Hiking is fast becoming a popular recreational activity as it is a cheap and easy way to stay healthy. Following the Sars outbreak, instructors have seen a leap in the number of people taking up hiking. 'Because of Sars two years ago, more people are suddenly concerned about their health and have taken to trekking and hiking,' said Whelan Leung, a qualified hiking and camping instructor with more than 24 years of experience. 'More people living in the city are taking to the countryside during their days off and holidays.' According to Mr Leung, who has hiked and trekked in many parts of the world, Hong Kong should do more to offer natural hiking trails instead of constructing paved ones, as they can do more harm than good. 'Hikers can easily damage their knees and ankles as they walk on the hard paved surface. The authorities should not cover natural trails where possible,' he said. Taxpayers' money could also be saved by leaving trails in their natural condition. In May last year, Mr Leung was awarded a master's diploma by the National Outdoors Leadership School in Kentucky in the United States, and this month, he is taking another challenging course in Alaska. He said having completed the Leave No Trace outdoor skills and ethics master educator training course in the US, he now makes it a point to explain to hikers the importance of looking after the environment. For example, hikers are encouraged to take their rubbish back to the urban areas for disposal rather than dumping it in the country park bins where it is seldom collected. Monkeys, dogs and other animals knock over the bins in search of food, littering the country parks and destroying the environment. Mr Leung is a founder member of Protrek, a company which sells outdoorgear and equipment to experienced and novice hikers. The founders of Protrek are all certified gold award instructors of the Hong Kong Award for Young People. Felix Shum, a project manager at Outward Bound Hong Kong, agreed that interest in outdoor activities in the territory had increased. His organisation's activities are fully booked all year round. Mr Shum said Outward Bound offered two-day hiking courses, inclusive of one night of camping in Sai Kung with a maximum of 12 participants. The emphasis was on teamwork. 'The participants are also taught about safety and security, and about their equipment,' he said. Mr Shum also teaches participants how to be environmentally friendly while on a hike. They offer tips on three trails. ( www.protrek.com.hk/hikingroute1.htm ).