Whether you’re going out alone, or bringing along your loved ones, ensuring your own safety is a top priority will ensure your trip is memorable for all the right reasons (instead of reasons like ending up in the hospital!).
We’ve got all the top hiking safety tips that you need to know to keep you safe no matter where you’re at – on a day hike or backpacking deep in backcountry hiking trails.
Let Someone Know Your Destination and Trail
One of the biggest mistakes hikers can make it not informing their family members or friends back home where they intend to hike and camp, and for how long. If you only intend on a two-day trip but get stranded due to a blizzard or an injury, your loved ones can raise the alarm when it’s clear you’re not back as per your pre-planned schedule.
Telling your family the exact date or intended time that you’ll be able to be contacted again could be a lifesaver, as it allows you to be found sooner rather than later, if things were to become troublesome.
If you’re trekking or camping in a protected national park or forest, you may be able to write your details down in a ranger station at each point on your journey, thus limiting the chances of you getting too far and lost without people knowing your location.
Pack Enough Water or a Water Purifier
Without a doubt, access to a plenty of water on your hike is the biggest and best safety tip. The human body is amazing enough that it can survive several weeks without food, but just a couple of days without water and dehydration will be the end of you.
Packing enough water to see you through until the end of your hike is crucial. We need to drink around two liters of water on a regular day, so adding in the steep inclines, rocky terrain and rough weather and you’re going to need a lot more.
Since this could add a lot of weight to your back, you could choose to take a water purification system as well as some bottled water.
A water purifier can successfully remove any potential viruses or nasty bacteria from water, so if you run out of your own water supply, you can still stay hydrated if you find a suitable water source. Plan your hike accordingly so you can pinpoint the various areas with water.
Being well stocked with water isn’t just for pure hydration, but in the event of an injury that breaks the skin. If you happen to be without a first aid kit and you end up with a few scrapes or gashes along the way, pouring clean water over the injury can help you avoid an infection later on down the line.
Wear Suitable and Comfortable Clothes
What you wear to go hiking is going to vary dramatically depending on the season and the landscape that you are about to explore. Sneakers, jogging bottoms and a hooded jacket may serve you well on a long walk through the park, but they won’t get you far up a mountain or through dense woodland.
A sturdy pair of hiking boots will be your best friend to avoid any slips or tumbles, as a good grip will make your hikes infinitely safer and more enjoyable. The perfect pair of hiking boots could also prevent you from getting painful blisters which will slow your trip down.
Team them with comfortable trousers and a waterproof jacket as your base. Depending on how cold it’s expected to be, layer up with a jacket, gloves and scarf to keep out the elements. Check the weather forecast and consider bringing your rain gear just in case.
Stock up on Lightweight Food
Trail mix is your best friend when it comes to hiking, as it’s healthy and provides the energy and nourishment you need to keep your pace. You may also want to pack fruit in case you hit a sugar low, and a salty snack if you end up sweating a lot or falling sick. Jerky is another great high energy food.
Aim to bring enough food for your hike that would last one day longer than your proposed end. The last thing you want is to get held up due to bad weather and be low on nourishment.
You should also be prepared for a lack of fire, whether that’s down to local restrictions, wet weather or empty gas canisters on stoves. Take food that doesn’t require cooking, or that can be at least eaten raw.
Your food should also be resealable so any pesky animals can’t sniff it out and gorge on your much-needed snacks.
Research Local Flora and Fauna
Being aware of the area in which you will be hiking is key to avoiding any potential dangers. Wherever you decide to embark on a hike, do your research beforehand to be in the know about the wildlife and landscape.
One of the biggest threats when on a hike in the mountains in the US is bears. Knowing what to do in the instance of happening upon a bear (or other wild animals) is crucial, especially if you are on a solo hike. It’s advised that hikers carry bear spray, use food lockers when camping and stick to official maintained trails.
Be Prepared for a Cold Night
Maybe you are planning a still and serene night camping in at peaceful wilderness campsite, or perhaps your hike goes into unexpected overtime. Either way, you should always be prepared for a long, cold night and the darkness that comes with it (headlamp, anyone?).
A thick sleeping bag and a blanket could be the thing that saves you from sleeping out in the cold and getting sick. They won’t add too much weight to your backpack and they will give you peace of mind on your trek.
Even if you take to the mountains on a hot summer’s day, you should still pack a jacket and other warm clothing in case you need to set up camp.
Bring a First Aid Kit
A first aid kit could be the thing that saves your hike from becoming a fatal excursion. They’re usually light enough that they won’t add much weight to your backpack, so there’s no excuse not to bring one.
Before you take to the trails, check that it is full and not missing anything crucial. Along with the regular staples such as bandages and antiseptic wipes or cream, you shouldn’t forget to include special first aid tweezers which could come in extremely handy in the case of sharp shrubbery or ticks.
But the key item in your personalized first aid kit is any medication that you or whoever you’re hiking with may need. This could include medication that is taken daily for a chronic disease, but also any drugs for illnesses that come and go without warning.
Get Your Kids Prepared
Sharing your favorite outdoor hobby with your kids can leave your family with fond memories for years to come. Making them aware of the dangers as well as the joys of camping can help to avoid any potential disasters.
Keeping your children close by and making sure they don’t wander off out of sight is vital. Teach them this lesson early on and lay down the promise of delicious smores at your base camp if they stick to the rule of staying by your side.
It could also be beneficial to give your children emergency whistles. This can help you or others track them down if they happen to go missing. Pop one round their necks and pack your children their own small backpacks filled with light, but important objects such as a blanket, water, a jacket and trail mix.
Keep Safe in the Sun
Summer is the most popular time for most people to hit the hills and hike to summits. This is obviously down to the likelihood of the most beautiful weather of the year and the opportunity to hike without too many layers pulling them down.
But summer can also be the most dangerous time to take to the great outdoors, as you are a lot more likely to come down with heat stroke, heat exhaustion or suffer from sunburn. This is especially true if you’re hiking through wide open spaces like fields and deserts where you are more exposed, compared to shady forests and shadowed valleys.
To avoid falling victim to the sun’s powerful rays, pack a high factor sunscreen and apply it at the beginning of your hike, and frequently throughout. Wear a hat and cover the back of your neck and shoulders to avoid unpleasant burns later on, and stay fully hydrated to keep heat stroke at bay.
Pack a Compass, GPS and Atlas
Younger people taking to the peaks may feel that they can rely on their phone if they end up in jeopardy. But when you’re out in the great outdoors, phone signal may be limited, if available at all. And with nowhere to charge your phone, you don’t want to put all your faith in something that may run out of steam before you make it home.
Kick it old school and pack a trusty compass, GPS and a map. You can usually get handy map of national parks or forests from ranger stations, tourist companies or downloadable online. Keep a paper copy on your person and make sure you know which direction you need to be heading in.