In the past few years, hiking has exploded onto the scene with it becoming more and more popular. Some hiking trails run across the world’s most beautiful hotspots and it can be such a unique experience whether it’s a small local trail or the biggest the world has to offer. Though, as most will know, hiking can be very physical and comes with a great demand on the body. Hikers from all walks of life need to be extremely cautious because danger is there at every turn.
Yet, many hikers, especially those with little or no experience don’t take safety to heart. Seasoned hikers have already learned the hard way when it comes to staying safe whilst hiking and newcomers will need to do the same. So, here are a few things you may want to know about when it comes to staying safe while hiking in the great outdoors.
Decide On a Hiking Trail Suitable For Your Hiking Ability
Everyone has their own hiking level or ability and you need to be extremely aware of this before you set off hiking. If you are just starting out, you ideally don’t want to choose a hard arduous hiking trail because you’ll likely struggle and miss your deadlines which can be off-putting. You need to choose a location that is safe for your hiking abilities and if it means sticking with the ‘baby’ hikes so be it. It will be much safer for you and you’re really supposed to stick to the hikes or trails your ability is suited for.
Hike with a Companion or With a Group
Thousands of hikers each year go off hiking alone and while many are suited to this style, many are not. Now, seasoned hikers will know the dangers of hiking alone and that is their decision but newcomers don’t always understand the risks. For safety’s sake, you should look at hiking with others especially when you haven’t had much previous experience. Consider traveling with a group of fellow hikers so that you always have others around you should you run into difficulty. Also, if someone in your hiking group falls ill, you are on hand to help too.
Even if you don’t travel with a large group of hikers, you should still consider traveling with one or two companions. The reason why is because if you go off to a remote area and get hurt and find yourself unable to call for help, or move, you need someone to go back and get help. This is crucial when you’re heading to an area you haven’t hiked in before or aren’t familiar with.
Know Where the Ranger Stations Are Located
Once you have chosen an area where you want to hike, you not only need to get to know the land but get to know where the Ranger Stations are. In hiking areas in regular use, there are often several Ranger Stations dotted along the way and these are vital to know. You should never go on a hike when you do not know where Ranger Stations are. If there are bad storms, you can make your way to one of these outposts for help or to seek shelter in extreme cases.
These stations are usually manned most days, if not twenty-four-seven, so if you ever find yourself in trouble, head to them. They are going to be one of the best places to seek help should something go wrong on a hike.
Let Others Know Of Your Plans
It doesn’t matter if you are heading out alone or with a group of people, someone at home should know exactly where you are going. A family member or friend should know your travel plans starting from when you are leaving your home and on which date you are going to start your hike too. You should write an itinerary and give a copy of it to someone at home; as well as grid co-ordinates you plan to cover also.
This is important because should you fail to call in on a certain date or don’t make it back when you should, your friend can call the authorities and find you hopefully. You of course probably don’t plan to get hurt or run into difficulties but it can happen and you must be prepared for all eventualities. Leaving note with a family member can ensure you are never left out in the cold with no help.
Don’t Cross Into Closed Land
You are going to cover a huge amount of land when it comes to hiking and there will be times when you run into closed sections. Hiking trails can run all year round but sometimes, sections of a trail can be closed off due to some dangers with dangerous crossing points, peaks and all sorts and you must stay clear of them. Whenever you find a piece of land with signs up warning everyone to stay clear or stay out, you need to do so.
Do not cross into land which has been closed to the public whether it appears to be safe or otherwise.
Be Wary Of Your Footing and Remain Physically Fit
When you are nearing edge tops and cliffs, you must be very careful of each step taken. Rocks underneath your feet may appear to be safe but they aren’t always so you must take extreme care. Have a trusted foothold before you step otherwise you may fall or slip; it may be best to stick to developed trails with solid footing underneath. However, you need to be physically fit for any hike.
Now, physically fit doesn’t mean you must be extremely thin but rather able to handle the hiking conditions. You must be able to carry all necessary equipment and gear as well as be able to complete the hike without needing help. No one needs to be thin to be able to hike but rather be able to complete the hike; there is a very big difference between physically fit and thin. You just need to be fit and able to hike.
Check All Equipment and Wear Sensible Clothing
Every single time you go out on a hiking trail, you’re going to need a certain amount of equipment. Sometimes, you won’t need a lot of equipment but it depends on where you choose to hike and the weather conditions too. You need to construct a check-list of all needed items for the journey and double check you have everything before setting out to ensure nothing has been left behind.
Pack warm clothing for nighttime, even if its summer; at night it can get extremely cool and the higher altitude you reach, the colder it’ll become. Don’t forget to pack a second pair of hiking boots should you require a fall-back pair. You should always have plenty of water and food in your backpack for the journey there and back.
