These general mountain safety tips will help hikers travel safely and be able to enjoy the sights more efficiently. This article covers what to bring and do beforehand.
Plan Your Trips Beforehand
Spontaneity is a quality to be admired, but not when going to a mountain. For many reasons, you should plan your trips ahead of time.
Check the Weather, Plan the Route
The first thing you should do when planning a hike is to check the weather forecast for the area in which you’ll be going. If the weather doesn’t seem right or safe, pick another day, even if you really want to go. Mountains are not a place to take lightly.
If the weather is free of rain or storms, but it will be a bit cold, you’re good to go. Just remember to dress accordingly.
Do some quick research on the available trails and routes and pick the best spot for your abilities. If you’re trail-breaking, make sure you know enough about the area before going. It’s always a good idea to do some reconnaissance visits before your actual trip to get a feel for the land before making or attempting a new trail.
Notify Someone of Where You Are Going
Always pick up two maps for the area you’ll be going to. Keep one for yourself for the trip and another for your notifications.
Pinpoint the area on the map of your planned route. Next to it, leave a piece of paper with details on where you are going, trail entry point or general information about your hike, which can include:
- What you are wearing, the color of your top and bottom shell layers
- The car you are driving to get there and the license plate if necessary. If something goes wrong, it will help police verify the location of your car.
- The time you are leaving and the time you expect to be back
Leave the map and the note on your counter or with a friend. Always call and let someone know beforehand that you will be leaving and where you are going; inform them of where you left the map and details if you can’t directly give it to them. While notifications can be given via social media and text, a written notice should always be included. This is something all mountain authorities recommend.
On 26 April 2003, Aron Ralston realized that not doing this was his biggest mistake. While canyoneering in the Bluejohn Canyon in Utah, he was trapped between a boulder and a canyon wall. He remained there for five days before he had to cut off his own arm in order to escape. That day, Ralston had not notified anyone of where he was going, so there wasn’t anyone with knowledge of where he was or looking for him. His experience was later adapted to the film 127 hours starring James Franco.
Save Important Rescue Numbers
Most areas have administrative services that either maintain or serve as rescuers for the area. In the U.S., most state parks have park ranger offices that are always ready to help. Abroad, especially in the U.K., many safety rescue teams service mountain ranges.
Get familiar with mountain safety offices and save the numbers for each trail you do on your phone. If something happens, you will have rescue on the way.
Invest in Good Gear and Clothing
We can’t stress this enough. Good, quality gear and clothing can save your life one day, if nothing else, it will keep you comfortable.
On rugged terrain, quality boots are a must. These will keep your feet warm in cold weather, comfortable on rocks and safe on ice. You’re going to want to have a set of breathable hiking shoes and a set of waterproof hiking boots. Each will work for different environments. Wear your breathable shoes and boots on hot days. Reserve your waterproof boots for cold days and days when your trail will take you along rivers and streams.
While we are on the subject of footwear, you should also bring an extra pair of socks. Socks can get worn down in boots and get holes. There’s also a chance you’ll run into water without waterproof boots and find yourself with wet feet. Sure, your boots may be wet too, so what’s the point? You’d be surprised how many times a puddle will only wet your sock if it enters through the top of your shoe.
Depending on the weather, your baselayers should be different for every season. In the winter, fleece-lined baselayers are a plus. But it should be remembered that if the weather is below freezing, a moisture-wicking layer can be useful. Sweating during weather that is below freezing can put you at potential risk for hypothermia if you will be out for a very long time.
But if it’s just a short day-trip, thermal or fleece-lined baselayers are fine if it’s cold.
Your shell layers should be waterproof or at least water-resistant if you know it may rain or you will be near wet areas. Get a set, so you have a shell jacket and a pair of shell pants. You can wear them independently or together at your discretion.
A quality pair of gaiters is also a good idea for rocky, dusty and snowy terrain. These will keep snow, dirt and rocks out of your boots so you can hike comfortably.
Things to Always Bring With You
If you are hiking in the mountains, you should never leave without basic necessities. You never know when you’ll get stuck somewhere or get hurt. Also, consider bringing a portable campfire if you’re traveling to an area where making a fire would be troublesome.
Food is important. Even if you’re planning on a short hike, bring some kind of nutrition. Trail mix, food ration bars, freeze-dried meals, an MRE, any food works. You need to have something to eat if you get hungry to build energy.
It may not seem important going up the mountain, but when it’s time to come back down, you’ll wish you would have had it. Try Firepot by Outdoormeals if you’re in the UK. We did a review on this food and it was some of the best we’ve tried. In the states, Mountain House and OMeals are great.
Rope, Carabiners and a Compass
Bring some rope and carabiners. These can help you carry things and can also help in an emergency situation. Have some sort of compass to help you if you get lost and find yourself heading in the wrong direction.
Plenty of Water
Hiking is an exertion activity for which water is necessary. Always bring enough water for drinking in a hydration pack that fits in your hiking pack. Additionally, bring an extra bottle of water with you in case you run out. If you’re planning on eating on the trail, bring extra water measured for cooking your meals.
A First Aid Kit
We’ve placed this last, but it’s one of the first things to grab. Never go anywhere outdoorsy without a first aid kit. We recommend a first aid kit made specifically with hikers in mind. The tools inside can keep you from getting infections if you get hurt and you can customize it to your needs. Your first aid kit should have:
- Antiseptic wipes
- An elastic bandage
- Collapsable scissors
- Burn ointment
- OTC Pain medication
- Water purification tablets
You can customize it by adding a bug bite stick and allergy medications, either for the elements or food allergies in something you’ve eaten on the trail that you didn’t know contained the ingredient.
If you liked this article, Check out our article on essential hiking gear to pack.
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