Spending time outdoors can improve your mental health, keep you active, and bring you closer to the people you go with. While there are trails of all lengths and for any skill level, there is always some level of risk that comes from venturing out into nature.
It’s impossible to completely remove all risks of danger in a hike, but it’s surprisingly simple how easy it is to better your odds. Following these ten tips can help you both avoid and be better prepared for any emergency that comes up on your adventure.
10 Tips to Keep You Safe on Your Hike
Know Your Limits
One of the most dangerous things you can do in the outdoors is overestimating your own abilities. Getting exhausted or pushing yourself too hard makes it all too easy to have an accident.
Consider your own experience with hikes. How much experience do you have? Are you used to walking up and down steep trails or are you better off on flat surfaces? How much can you comfortably carry on your back? Are you used to the environmental factors you’ll encounter like elevation, temperature, and humidity?
Don’t bite off more than you can chew. Being realistic in what you can handle lets you choose trails that are the safest for you. Also, don’t be afraid to take plenty of breaks to rehydrate, refuel, and rest.
Plan Before You Go
After you’ve examined what you can handle, you can pick a trail and make a plan. Look for trails that are a good match for you or your group. Pick trails that can be completed safely and whenever necessary, consult a park ranger for recommendations.
Try to map out the hike as much as possible, including time estimates for the start and completion of the hike. Be sure to have it written down and leave your plan with someone who isn’t going on the hike.
Stick to Your Itinerary
Speaking of leaving your plan with someone, try to stick to the plan as much as possible. Stopping for a while to admire a view is perfectly fine, but your hiking plan is what will let others know if something has gone wrong.
In the backcountry, there isn’t solid cell service or communication methods. For remote hikes, the only way someone might know something has gone wrong is if you don’t show up on time.
Pack The Essentials
There are certain items that you should always keep in your hiking backpack. You can use the checklist below to make sure you’re bringing what you need.
- Navigation (Map, compass, GPS)
- Sun Protection (Sunscreen, Glasses, hat)
- Insulation (Jacket, Hat, Gloves, Thermal Clothing, Rain Gear)
- Illumination (Lantern, Flashlight, Headlamp)
- First Aid Kit and Supplies
- Fire (Matches, Lighter, Fire Starters)
- Repair Kit and Tools (Duct Tape, Knife, Screwdriver, Scissors)
- Nutrition (Food, Preferably Non-Perishable)
- Water (Water and Water Purification Supplies)
- Emergency Shelter (Tent, Tarp, Space Blanket, Bivy)
Think of them as a checklist for the absolute minimum you should bring and don’t be afraid to pack extra supplies.
Bring Extra Supplies
It’s always better to be over-prepared than under-prepared. As long as you aren’t adding too much weight to your pack to comfortably hike, more supplies are always a good thing.
Always take more food and water than you think you’ll need. In the event that you get stuck, it can be a lifesaver. Light options like water purification tablets and dehydrated foods help keep your pack light.
You should also customize and better the first aid kit you take. Fil it with things specific to you, such as medications, an EpiPen, or braces for old joint injuries.
Even if you’re only going on a short hike, bring as many supplies as you can comfortably carry.
Don’t Go Alone
Hiking is a great activity to do with friends. You can bond while out in nature, talk through issues in life, and the companionship makes the overall experience better. It’s also much safer to hike in a group.
If something were to go wrong and you’re hiking alone, you’re just stuck. Having a friend or hiking partner makes it possible for someone to go get help during an emergency or assist you when necessary.
Stay On The Trail
One of the easiest things you can do to stay safe on a hike is to stay on designated trails. Even though trails can be long, they pretty much always lead to an exit. If you do have an emergency, the trail is the first place people will look for you. Going off the trail makes it much harder to find someone who needs help.
It’s also important to remember that trails are what keep people from getting lost. Even with a great sense of direction and navigational tools, it’s easy to get disoriented and lost in the backcountry. In fact, the most common reason for people getting lost in the woods is because they went off marked trails.
Be Prepared for an Emergency
The best way to handle an emergency is to be prepared for it to happen. In addition to bringing extra supplies, it’s not hard to learn a few skills to keep you safe.
Do a little research and practice basic first aid. Learning CPR, how to bandage wounds or stop bleeding, and having a plan for reacting to inclement weather can all make a major difference in the event of an emergency.
Take the Weather Into Account
Part of the planning stage for any hike should include a look at the weather. Taking a detailed look makes it easier to choose the right clothing and supplies to take with you.
In colder weather, it’s important to dress in layers and have cold-weather gear for camping. In hot weather, be sure to bring extra drinking water and take more breaks.
Sudden rainstorms can lead to flash floods, mudslides, or unsafe wind conditions. If it looks like bad weather could be a problem for your trip, it’s important to be aware of it before leaving. Have a plan to turn back and don’t hesitate to do so. It might be necessary to just reschedule the trip for a time with better weather as well.
Going out into nature means coming into contact with wildlife. For some, watching wildlife is the motivation for the hike. There’s nothing wrong with seeing animals in nature, but it’s important to remember that they’re wild animals and not pets.
Before going out, be aware of what animals are in the area. If there are animals that can pose significant threats to people like bears or mountain lions, have a plan for if and when that happens.
You can minimize risk by storing food properly and knowing how to act when animals are around. If there are any sick or aggressive animals on the trail, report that to park rangers or wildlife services.