So, you want to start hiking -- that’s great! But as with all new ventures, it’s important to make sure you are aware of certain hazards and safety procedures to ensure you are able to enjoy yourself without risking your welfare. Hiking, perhaps more so than other ventures, can be dangerous or even fatal.
Here at FitMyFoot we are advocates of getting outside, exploring the world and appreciating nature. But we also want people to do so safely. That’s why we’ve rounded up some of the major hiking safety tips to consider before you start hiking. Keep reading.
Is hiking dangerous?
A study published in 2003 reviewed the circumstances and percentage of accidents that took place while hiking the Appalachian Trail, one of the most popular hiking destinations in the U.S. The most common hiking injuries reported were:
- Blisters (64 percent)
- Diarrhea (56 percent)
- Skin irritation (51 percent)
- Acute joint pain (36 percent)
- Tick bites (24 percent)
- Vector-borne disease like lyme disease (4 percent)
While many of these conditions are temporary, other studies have shown that hiking can present some long-term dangers including broken bones, arthritis, animal attack, disease, and even death. According to The National Park Service, 160 people die in a national park, considered hiking hotspots, every year.
These are just some of the many dangers that are presented during a hike, highlighting the need for effective hiking safety tips, which we will come onto.
Why is hiking dangerous?
According to Embracing the Wind, there are three main categories that influence the safety or danger of a hike:
- Wildlife encounter
Imagine you are attempting to do a 10-mile hike on uneven terrain, and there is a flash flood. This may seem unlikely, but in reality, flash floods can happen without prior warning, particularly in desert canyons and river valleys like Zion National Park. In this situation, the depth and speed of water increases rapidly, which can carry trees or boulders that may kill you on impact. Since 1950, there have been 22 flash flood fatalities in Zion, making it a substantial risk.
In Yellowstone national park, there are 728 grizzly bears. Coming into contact with a bear on your hike is extremely dangerous, but luckily, it’s not common. Approximately eight people have been killed by a grizzly bear in Yellowstone since it has been established.
Aside from bears, other wildlife encounters may include snakes, insects, cougars, or bull moose that can all be dangerous if you come into contact with them.
If you are planning a long hike in the desert, you need to prepare your body and mind for desert conditions. That means drinking plenty of water consistently, wearing sun protection and protective clothing, and having access to clean water to replenish your hydration stores. Hikers run into issues when they are not adequately prepared for the environment that they are hiking in.
The danger of hiking depends on a number of factors like: experience level, intensity of the hike, access to clean water, sustenance, nature landscape, terrain, and weather. If you do the right research, you will most likely be fine. Here are some hiking safety tips for you.
Hiking safety tips
1. Research, research, research
As you may have guessed by now, thoroughly researching your hike is the most important and effective safety tip. It is easy to underestimate the effects of different environments; altitude sickness affects 50 percent of all people who climb to elevations above 8,000 feet and can be fatal. There are treatments and adjustments you can make to prevent and manage this sickness to ensure your safety. This is just one example, the variety of different environments in the U.S. and beyond require thorough research and preparation.
2. Never go alone
Hiking solo may sound like an enjoyable way to spend some time alone, but in reality, it can be dangerous. If you injure yourself and do not have a phone signal, you may be stuck in the wild. Hiking with a friend is an effective and easy way to keep yourself safe. If you have no other option but to gon alone, choose hikes that are less secluded, bring a GPS tracker, and always remember to tell someone where you are going.
3. Prepare for extreme weather conditions
Some weather conditions require specialist equipment or protective clothing. For example, if you plan a hike on a sunny day, you might be inclined to wear shorts and a tank top. But this exposes your skin to sun damage, which can accelerate dehydration. Aim for multiple layers of sweat-absorbing and lightweight materials - these are more versatile so can adapt to any changing temperatures throughout the hike.
4. Know your limits
According to the U.S. National Park Service, the number one hiking safety tip is to know your limits. What this means is to be realistic with your experience level and capabilities. If you are a newbie hiker, don’t go on AllTrails and search for ‘hard hikes near me’.
Aim for hikers that are in line with your experience, and work your way up over time with more challenging hikes. Plus, be realistic with your physical fitness levels and experience in certain environments. If you have never hiked at a certain altitude, work your way up with shorter easier hikes to allow for your body to adapt to the altitude.
5. Be prepared
A huge part of preparation is research, but once that is done, the next part is preparing the right hiking gear, hiking clothing, food, water cleansing system, GPS, and route planning.
Check out this article we wrote recommending the best hiking gear for beginners. You should be prepared for extreme adversity, just in case, which may present as severe weather changes, limited signage, rough or slippery terrain, no cell signal or animal interactions. Preparation is key.
Hiking is one of the best ways to spend time, but it’s not entirely risk-free. Taking steps to ensure you are safe during a hike can limit your risk of injury or worse, plus, it can make for a more carefree and enjoyable experience.