It’s no coincidence that hiking is exploding in popularity. There are a million reasons to get outside and take a hike. Hiking has a number of health, social, and mental benefits all rolled into the wonder of your backyard.
There are a million reasons to get outside and hike, and there are also chances for unforeseen accidents to occur. Carrying a large load on your back, in pounding heat, with limited water and food supplies brings with it a set of obstacles to avoid.
Hiking is by no means a dangerous activity, however, there is preparation involved to avoid turning a casual stroll into a hazardous activity. Even the most seasoned hikers make mistakes, they can happen to anyone and everyone at any time. This hiking safety guide is designed to teach new and old hikers about the most common mistakes and how to avoid them.
Hiking safety tips
The only thing that is required to hike is two legs and a desire to explore. Whether you have finally found the courage and time to tackle the Pacific Crest Trail or you took the initiative to take your first hike. The ultimate goal is returning home safely.
Hiking safety tips before the trail
A successful hike begins at home. You can’t go hiking without leaving your house, however, preparation begins in the comforts and confines of your living room.
1. Pack the ten essentials
In the era of ultralight hiking and backpacking, minimalism rules all. The ten essentials are a list of items that are in place to save your life in case of an emergency. Packing the ten essentials is the first step to a successful day hike or multi-day trek.
2. Let people know your route
Getting lost sucks. Getting lost without anyone knowing where you are going is deadly. Just watch the movie 127 hours and you’ll understand the importance of someone knowing your location, and it might save you an arm.
3. Bring a detailed map of the area
Always carry a detailed topographic map of the area that you plan on exploring. Modern day GPS will tell you where you are and what direction you are facing, however, it will not tell you whether or not continuing in that direction is possible. A topographic map shows you how the ground is shaped and a gives you a means to calculate height and elevation.
4. Carry a compass
Carry a compass along with your smartphone. A compass never runs out of batteries and will always show you which way is North, South, East, and West. If you have never used one take a little time beforehand and learn how to use a compass.
5. Bring plenty of water
Depending on the conditions, our bodies can survive three weeks without food but only three to four days without water (source). Pack more water than you think you need and bring a method to sanitize water in case you run out.
6. Pack healthy snacks
It’s no secret that food is the fuel that provides our bodies with energy. Always bring an extra days worth of food in case there is a delay in your return. Bring super healthy foods that you normally wouldn’t snack on so you’re not tempted to break into the emergency stash.
7. Carry a firestarter
Pack more than one way to start a fire. Waterproof matches, a lighter, and a waterproof strike firestarter are a few idea to add to your pack. If you are hiking when the conditions are soggy, it’s a good idea to bring a candle, fire starter sticks, or some sort of kindling to get a fire started in wet conditions.
8. Pack a first aid kit
Bumps, bruises, and sprained ankles are a part of trail life. You can’t predict the future but you can be prepared for it. A fully stocked first aid kit will give you everything you need to treat minor injuries.
9. Set a time to turn around
When night falls and you’re in unfamiliar woods bad things may happen. Set a time to turn around and stick by it. Not completing the entirety of a hike is a bummer, wandering lost in the dark is a major bummer.
10. Pack sunscreen
Getting a tan is fine and dandy, however, getting a sunburn is a pain in the arms and legs. Pack sunscreen for the exposed parts of your body and use it liberally.
11. Bring a headlamp or flashlight
When night hits in the city it’s kind of dark, when night falls in the wilderness it’s pitch black. Carry a headlamp or flashlight and always pack extra batteries. The only thing worse than being stuck in the woods in the dark, is being stuck in the woods in the dark with a flashlight and dead batteries.
Hiking safety tips on the trail
Planning and preparation is the first step to a successful hike. The second step is being aware of the potential pitfalls that surround you and how to avoid them.
12. Start early
Not only will you beat the heat, you also give yourself more time to finish the hike. Starting early will give you more time away from the crowds and more daylight to enjoy the trail.
13. Don’t overestimate your abilities
This is something that everyone does at some point in their life. Having a realistic understanding of your abilities and knowing your limits will save you from potential disasters.
14. Stay on the trail
One of the main tenets of the Leave No Trace principles is conserving the environment. Leaving the established path not only does damage it increases your chances of getting lost. Moral of the story, stay in your lane.
15. Wear the proper shoes
You don’t necessarily need to wear hiking boots on every trail. There is a popular trend to wear trail running shoes for hikes. Take a look at the trail and landscape, then make an informed decision on which type of footwear is best.
16. Stay hydrated
Drink plenty of water before you hike and stay hydrated on the trail. Dehydration can lead to dizziness and confusion and other symptoms that are not conducive to a successful hike. Drink lots of water.
17. Dress properly
Hiking isn’t a fashion contest. Dress appropriately, prepare for the worst, and hope for the best. Jeans and/or yoga pants are not the best options for a hike.
18. Steer clear of wildlife
As cute and cuddly as they may be, wildlife is still wild. Keep your distance from any wildlife and don’t feed the animals. In other words, don’t do it for the gram.
19. Leave no trace
The Leave No Trace principles are in place to promote conservation and teach sustainable habits. The basic idea is to clean up after yourself and don’t be a dick.
20. Keep the weight down
There is no need to pack a 25-pound backpack for a day hike. The heaviest items in your bag should be food and water. Backpacks that are too heavy increase your chances for a back injury while hiking.
21. Pace yourself
Hiking is not a race to the finish line. The beauty of hiking is in the journey, not the destination, so take your time and take it all in.
22. Use trekking poles
They’re not just for old people. Trekking poles not only limit the impact on your joints they also add stability on rough terrain. If you don’t want to invest your hard earned money into a set of trekking poles, grab a couple fallen branches and use those.
23. Use the buddy system
There are exceptions to every rule and there is nothing wrong with hiking alone. Using the buddy system gives you peace of mind. In the unfortunate circumstance that something bad does happen, you have someone there to help.
24. Have fun
Remember to have fun on the trail. Mistakes are going to happen no matter how prepared you are, the way you react to the mistakes is one of the few variables you can control.