Be Weather Conscious
The weather can turn very easily at the best of times and you do not want to be caught in a violent storm. You absolutely must be aware of what the weather conditions are going to be like in the area you will be going to. You also need to be aware of signs the weather is starting to change; usually there will be subtle signs that give you some inclination of trouble ahead. Take shelter whenever bad weather hits because it can be a risk to hike in bad weather.
Always Set Up Camp before Dark
You cannot hike when it’s dark outside simply because it’s extremely dangerous to do so. More accidents occur during the nighttime than the daytime; there is little or no light after dark and even if you have flashlights, it’s just not safe. You need to ensure you stop when the sun sets and only travel during the daytime when there is plenty of light. Set up your camp site at least a good two or three hours before sunset hits and darkness falls and this should give you ample time to set up your tents.
Seasoned hikers absolutely know and understand what steps they must take to ensure their safety and those around them also. They will easily tell you it’s never a simple practice to set off hiking because there are lots of dangers around. However, staying safe is crucial and if you don’t take the proper steps, you may not make it back home in one piece.
What are the most common hazards with hiking and outdoor activities?
Regardless of what inexperienced hikers think, poor decision-making is the main threat when hiking or engaging in outdoor activities. Sure, we cannot undermine the risk of natural hazards, but poor decisions lead to the most unfortunate events. Having said that, let’s look at the most common dangers that come with hiking and any other outdoor activity.
Sometimes, no matter how cautious you are, you still end up in the middle of an avalanche. It goes without saying that forecasts and other tools can help you stay informed on hiking conditions. The bad part about avalanches is that it’s primarily humans causing them. Here’s some scary data about it” 85% of avalanche victims cause their slide.
How to avoid it
The most efficient way to avoid an avalanche is to stay away from snow-covered mountains. The more time you spend in avalanche terrain, the higher the risk of getting yourself in trouble. Always have an escape plan if you find yourself in an avalanche; you won’t have time to think of solutions once it begins.
If you end up in the path of a sudden oncoming avalanche, make sure to move to the side and uphill so that you stay away from the pile-up. Never try to outrun an avalanche and get to the side as quickly as possible. Always get as far as possible from the center of the avalanche. Forget about your equipment (especially if it’s a heavily loaded backpack) and move away as fast as possible. Grab onto a tree if you spot one in time. Let’s assume that your physical condition is good and that you’re able to scramble up into a branch quickly.
Remember to close your mouth so that the snow doesn’t suffocate you when you end up buried. Relax your breathing and relax to preserve your energy and oxygen. Straining yourself to get to the surface will only sink you deeper. Instead, use your hand or a shovel to make a small pocket to gain some oxygen until help comes. You will no longer be able to move after the snow closes around you.
We have all heard the news about tourists falling into the abyss while taking pictures. Backcountry hikers have to be extra careful not to drop or slip while descending talus or friable rock. Use your common sense, always watch where you put your feet and get adequate footwear. You don’t want slippery boots on muddy and slippery trails.
Unless your life depends on it, you shouldn’t struggle to get through a blizzard. Sometimes, the best way is to simply sit out and wait for the blizzard to go away. Make sure that you have extra socks, gloves, and enough food when hiking in the winter. If you’re experienced and like camping in the winter, you will need enough preserved food if a heavy snowfall hits you.
Don’t forget to stay hydrated even in the winter. When you’re adequately hydrated, the risk of getting frostbites and hypothermia will significantly reduce. On the off chance you get caught up in a blizzard entirely on your own, look for a shelter to sit out bad weather.
The risk of floods is primarily significant in the early spring when temperatures increase and snow melts. Many times, floods will occur relatively slowly, throughout several days. However, they can happen suddenly, in which case they can be fatal.
Get to higher ground and stay away from the flood’s path. Keep in mind that this water isn’t safe to drink because it has mud, clay, and other materials. Look for a pole or a sturdy pick if you need to cross floodwaters. If you get caught in rushing water, you should hold onto a grounded structure (a tree). It can be terrifying when caught in the middle of a disaster because it’s something we cannot control in any way. The only thing you can control is to wait and stay alive.
With a flash flood, the water level increases all of a sudden. Once you hear the increasing roar of water, you won’t have much time to get to safe ground. Do it as fast as possible because it’s your only chance to stay alive. The best way to survive a flash flood is not to get caught in one.
A flash flood has a striking force and the only way to save yourself is to stand on high ground. Flash floods come all of a sudden and they will destroy everything that comes in their way, from foolish hikers to homes, farms, and livestock.
Streams and unbridged rivers can be deceiving as they can put your life at risk. Never underestimate the power of water and keep in mind that hikers are drowned every year from trying to cross deceiving placid streams. You will consume a lot of your energy and time with crossings. Plus, it’s dangerous. Never try crossing unless you’re 100% sure it’s safe. It will take you some time to learn when a crossing is safe or not. We advise you to get a distant view over the river and discover crossing options.
