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Here's to You: Take a hike

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Hiking is an outdoor activity for all ages, whether you're an experienced backpacker or someone who loves day trips. The gear can be simple or elaborate.

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"The trend is going lighter," said Mark Morrissey, assistant director at the Outdoor Program Center at Bemidji State University. "It's easier to go long distances, and it makes people happier."

The OPC offers full camping equipment and has several styles of backpacks for rent.

Every year, the OPC leads day hiking trips to the Lost 40 east of Blackduck and to a trail from the Paul Bunyan Forest into Itasca State Park that is part of the North Country Scenic Trail system.

"This is relatively a new trail system that is taken care of by a Minnesota group," said Morrissey. "It's an amazing trail in our back yard."

According to Morrissey, if you carry a heavy load, you need the traditional heavy hiking boot. If you prefer day trips, light-weight hikers or running shoes are just fine.

Morrissey, whose favorite place to hike is Bear Ears Trail along the Wind River in Wyoming, says a must-have tool is the Leatherman Micra multi-tool. He also prefers a compass and a good map instead of a heavier GPS unit.

Morrissey recommends hiking from alpine hut to hut, a very popular activity in the Canadian Rockies. It means you travel lighter, with no cooking gear. A wider age group will find it more enjoyable and you have a dry place to stay at the end of the day.

Hard-core hikers

When you talk traditional hikers, Craig and Barb Benson of Bemidji fit the profile. In 2005, they took a year off to backpack in New Zealand, Haleakala Crater in Maui, Paria Canyon and Olympic and Glacial National Parks in Washington. They also climbed three peaks in Colorado, John Muir Trail in Yosemite National Park around Mount Whitney, the four famous peaks in the Lake District in England and several other locations, all spread out throughout the year. Some trips were with friends and some with their children.

Craig Benson uses Backpacker Magazine as his major resource in finding new and challenging trail systems, as well as guide books.

"Every trip, no matter where I go, I bring my hat and gloves," he said. "With changing elevations, you have to be prepared."

Benson said he prefers to wear regular hiking boots for the ankle support. GPS is not in his vocabulary because batteries mean extra weight. A good compass and map is all that is needed.

"I love backpacking," he said. "You get away from the day hikers and get into areas that are not overrun with people. It's hard work, but a perfect crowd-control sport. You will never run out of places to go, and once you have the gear, it's relatively cheap. A great sport for the price."

To date, he said his best-ever place to hike was Rainbow Bridge at Lake Mead, Ariz. "It was wild and wooly with up-and-down slot canyons and flowers everywhere."

What's next for the Bensons is a 110-mile north-to-south hike in Corsica, a Mediterranean island, hiking from hut to hut with a lot of elevation gains.

But you don't need to travel halfway around the globe for a good hiking workout. There are plenty of great routes in Bemidji's back yard and throughout northern Minnesota.

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