Hiking provides exercise and interest for people of any age. Just
getting out and walking around is a wonderful way to see nature.
Since unexpected things happen, however, the best way to help
guarantee a good time for all is to plan ahead carefully and follow
common sense safety precautions.
If you have any medical conditions, discuss your plans with your
health care provider and get approval before departing.
Review the equipment, supplies and skills that you'll need. Consider
what emergencies could arise and how you would deal with those
situations. What if you got lost, or were unexpectedly confronted by
an animal? What if someone became ill or injured? What kind of
weather might you encounter? Add to your hiking checklist the
supplies you would need to deal with these situations. Pack
emergency signaling devices, and know ahead of time the location of
the nearest telephone or ranger station in case an emergency does
occur on your trip.
Make sure you have the skills you need for your hiking adventure.
You may need to know how to use a compass (see
Kjetil Kjernsmo's illustrated guide), erect a temporary
shelter or give first aid. Practice your skills in advance.
If your trip will be strenuous, get into good physical condition
before setting out. If you plan to climb or travel to high
altitudes, make plans for proper acclimatization to the altitude.
It's safest to hike with at least one companion. If you'll be
entering a very remote area, your group should have a minimum of
four people; this way, if one is hurt, another can stay with the
victim while two go for help. If you'll be going into an area that
is unfamiliar to you, take along someone who knows the area or at
least speak with those who do before you set out.
Some areas require you to have reservations or certain permits. If
an area is closed, do not go there. Find out in advance about any
regulations. There may be rules about campfires or guidelines about
I hike alone about 75% of the time. When I was a hiking novice, it
seemed like most of my friends, family, and acquaintances expressed
worry about my new solitary hobby. There are all kinds of statistics
about trail safety; i.e. you're more safe on the trail than you are
in your car on the way to the trail, etc. But number crunching has
nothing to do with how each hiker feels out there in the wild. I try
to honor my gut feelings about people and situations. With most
people I encounter, they (and I) seem content with a simple
greeting. The tough part is that you can't anticipate or control the
behavior of someone else.
What you can control is your behavior on the trail:
Know your limits.
Don't exhaust or dehydrate yourself, diminishing your judgment.
Leave a copy of your itinerary with a responsible person. Include
such details as the make, year, and license plate of your car, the
equipment you're bringing, the weather you've anticipated and when
you plan to return.
Walk carefully and cautiously on portions of the trail where the
consequences of a slip-up could be disastrous (steep drop offs,
crumbling trail edges, rocks).
Make contact with rangers you may encounter in desolate areas. If
you go missing, they will remember you.
Don't let anyone talk you out of hiking alone if you enjoy it.
For some reason best left to psychiatrists, the trailhead is
sometimes the most dangerous location of a hike. Along the
Appalachian Trail, incidents involving hikers with robbers,
murderers, and general creeps have historically been almost
completely confined to those areas of the trail that cross roads.
I'm not saying you should lose sleep about murderers, but take some
precautions at trailheads.
Lock your car. Keep anything valuable or enticing to thieves at
Don't linger at the trailhead. If you feel uncomfortable with the
atmosphere at the trailhead, consider leaving to hike elsewhere. If
you decide to stay, head out onto the trail; you can consult the map
once you get going.
Upon returning to your car, have your keys ready and be quick to
get into your car.
If you encounter suspicious or threatening people, report them to
police or park management. Park rangers are considered peace
Carry a cell phone. A marginal tip, since cell phones won't get a
signal in many places. I feel it can't hurt to carry one, although
I keep it off unless I need it.
For a safe hike, drink lots of water. Dehydration is caused when you
fail to replenish your fluids. Symptoms include dark urine, mental
confusion, headache, nausea, dizziness, and lack of coordination.
When you become dehydrated you may not realize your state, making
The best way to beat dehydration is to drink lots of fluids, like
water, or sports drinks, but not beverages containing caffeine (they
are diuretic and will cause you to loose more liquid). Since it
seems there are no longer any pure mountain streams, you must either
carry water purification equipment, or bring water or other
beverages from home with you. It's not a good idea to count on water
being available at the trailhead. You need to make sure you have
Sometimes when you are hiking you may be having such a good time
that you won't feel like stopping, pulling out the water, and
drinking. It's vital that you do. A good rule is to try for a few
deep swallows of water every 20 minutes or so. If you feel thirsty,
it's already too late; you have started to become dehydrated. A good
motivation for drinking the water you carry with you is that the
more you drink, the less you have to carry (don't think about it too
carefully and it may work for you).
You may consider a pouch hydration system. The newer products have
zip-lock tops for easy sanitizing, and are lighter than Nalgene
bottles. The only negative is the thermal property of the plastic
tubing. Since water sits in the tube, it gets warmed by the sun. If
you don't clear the tube frequently, the water can get bathtub-temp
TURNAROUND TIME (From
A carefully planned long day trip must
have an estimated time that you stop and go back to civilization.
Since you have no overnight equipment, food and water are minimal,
and you are dressed lightly, itís imperative to stick a deadline for
reaching your goal. In most cases you should be on your way back by
noon, at the latest. If you don't do this, you might be the subject
of a newspaper article chronicling the pros and cons of your