Hiking Tips and Stories From Expert Hiker Jeff Alt

By June Kellum
June Kellum
June Kellum
June Kellum is a married mother of two and longtime Epoch Times journalist covering family, relationships, and health topics.
October 3, 2015 Updated: April 28, 2016

Cooler temperatures and fall colors make October a beautiful month for hiking on the East Coast. But before you hit the trails, get excited and prepped with these stories and tips from expert hiker and award winning author Jeff Alt.

Epoch Times: What keeps you hitting the trails?

Jeff Alt: Hiking is full of adventure. You never know what sort of wildlife is lurking around the next bend in the trail. Hiking allows me to focus on the simple and profound outdoors. Nature is way more complex and sophisticated than anything we humans have ever created.

Epoch Times: Speaking of wildlife, should we be concerned?

Mr. Alt: Many people think dangerous wildlife is the biggest concern. Grizzly bears and mountain lions in the Western United States and black bear, [which are on the East Coast] are animals to be mindful of and take certain precautions, but attacks are rare.

Hypothermia and dehydration are the two biggest safety concerns. You are more likely to run out of water or have issues with hypothermia from being cold and wet.

Epoch Times:  What’s the most dangerous hiking situation have you encountered?

Mr. Alt: Most of my hiking experiences have been safe and pleasant. But I was charged by a mama bear in Maine on the Appalachian Trail. She had two cubs behind her, and it happened so fast, I didn’t have time to do much. Bears run 30 miles an hour.

First, I heard some twigs snap and looked up and saw this big bear running right toward me. Thankfully it was a bluff charge. She stopped 10 feet from me and then, after a few seconds, she darted off in another direction, and the cubs followed. I had nowhere to go up on this ridge, and I was very lucky.

If you find yourself closer than 50 yards from a black bear, you should back away, but never turn and never run (that will provoke a black bear to instinctively chase you as game). You should try and look as big as possible, holding your pack above your head. You should talk so the bear knows you’re human (they don’t see very well).

If the bear continues to come at you, you should throw things at it and fight back. Never give in and never play dead with a black bear. Bear spray works well and is an option (check with local laws regarding bear spray).

Grizzly bears [in the Western United States] are a whole different animal. Never fight back against a grizzly; instead play dead or use your bear spray.

I experienced another dangerous instance in North Carolina on the Appalachian Trail. I got caught high up in the Stecoah Mountains in a severe snowstorm and sub-freezing temperatures. My drinking water was frozen solid. The snow was coming down so hard, I couldn’t see in front of me. The wind was blowing me, making it hard to walk.

I stopped midday and set up my tent to get out of the weather. I melted snow in a pan on my stove. I poured the hot water into a drinking bottle and put that in the foot of my sleeping bag to help keep me warm and alive. I melted more snow and used that water to cook dinner.

I zipped into my tent and waited until the storm moved on the next day. I had to keep beating the heavy snow off the tent so it wouldn’t collapse. It was 15 below zero with a wind-chill [making it colder]. Nearly 4 feet of snow fell that night.

The next morning, my boots were frozen in a bent stepping position, and it took several miles of walking to melt the leather. I lived!

Epoch Times: What fuels your passion for hiking?

Mr. Alt: Hiking brings about my most positive thoughts and conversations. This is not surprising, since doctors explain that exercise increases the endorphins in the brain and relieves stress, resulting in a euphoric state of mind.

Hiking with friends can be really fun. This is a great time to get to know someone without all the distractions of a text, phone call, TV, workload, and the like.

Hiking helps lighten the pack of life. It’s easy to get bogged down in our daily lives by taking on extra responsibilities, spending more time on work projects than with family and friends, and running in all directions without a focus.

Hiking helps me regroup and separate my priorities from the responsibilities that I’ve shouldered. It’s amazing how much more refreshed and successful I am after I realign my focus and goals.

Hiking inspires my creativity. The natural, simple, and profound outdoors is the perfect place to let your mind be free. Recreation experts and business consultants will tell you that when you remove yourself from the hustle and bustle of your routine, the pressures of your normal environment fall off your shoulders. I’ve learned that I can “think outside the box” when I am actually physically outside the box.

Epoch Times: How effective is it for fitness?

Mr. Alt: Not only does walking and hiking strengthen your muscles and joints, I also lose a noticeable amount of weight when I hike, even though I eat enormous amounts of food. Nutritionists will tell you that if you walk all day in rugged terrain while carrying a pack on your back, you could potentially burn 4,000–6,000 calories, the equivalent of running two marathons a day.

Furthermore, because regular exercise increases your immune responses, I also have more energy, and I don’t catch colds or fall ill easily when I’m hiking routinely.  

Much research has emerged in the last decade about the physical and mental health benefits of walking. Walking is increasingly recommended by doctors for cardiovascular health, weight loss, stress relief, and as a supplement for depression treatment.

Take all these good traits of walking, add in the rejuvenating outdoor views and the escape from the hustle and bustle, and it really becomes clear to me why hiking is one of the healthiest sports in which you can participate.

Epoch Times: What avoidable mistakes do newbie hikers commonly make?

Mr. Alt: Newbie hikers tend to carry too much gear. You want to bring all the right equipment, but not overburden yourself so that you feel more like a Sherpa instead of enjoying the adventure. Hike with an experienced hiker or group of hikers and have them help you sort out what to bring and what to leave behind. Attend a clinic at your local outfitter to learn the basics.

