5 Tips for Safe Hiking

You don't have to be a wilderness expert to go into the woods, but it is important to have a good understanding of The Great Outdoors so you can be prepared for rough terrain, inclement weather, or any other challenge that comes your way. Here, five tips to follow:

1. Plan Ahead: Do your homework before you get to the trailhead. The National Parks Service (NPS) offers the following suggstions:

  • Don't hike alone.
  • Know what your destination will be and how to get there.
  • Know where water is available.
  • Get the weather forecast.
  • Don't overestimate your capabilities.
  • Stay on the trail, and never take shortcuts.

2. The Right Stuff:  Dress for success and fill a backpack with essentials.

  • Appropriate clothing and shoes. Dress in layers, and wear a hat in case the weather changes. Protect yourself from scrapes and bug bites with long pants and sleeves. Athletic shoes are fine for short hikes but consider hiking boots for longer ones.
  • Use a Hiking Stick. It provides support and balance on uneven trails.
  • Food and Water. Pack plenty, even if you're only planning a short hike.
  • First Aid Kit. Prepare for scrapes, sprains, bruises, and bug bites. Take sunscreen, a small flashlight, and bug repellant.

3. Take It Easy. Exhaustion can lead to disorientation and danger.  Know your limits:

  • Plan on hiking a reasonable distance for your fitness level and health capabilities. Check a trail map before you start hiking. Choose either a loop or "out and back" distance you know you can cover.
  • Walk at an easy pace that allows you to talk while walking. According to the NPS, if you're huffing and puffing, you're not getting enough oxygen.
  • Take at least one ten-minute break for every hour of hiking, and plan rest and meal stops along the route.

4. Lighten Up. Carry only what you need.  Packing too much weighs you down and can lead to injury:

  • The most important items are food and water, first aid and safety equipment, including a map, compass, signal mirror or whistle, and water purification tablets.
  • Pack out everything you pack in including all trash (even if it's biodegradable).

5. Show Some Respect - Nothing spoils the beauty of nature more than bad behavior from humans:

  • Avoid loud conversations and music.
  • Stay on the trail and don't take shortcuts.
  • Don't take souvenirs. Every rock, flower, leaf and animal belongs right where it is.
  • Pick up litter, even when it's not yours.
  • Never confront or deliberately frighten an animal. Respect fishing and gaming restrictions.