Hiking is a fun activity that’s also great for your health and can be done in various locations and seasons. However, if you want to get the most out of your hiking experience, it’s essential to follow proper safety protocol.
Hiking can bring you fresh air, a connection to nature, great exercise, peace and quiet, incredible views, and so much more. But it can also be dangerous. It’s essential to understand the real risks involved and how to reduce your risks. No matter how experienced you are or how familiar you are with a particular hiking spot, things can and do go wrong.
You need to know what to do if this happens. First, there are many ways to minimize your risk of emergency so let’s look at some important hiking safety tips.
Don’t Go Alone
It’s recommended you bring at least one friend, especially if you are hiking in an unfamiliar place. If you must go alone, be sure someone knows exactly where you are and communicate with them via text or phone when you are starting, along the way (if you have reception) and when you finish safely.
It would be best if you avoided dangerous or challenging hikes alone. If something happens, no one will even know where you are or how to get you help. In most parks and hiking trails, they have check-ins at a guard station or park ranger station. It would help if you always were sure to check-in, in so they know you are there, which trails you will be on, and when you are expected to return. If you don’t check back in, they will send help for you.
Consult a Park Ranger
You should always consult a park ranger on that same topic when hiking in a state or national park. They will have the most knowledge on the park, the hiking trails, the dangers, the current weather and climate, and other vital details to help you remain safe on the trails.
You can give them a call before your hike, drop by the park office on your way in, or visit the official National Park Service site. They also have maps of the trails and the park property in the office, which can be very helpful to bring along. No matter how great you believe you are at navigating, it’s easy to get turned around, lost, or confused in an emergency. Having a paper map in your bag or pocket can help.
Prepare for the Weather
You have to do more than check the weather forecast before your hike, although that is an excellent place to start. You should also talk to the park ranger or look on the park website to see what type of weather events might be likely to happen at this time of year. Could there be flash floods, thunderstorms, snow, or extreme heat events? You should know and be fully prepared for whatever may happen, even if the current weather looks nice.
Create an Emergency Plan
And piggybacking off the weather preparations, we come to our next safety tip: create an emergency plan. Your emergency plan should include everyone in your hiking party, and there should be a plan for what to do if you get separated in an emergency.
You need to know if you will have reliable cell service and a fully charged phone and backup battery packs. If not, you need to have another emergency communication device such as a satellite messenger, personal locator beacon, etc.
If an emergency occurs, does the park have its own emergency phone number, or are you supposed to call 911? Do you know how to identify where you are (mile markers, locations, milestones, and landmarks)?
People don’t like to think about what may go wrong, but preparation is essential when hiking. It can save your life.
Pack the Essentials
While it may sound like a lot, there are ten essential items that experts agree are important for hikers to bring along. You can carry a backpack, and you can also use compact versions of these items, but here are the recommendations:
- First Aid kit – you can customize your first aid kit to your needs and the location you are going to. Rather than buying a generic kit, build your own with supplies to help common hiking injuries like a sprained ankle or cuts and scrapes, and bug bites.
- Navigation tools like a map, compass, and GPS – don’t rely on just your cell phone alone because you can lose signal, or you can break phones in an accident or emergency
- Firestarters – a lighter, book of matches (waterproof matches are even better)
- Insulation like a jacket or raincoat, or extra layers – even if you feel like you don’t need them at the start, if you were to get lost or face an emergency and get stuck after dark, they could be a lifesaver
- Nutrition – even if you’re planning on a small, short hike, you need to bring no-cook nutritious food like health bars in case of emergency
- Hydration – water, water purification system (like water purification tabs), electrolyte drinks, etc.
- Emergency shelter – if possible, and especially if you plan to be deep in the forests or out for a long hike, you need to bring emergency shelter. This could be a tarp, space blanket, collapsible tent, etc.
This list is just the basic guidelines. You can and should adjust as necessary based on your hiking location and personal needs, but this list can get you started. Also, common-sense rules should always apply, and you should listen to your gut when you’re out on a hiking site. If something doesn’t feel right, or you get an urge to turn back, you should always listen to that instinct.
With these important hiking safety tips, you can ensure you have a fun, safe trip every time you hike.