If you conclude that it’s safe to ford, examine in detail the crossing point before you plunge in. Don’t try crossing if the water flows quickly and boils up much above your knees. The risk for water to knock you down is high – you don’t want to take any chances! If you have to wade across, we suggest you look for the broadest area of the river. Even if the narrows seem the shortest way, they’re often the deepest and the most dangerous. Make sure your gear and clothing remain dry while wading. Put your boots in the pack if you don’t need them. If you need to wear the shoes, put the insoles and socks in the pack. Remove any loose clothing because it will drag from the water.
It’s common for seasoned hikers to cross slow water safely. It’s not a full-proof method, even if some river crossing is just as easy as swimming. We care to remind you that mountain water is very cold and you’ll get to the other side quite shivery. Always stay safe when engaging in an outdoor activity. Pay attention to the environment and don’t take any river crossing lightly.
Spine and head injuries can be lethal, and falling rock and ice are the most common cause when hiking. When you hike through an avalanche and rockfall territory, make sure you travel early in the morning and move as quickly as possible. Don’t go to these areas in heavy rain and stay updated with the forecast.
Winter storms, flash floods, and earthquakes are common causes of rockfall, which is why it’s a relatively rare event. Avoid wild rumbling creek debris flows, and stay out of the fall line. When you hike cross-country or switchbacks, try to stay out of the fall line of mules and hikers that can dislodge a rock from above.
Weather, or better said, not checking out the forecast, represents the main hazard for hiking and outdoor activities. Snow, window, freezing temperatures, thunderstorms, heat waves, and thaws make outdoor activities incredibly risky. When you plan your hike, you need to know what weather to expect. Always get an accurate weather report for the area you intend to go to. If you go to a new location, do due diligence and collect all the data to know what to expect. Go online check out the radio, newspaper, etc., to have a clear idea about the weather.
Always take with a grain of salt weather forecast. Even the most detailed and recent forecast can be wrong. If you’ve been hiking in the mountains before, you know that they’re unpredictable and basically have their weather. However, it’s not the same with over low-level and below-timberline paths.
If you see yourself as an avid hiker, you probably already know that wearing good hiking boots will reduce the risk of sprains. Your hiking boots should withstand rugged trails, sharp rocks, slippery areas, etc. Hiking boots that provide stability, proper padding, and efficient ankle support will increase your chances of staying safe while hiking.
It’s both good and bad that there’s wildlife near your trail. The good part is that you have the chance to discover many creatures in their environment. You will definitely make lifelong memories. The bad part is that sometimes the memories won’t be lovely. Always be aware that dangerous animals could be nearby. Stay away from dangerous wild animals such as large omnivores, predators, and herbivores. Insect bites can threaten your life if you’re allergic to them. Make sure you get your emergency medicine and apply plenty of protection against insect bites.
Don’t get close to wolves, mountain lions, bears, moose, wild boars, scorpions, venomous snakes, hornets, and wasps. If you want to try hiking in bear country, you need to collect all about its specifics. Don’t go hiking around dusk, dawn, or night, so you don’t run into a bear. Carry a bear spray and take a friend with you. Always stay on the trail and let the predators know your presence by making noise. If you walk through thick bushes and dense vegetation, you increase the risk of animal attacks.
Watch your step so that you don’t step on a snake. Get proper boots (snake-proof boots) and put on long pants. Unless they feel threatened, most snakes will flee and leave you alone.
Even if not intentionally, it’s humans who start wildfires the most. A gust of a strong wind, dry grasses, and a heat source (a half-smoked cigarette) can generate severe hires. Sadly, heat from the sun and a bolt of lightning can cause wildfire.
In windy, hot conditions, fires will move faster than we think, so make sure you have an escape route for such a situation. Avoid all problems by hiking in areas far from known fire locations. Should you find yourself near a wildfire, make sure you know the nearest water source.
The best way to protect yourself from a wildfire is to get in the water. You won’t be able to outrun a wildfire and you will consume all the energy you need to escape. Get to the back if you’re on a hillside or a mountain. Look for a shelter under a large rock or a cliff. Use something to cover your face so that smoke doesn’t choke you.
Altitude sickness, heat, UV radiation, and cold-related conditions are problems that high altitude can generate. Do due diligence about it and make sure you’re prepared when you hike high altitudes.
Before you go away
When hiking, one hazard, you should always be aware of is a poor decision. Many of the injuries and unpleasant events that take place when hiking happen because someone made a poor decision at some point. From not drinking enough water to not wearing the proper boots for the rocky trails, there are so many poor decisions that one can make. Distraction, ignorance, and casualness are reasons that lead to poor choices. Let’s not forget the lack of experience, information, or training.
Keep in mind that most hiking accidents occur because of several issues and errors—once one occurs, the whole chain of issues begins!