Bump: You will roll over anything up to a fourth of your wheel size (about six inches). "As you approach such an object, speed up, don't brake, and pull up with your arms as you shift your weight forward."
Downhill: "Ride with your head and back low in a squat position just above the saddle as you feather your brakes, giving small pumps, rather than holding them down."
Shopping for a mountain bike? What kind you need depends on the surface you'll be on most often, says Peter Vallance, director of mountain products for Cannondale. Check out his tips to get rolling.
A mix of pavement and dirt paths: Look for a hybrid bike made for on-road cruising but also equipped with front-wheel suspension—a shock-absorbing suspension fork, that is—to handle bumps. (We like the Liv/Giant Rove 3, $430, livgiant.com)
Trails and rolling hills: True mountain bikes have disc brakes (at center of the wheels), which aren't affected by rain or mud, unlike the rim brakes on road bikes. Wheels around 27.5 inches or less supply agility and stability. (This sweet Cannondale Trail Women's 4 nails it. $920, cannondale.com)
Gnarly, bumpy terrain: If you're willing to pay extra, a model with both front- and rear-wheel suspension offers better traction and control over rocks and stumps. (The Trek Lush stays tough in the rough stuff. $1,980, trekbikes.com)