No matter the time of year, when you head out on a hike you should take precautions to explore safely. From basic first aid to simple wilderness smarts, anyone can have fun taking a hike. Here are some tips on how to spend time outdoors safely.
Plan your adventure in advance
With just a little bit of planning, you can be sure to have a great time hiking. There's any number of great guide books available for local hikes all over the country or online sites and apps that offer trail information. But trails can also become blocked or closed due to weather conditions or disrepair, or simply change over time. You should research your hiking plans using any information you have at hand.
- Know your trail's major landmarks, such as lakes, waterfalls, rock formations, or even just elevation gains and losses, so you can keep track of when you're "on track" and when you might have wandered off.
- Consult a reliable weather service, local hiking groups, or even nearby ranger stations or chambers of commerce to get information on trail conditions before heading out. In early summer and late spring, you might encounter snow on higher elevation trails or aggressive wildlife as hibernating animals wake up. Sometimes trails close or are diverted to allow for repairs or to create new spurs.
- Know your planned route and don't rely on cell service to guide you back home. Paper maps, printouts or even a saved PDF on your phone can be used as a guide.
Bring essentials for safety and emergencies
Even when it's not too hot out, you'll need basics like drinking water to keep you going. You may not want to lug anything in your hands, so pack a small backpack or lumbar/fanny pack with a few essentials.
- Water is a no-brainer on a hike, especially since you shouldn't drink from streams and creeks you encounter along the way (no matter how clear they look). If it's going to be hot while you hike, or if you're planning a particularly strenuous adventure, you should plan to drink a liter of water per hour to avoid dehydration and plan for half as much in moderate conditions.
- If you're going on a particularly long hike, you'll want to bring a small snack to recharge yourself. Make sure to pack out all of your trash, including items like fruit peels or cores.
- A small first aid kit isn't a bad idea, especially if you have an injury while you're still miles away from the trail head. You can purchase a pre-made wilderness first aid kit from many suppliers or make one yourself. If you really want to get serious about offering medical help in the woods, you can even take a course or two.
- If the area you're going is a bit more primitive when it comes to trails, you should consider packing essentials like a compass to guide yourself back to your vehicle.
Stay healthy along your hike
You should always be ready to safely and courteously explore trails. This might mean planning for any bathroom or personal hygiene needs, or even keeping your hands and face clean.
- Practice proper wilderness "bathroom" etiquette on a trail. This means burying waste appropriately and packing out trash.
- Besides keeping your hands clean with soap and water, you can use hand sanitizer in a pinch, especially before eating and after any bathroom visits.
- When encountering other hikers, try to maintain social distancing and always offer those going uphill the right of way. Also, basic trail manners put those on horseback ahead of hikers who are then ahead of bikers. Always announce yourself to those you wish to pass so you don't startle a hiker.
Respect nature on and off the trail
Even young children know to adhere by the "pack it in, pack it out" rule of Leave No Trace. This means you shouldn't take "shortcuts" off trail, even if they're tempting. Trails are created with erosion and other environmental factors in mind. If you create side trails to cut across a steep hill, for example, you could lead to increased water damage from storms or even harm delicate plant life along the way.
- Don't collect souvenirs on the trail. Photos and memories are all you should take home with you.
- Don't break off branches for hiking sticks. Bring hiking or trekking poles with you if you need to, but don't harm a living tree just to have a stick in your hand. It goes without saying you shouldn't carve your initials in any trees or rocks, either.
- Keep pets on leash. Dogs love a good romp in the wilderness, but even the best behaved animals might startle someone on horseback, a small child or even a bear on a trail.
- Know what to do if you encounter aggressive wildlife. Bears are nothing to mess with, but neither are moose, elk or even bison. Learn how to identify animal tracks and what to do if you come across a dangerous animal.
- Be aware of small animals that could present problems when you hike, from the annoying, like mosquitos and ticks, to the deadly if you're allergic to bee stings or encounter a poisonous snake.
- Sunscreen, layers, hats and protective clothing can also go a long way to preventing burns, stings, scratches and even hypothermia.
Finally, make sure to protect your belongings on the trail, and back at the trail head, too. Make sure you don't leave valuables in your vehicle that might prove tempting for thieves. Leave what you won't need at home, take your wallet and cell phone with you on your hike (even if you don't plan to use them). Finally, don't forget to lock your vehicle before you head out on the trail. If you do come back to a break-in, check to see what might have been taken. Most car insurance policies cover items stolen from your car, but if you want to check your coverage, you can talk to a PayneWest agent.