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Wilburn: Plan properly for a healthy hike
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Fall is here and cooler weather means that many people will soon be hitting the trails.

My husband Will and I have hiked the Georgia section of the Appalachian Trail and many other trails across the United States. I enjoy hiking because I love nature; there are just some things you will never see unless you are on foot outdoors. Hiking is also one of the most fun ways I know to exercise.

To really enjoy hiking you must plan ahead, especially in planning meals.

Healthy foods that are easy to carry and store are a must-have for hiking. There are a variety of healthy foods that can be taken along on your day hike. When you are on a long day hike, or an overnight hike, it is important that you take your meals along with you. You'll need nutrient-rich foods to give you the energy to keep hiking.

Hydration is also important. You will need to drink fluids, preferably water, to keep your body hydrated and energized. This is especially important when it is hot out and your body sweats more. However, drinking fluids is just as important when you are out in cooler weather even if you aren't thirsty. Your body has already become somewhat dehydrated by the time you feel thirsty. Make sure you bring enough water for preparing food if you plan on cooking on the trail and adequate water sources are not available.

For day hikes, it can be easy to pack some snacks and a couple meals. It is possible to keep perishable foods cold for a short period of time, so it is an option to bring them along when day hiking. If you are hiking overnight or for several days, perishable foods are not an option after the first day. Because you will have to carry your food, it is important that you take only what you need, and choose wisely when it comes to the weight of the foods and what is needed to prepare them.

Pay attention to what is needed to prepare dried and powdered mixes. Consider the amount of water you need to bring along and preparations that might be involved. If the foods require cooking or baking, be sure to research what type of cooking, if any, is allowed on the trail or park where you are hiking.

When planning your meals, make healthy options and proper nutrition a priority. If you are going for a short day hike, small snacks might be enough. However, if you are hiking for a few days you will need to make sure your body is getting the protein, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins and minerals it needs.

Debbie Wilburn is county extension agent in family and consumer science with the Hall County Extension. Contact: 770-535-8290.