How to Stay Safe While Hiking
As enjoyable and invigorating hiking can be, it also comes with inherent risks and dangers that often get overlooked. It's important to be mindful of some basic safety tips in order to get the most out of the experience while reducing risk at the same time. Let's take a quick look at some thing to consider as you plan your hike, whether it's a short trip or a week-long adventure.
Know Before You Go
Get a trail map, do some research about the conditions and terrain in the area, learn from experiences of other hikers. The more you know about the lay of the land, along with some of the challenges that you may face, will help you to plan accordingly. You can learn whether or not a particular trail or route matches your skill level, you can get a better idea of the supplies that you will need, and you can better plan your itinerary with more accuracy. All of this will contribute to reducing risk or encountering unexpected surprises while allowing you to get the most out of the overall experience.
Don't be Too Trusting
You will come across all kinds of people on the trail, and it's important to size them up objectively. We tend to think that people who are in nature are nature-lovers. The reality is that a lot of creeps, criminals and disturbed individuals prowl the trails along with the good guys. This may sound obvious, but far too many people end up with unpleasant encounters because they turned off their “radar”when they started to hike. Don't let this keep you from interacting with others, as hiking is a great way to meet friends and like-minded individuals, but it's important to have your guard up and keep moving if you don't feel comfortable with someone you encounter.
Let People Know
Never go hiking without telling someone where you are going and when you plan on being back. All it takes is one misstep, one fall, one sprained ankle or one wrong turn to transform your hike into a struggle for survival. The best way to avoid being lost in the woods for an indefinite amount of time is to let people know where you are. That way, they can call for help if you don't check in or return within the specified period of time. People die every year on well-traveled trails because they encountered a problem but couldn't get help in time because nobody knew they were there.
Stay Within your Skill Level
Don't take on a hike that is more challenging and strenuous than you are able to handle with confidence. While there's nothing wrong with challenging yourself and expanding your horizons, it's also important that you be reasonable and prudent. The last thing that you need is to find yourself in over your head when you're alone in the middle of nowhere. Choose trails and hikes that will give you the most enjoyment and minimal risk at the same time.
Pack for the Occasion
Always bring some minimal gear and supplies with you, even if you're only planning on being on the trail for a short time. A million and one problems can come your way that can force you to be in the wilderness longer than you expected. Bring some extra socks, clothes, water, food, basic tools, flashlight and a camping hammock just in case you end up getting delayed for whatever reason.
Finally, try and avoid hiking alone. The temptation to get out there on your own, to challenge yourself and to increase your skill level may be difficult to resist. However, having someone with you can make all of the difference in the world in terms of avoiding or contending with mishaps and unexpected problems. If you don't have someone to go with you, make sure that you have the skills to fend for yourself if something does go wrong.
Nature is inherently risky, no matter how tame and beautiful it may seem from a distance, and it's important to remember that you have two ultimate goals: Enjoying the hike and getting home safe. You can minimize risk and increase the chances of staying safe by taking these and similar precautions. The key is to think about them before you head out so that you can plan accordingly.