Spring is in the air, and many people’s minds are turning to the great outdoors. A popular choice is going for a hike in a nearby state or national park. Hiking can be fun, and it’s a great way to enjoy nature, but it can also be dangerous if you don’t know and follow the rules for safe hiking.
Here’s 11 different things you should know when going outdoors.
1) Plan ahead
Whether you’re going on a day hike that lasts a few hours or a weekend camping trip, you need to consider what the conditions are like and what gear you should take. Similarly, you should give some thought to what you need to wear. Will sneakers be okay or should you wear boots? Should you take a windbreaker? Most parks have websites that include information about the terrain and conditions. Use them to look for information about poisonous plants like poison ivy, hunting areas, what to do if you encounter a wild animal, hiking alerts, etc. Make certain that your gear includes a First Aid kit and a whistle to call for help. Add a headlamp if there’s even a chance you’ll be hiking at night.
2) Tell someone where you are
Before leaving, tell at least two people where you will be going and when you expect to be back. Promise to call, text or e-mail them as soon as you get home. That way, if something goes wrong and they don’t hear from you, they will know that they should get help to look for you.
3) Check the weather beforehand
Hiking in the rain can be uncomfortable at the best of times. If the weather gets really bad, it can become dangerous, for it reduces visibility and increases the risk of hypothermia. Knowing the weather beforehand will also help you choose items like sunscreen, a rain poncho, or warmer clothing. Call the local Department of Parks and Recreation or visit their website for current information about the weather and trail conditions.
4) Dress appropriately
Wear sturdy, close-toed shoes or boots that will support and protect your feet. Since the weather can change during a hike, dress in layers, so you can take off and put on clothing as needed. Bring foul weather gear in case it rains.
5) Bring a map and compass
While GPS is useful, you may not be able to get a signal in the wilderness. If you get lost, you’ll need a low-tech way of finding your way back.
6) Know your limits
Be honest with yourself about you probably can and can’t do. When planning a hike, consider matters like your age, fitness level, and hiking experience. If you’ve never hiked before or haven’t hiked in ten years, you should probably not make your first hike a three-day trip to the Grand Canyon. Work up to that with a bunch of shorter and easier hikes.
7) Start early
Hiking at night can be dangerous, especially for a novice. Start your hike in the morning so you can be safely home or at camp by sunset. An early start will also give you more time to enjoy the hike, your companions, and your surroundings. Rushing through lunch or an afternoon swim pretty much spoils the fun.
8) Stay on the trail
Staying on the trail will reduce the likelihood of getting lost or encountering a potentially dangerous animal. It will also make it easier for rescue workers to find and reach you if you get hurt. Staying on the trail will also reduce the amount of damage done to local plants – and some plants in the area may be rare or delicate or both. In addition, some parks, such as Yellowstone, contain natural hazards like geysers and thermal springs. The trails at such parks are planned to provide visitors with the safest routes. According to the Exotic Hikes website, there are only two legitimate reasons to leave the trail: to go to the bathroom or avoid an animal that’s a bit too close.
9) Stick with your group
It is very easy, particularly for a big group, to split into smaller groups of fast and slow hikers. Unfortunately, this increases the chances of somebody losing the group altogether and possibly getting hurt. Such risks increase if the group includes children, older people, or novices. Keep everybody safe and stick together. Set a pace that will enable the slower hikers to keep up.
10) Have plenty of food and water on hand
Hiking is intense exercise, especially if it also involves climbing a hill or mountain. You will get thirsty and hungry. So, bring along food and plenty of water. The best food for a hike will be energy-rich food like trail mix, granola bars, fruit, peanut butter, and beef jerky. Alcohol and soft drinks will actually dehydrate you, so leave those home. Getting drunk while hiking is a bad idea, anyway. Water and sports drinks are much better choices.
11) Give wild animals their space
Wild animals can be beautiful, photogenic, and even cuddly-looking. They are still wild animals and need to be respected as such. The Yellowstone Park website recommends staying at least 100 yards away from wolves and bears and at least 25 yards away from other large mammals like bison, elk, moose, and deer. Trying to get a cool picture to post on Facebook is not worth getting injured or killed. People get gored by bison every year at Yellowstone. In 2010, a man was fatally gored by a mountain goat in Olympic National Park. The best way to enjoy and appreciate wild animals is from a distance.
12) Pay attention to where you put your hands and feet
You don’t want to twist your ankle by stepping in a hole. Nor do you want to get bitten because you put your hand too near a ledge where a rattlesnake was resting.
13) Know First Aid
In addition to knowing how to the bandages and other items in the First Aid Kit, you should also be able to spot signs of trouble. Cold and wet conditions increase the risk of hypothermia, while hot weather increases the risk of heat exhaustion and heat stroke. All of these conditions have recognizable symptoms. You should know them and know how to treat them.
14) Know how to start a fire
Even if you don’t plan on spending the night outside, Murphy’s Law does happen. If you’re stranded somewhere, you’ll want to be able to set up a campfire. It will keep wild animals away, keep you warm, and make it easier for rescue workers to find you. Waterproof matches can make it very easy to start a fire, so plan on packing some.
15) Don’t overdo it
Take a break when you get tired. Trying to push through the fatigue only increases the chances of hurting yourself, and it certainly makes the hike a lot less fun.