Basic Hiking Safety

Basic Hiking Safety
Hiking offers enjoyable outdoor exercise that is often a meditative, relaxing experience. However, hikers should take caution while out on a trail as dangers are abundant, including lack of preparation, animal encounters and unforeseen natural disasters. Following basic hiking safety guidelines will help prepare hikers for possible trail hazards and outdoor emergencies.

Hiking Preparation

Hiking preparation and execution requires several basic safety standards. Always hike with another person, sign in (and out) at each registry stand, and communicate with friends and family the trail route and hiking plan before heading off on your hike. Once on the trail, do not deviate from the planned route. Carry a cell phone, area maps, compass, flashlight and headlamp with extra batteries, first aid kit, matches, knife, emergency strobe light, food and plenty of water in additional to traditional hiking gear. If hiking during hunting season, ensure that your party wears bright orange (or a florescent color). Some hikers and their dogs wear a bell as well. Always follow all food safety guidelines required for safe hiking and camping. Additionally, invest in a pair of high-quality hiking boots that provide adequate foot and ankle support and ensure that hiking ability appropriately matches the chosen hiking challenge. Know how to build a fire (should it be needed) and follow all local fire regulations. Respect the trail for the duration of the hike. Always bring out what you packed in.

Animals, Vegetation and Terrain

Learn about the natural wildlife and vegetation in the predetermined hiking area. Each park, state and region has an abundance of wildlife. Understand that some plants may be poisonous, flowing streams may not provide safe drinking water and dangerous animal encounters are a possibility. Research about bears, snakes (such as rattlesnakes), insects (like yellow jackets) and vegetation in the area (think poison ivy). Additionally, many hiking trails have dangerous trail terrain--perhaps an icy cliff or swollen river--that may need crossing. A little education before the hike will help reduce risk while on the trail. Be watchful of trail edge bluffs and loose boulders. Learn how to treat a snakebite, back away from a bear, avoid trail hazards and treat drinking water. Consider carrying a local field guide for animal and plant identification.

Weather Conditions

Hiking in specific weather conditions requires a high-level of caution and preparation. Learn about the weather, seasonal risks and temperature conditions before a hike and pack accordingly, such as bringing warm synthetic layers, a rain poncho or wide-brimmed sun hat. Learn about conditions, such as hypothermia, heat stroke and dehydration and follow precautionary measures. Understand that weather can fluctuate while out on the trail. Be prepared to turn around should the skies darken or rain pour. Knowledge of the trail and regional experience will benefit in determining appropriate weather conditions. For example, hiking in Tucson would require heat and sun protection in addition to flash flood awareness. Execution of appropriate weather safety standards will help keep everyone safe for the duration of the hike.

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