These general hiking safety tips will help hikers travel safely and be able to enjoy the sights more efficiently. This article covers how to plan your trip and what to bring.
Plan Your Trips Ahead of Time
While spontaneous hiking can be one of the most invigorating feelings in the world, there are some things you should never leave to chance. You should always plan your trips ahead of time, even if you’re only checking and making notifications an hour in advance.
Always Check the Weather
Before you do anything else, check the weather forecast for the area you’ll be hiking in. Also, check what the weather traditions are in that area. Some places are more volatile than others and can have rapid weather changes or changes in weather that weren’t previously forecasted. For example, mountainous places are more prone to unexpected weather changes.
If the weather doesn’t seem right or safe, pick another day, even if you really want to go.
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 and pack essential gear for the weather.
Plan Your Route
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.
Research the Wildlife in the Area
If you’re going hiking, there’s going to be wildlife. What differs are the types of creatures in each area. Do some research on the kinds of animals you may encounter and what their behaviors are during specific seasons. Here are some scenarios to keep in mind:
- If you look up your trail spot online and find that bears frequently roam there, then you know you need to take some bear spray with you.
- Are you going to an area that has a lot of raccoon activity? Think about getting your rabies shot updated.
- Are there venomous snakes there? If the answer is yes, then you know what to look out for while hiking and you know to be more vigilant. It would not hurt to have information on the nearest hospital or ranger station.
- Will there be moose? If yes, is it the mating season? Some large animals like moose, deer and bear are more aggressive during this time. Additionally, female bears coming out of hibernation are also more aggressive because they have cubs to protect.
Don’t attempt to touch wildlife or feed wildlife, as this could result in serious injury or death.
Notify Someone of Where You Are Going
If you know where you’re going, which you should, pick up or print two maps for the area you’ll be hiking in. 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. This information should 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
- The current date
- Access to any online accessible GPS trackers you may be using
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, written notice should always be included. This is something all mountain authorities recommend.
On 26 April 2003, Aron Ralston realized that not notifying anyone of his trip plans was his biggest mistake. While canyoneering in the Bluejohn Canyon in Utah, he became 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 hadn’t notified anyone of where he was going, so no one knew where he was or was looking for him. His experience was later adapted to the film 127 hours starring James Franco.
Optionally, you could also bring a prewritten note with you. If you happen to get stuck somewhere or need help, leave the note somewhere on the trail where passersby can find it. Why would you do this, some might ask?
In 2009, Linda and Tom Bosworth, a married couple in their mid-sixties, went on an adventure in the desert. Their jeep overturned, and they were left 20 miles away from civilization with no car.
Long story short, they managed to leave a note on the jeep with their names, their advanced ages, what had happened and where they were going. After about four days, they were close to death; but were rescued. Some hikers had passed by the jeep, found the note and called for help.
The ordeal was documented in the series I shouldn’t Be Alive in season five episode six, Till Death do Us Part.
Save Important Rescue Numbers
Most areas have administrative services that either maintain it 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 hike on your phone. If something happens, you can reach help.
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 the ice. Get 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, wet days and days when your trail will take you along rivers and streams.
While we are on the subject of footwear, 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. If you’re stuck outside, you’ll at least have something dry on your feet while your boots dry.
Depending on the weather, get different baselayers for different seasons. 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 below-freezing weather can put you at potential risk for hypothermia.
But if it’s just a short day-trip, thermal or fleece-lined baselayers are fine if it’s cold.
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. Also, consider bringing a portable campfire if you’re traveling to an area where making a fire would be troublesome.
Even if you’re only 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.
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. They are useful for setting up shelter, carrying things and other types of emergency situations.
Plenty of Water
Hiking is an exertion activity for which water is necessary, the weather can also determine if you need more water than usual, for example, hot days. Bring enough water for drinking in a hydration pack that fits in your hiking pack. Also, 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.
If the fresh air and scenery aren’t enough for you, think about getting some gear for entertainment like a metal detector or a small portable speaker. Keep in mind though, that if you are going to play some music, keep it low. You don’t want to scare the wildlife.
A First Aid Kit
We’ve placed this last, but it’s one of the first things to grab. You need a first aid kit if you’re going to hike. We recommend a first aid kit made specifically with hikers in mind. 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.
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