And newbies carry too much water. Two to three quarts of water is the max anyone should carry. Disinfect wild water from springs, creeks, and rivers by using hi-tech, portable water-treatment systems such as a UV wand or micro-straining filter. 

A hydration hose system for your pack will encourage more water intake instead of having to stop and retrieve a bottle from your pack. Bring extra batteries for the UV wand.

Epoch Times: Tips for footwear?

If you’re prone to rolling your ankle, you might want to consider a lightweight, three-quarter, over-the-ankle boot. [Otherwise], many hikers are wearing trail shoes.

Visit a respectable outfitter and get fitted properly. Today’s hiking footwear should not require break-in time. Gone are the days of stiff, thick, heavy leather.

Boots should fit comfortably when you walk out of the store. You want a sturdy vibram [rubber] sole and a waterproof, breathable liner. Bring a pair of non-cotton, moisture-wicking, synthetic or wool socks when you try the boots on.


Epoch Times: Clothing?

Dress for the weather! Wear synthetic, wool, and fleece clothes and dress in layers. Newbie hikers tend to wear cotton, which retains moisture and can lead to hypothermia.

Wear multipurpose clothes like pants that zip off into shorts or shirts with roll-up sleeves. Pack a waterproof breathable rain parka.

Bring a fleece hat and gloves, long underwear, and the like if the weather is cool. Think two outfits (one for day time and one for night time).


Epoch Times: Other must-haves?

Mr. Alt: Bug repellent containing Deet or Picaridin. A first aid kit along with some first aid knowledge. Include plenty of blister-treatment items. Bring a compass and map and brush up on how to use them.

Learn how to make a shelter to keep warm and dry. Keep matches and a lighter in a dry place and know how to make a fire to keep warm. Carry a whistle. Pack a survival knife with a locking blade. Bring a head-lamp flashlight, extra batteries, 50 feet of rope or twine, and always have several feet of duct tape for that unexpected repair. Also bring toilet tissue, hand sanitizer, and personal hygiene items.

If you’re planning to hike overnight, you will need a hiking stove, sleeping bag, sleeping pad, and a tent.


Epoch Times: Have you ever tried essential-oil bug repellant?

I’ve tried all sorts of bug repellents, and nothing is better than DEET or Picaradin-based products. They both last all day and are effective against mosquitos and tics. I prefer Picaradin (name brand Nutrapel) because it doesn’t ruin clothing and plastics, and it doesn’t have a heavy chemical odor. It is a chemical though and should be treated as such.


Epoch Times: What’s your favorite trail meal?

Mr. Alt: Macaroni and cheese remains my favorite comfort food on the trail for an overnight trip. My favorite high-calorie lunch: a bagel with peanut butter and honey. Bagels will not crumble in your pack like bread or crackers. Tortilla wraps also work well.


Epoch Times:  What should we do if we get lost and the GPS doesn’t work?

Carry a map and compass and learn how to use them.

Familiarize yourself at each trail intersection to avoid going in the wrong direction. If you went the wrong way and you know which way you came from, backtrack. If not, stay put! Don’t wander deeper into the woods if you’re lost.

Signals of three is the universal distress signal. Carry a whistle. Three whistle bursts will carry farther than your voice. Place three objects in an open clearing (bright colored clothes, three fires if it is safe to do so, three piles of rocks—be creative). Pilots and search flights are trained to look for this signal.

Make a shelter to stay warm and dry.

Always leave a note with a reliable person even if you’re just going out for a day hike. State where you’re going, what trail, and when you plan to return. Include emergency park phone numbers if available. This step could save your life and initiate a search.

Epoch Times: Favorite day hikes in the NYC area?

Mr. Alt: Take a hike through Central Park or an urban hike on the High Line.

When I hiked the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine, I hiked over Bear Mountain in Harriman State Park, which has over 200 miles of trail and is just 30 miles from NYC.

Hiking Resources

The New York–New Jersey Trail Conference has a list of Appalachian Trail hikes.

Alltrails.com is a popular website to locate trails with reviews, ratings, and distances.

Here’s a website with trail recommendations near NYC, and another one with day hikes you can get to with public transit.

Jeff Alt is the author of “A Walk for Sunshine: A 2,160-mile Expedition for Charity on the Appalachian Trail,” which among other awards, took first place in the 2009 National Best Books Awards sponsored by USA Book News. He also just released a youth book, “The Adventures of Bubba Jones: Time Traveling Through the Great Smoky Mountains.”


Gear Checklist

    •         Tent
    •         Sleeping bag
    •         Sleeping pad
    •         Backpack
    •         Stove
    •         Rope, 50 feet
    •         First-aid kit
    •         Water containers
    •         Pack cover
    •         Duct tape
    •         Compass
    •         Maps
    •         Whistle
    •         Matches and lighter
    •         Swiss Army knife
    •         Hiking poles*
    •         Cooking pot
    •         Spoon
    •         Mug
    •         Boots
    •         Sandals
    •         Food
    •         Personal hygiene products
    •         Toilet paper
    •         Clothing
    •         Rain and winter gear
    •         Water filter
    •         Head lamp or flashlight
    •         Sunscreen
    •         Bug repellent
    •         Plastic spade
    •         Camera*
    •         Paper and pen*
    •         Book*
    •         Repair kits
    •         Batteries

* Optional items



June Kellum
June Kellum is a married mother of two and longtime Epoch Times journalist covering family, relationships, and health topics.