Whether you are a beginner hiker or an established hiker who has gotten comfortable on the trail we all need to keep in mind a few things to help keep us safe on the trail and to enjoy our trips into nature as best we can. Here are a few tips we have learned that we think all hikers should be mindful of.
1. Make sure you tell someone where you are going. Whether you are going on a short trip to the park, a day hike, or backpacking. Let someone know where you will be, how long you expect to be there, and a time to check-in. Even if it's spontaneous, texting is easy and quick. Shoot them the info and go. If something bad happens, this will increase your chances of being found substantially.
2. Start small and choose the right trail for your fitness level. Recognize your abilities and the abilities of your group. Pick a trail that everyone can successfully complete and enjoy safely. Choosing a trail that is a little bit less than you would normally do in the beginning so you can find your comfort level and increase from there.
3. Familiarize yourself with the trail before going out. Know how long the trail is. Know where possible water points are. What the terrain is like. Get a map of the trail. Having an idea of what the trail is like before you go will help you prepare better. Also, make sure to check that the trail is open and whether it may require a permit.
4. Cut your toenails. From personal experience, if your toenails are a little too long the way your toes sit and move while you are hiking can cause them to cut into your other toes which can be painful. Also on those downhills, they can press into the front of your shoe's toe box and cause your toes to feel bruised. It can result in a painful experience if your toenails aren't short.
5. Prepare for lack of cell coverage. Do not rely on your cell phone because there may not be cellular coverage and reception in your park. Consider having a personal locator beacon, should you need to call for help. If you are using your cell phone, keep the battery fully charged. You can purchase a solar-powered or battery-operated charger on Amazon at a reasonable price. Searching for a cell signal can quickly drain your phone battery, so consider turning off your phone or switching to airplane mode until you need it.
6. Respect the trail. This means a couple of things:
- Do not litter. Pack out everything you packed in. That means taking a bag to put your trash in. This includes biodegradable items like fruit peels.
- Do not leave the trail. Leaving the trail disturbs the ecosystem and disturbs the trail's sustainability. Also, you could easily get turned around and lost.
- Do not disturb nature. Removing naturally occurring items can disturb the natural habitat and ecosystem. Take nothing but pictures and memories.
- Be considerate of other hikers. Do not be too loud. Most people go out into nature to hear nature and its peacefulness. That can be hard to enjoy when people are talking loudly or playing music. We like to think of nature as a library. Also being considerate means letting faster-paced hikers go around and not stopping in the middle of the trail. Think of it as a road- pull over when you need to stop.
- Take time to read the Leave No Trace Seven Principals and follow them. It’s up to every outdoor enthusiast to take care of our natural spaces.
7. Be aware of local wildlife. Leave animals alone. Do not feed animals. Store your food properly so animals can't get into it. Carry your food in resealable bags and use a bear-resistant container if needed. Additionally, if there are bears in the area take bear spray. Be aware of ticks and other insects. Repellents, netting, long pants, and long-sleeved clothing are the best ways to protect yourself from insect bites. Check your clothing and your body for ticks during and after your hike.
8. Check the weather before going out. Know how to take action during a storm. Keep a check on the sky as you are hiking. Look for changing weather patterns throughout your hike. If you are caught in a storm turn back if you can. Do not panic. Many accidents happen this way when you panic and get injured doing something careless. Do not run. You risk injury by slipping or falling. Head to lower ground. When it comes to avoiding lightning, move away from tall solitary trees, water, and shallow caves or overhangs. Also, separate yourself from metal objects like trekking poles and so on. The best place to be is within a group of trees that are around the same height in a low-lying area.
9. Be mindful of your surroundings and where you are. When hiking it can be easy to watch your feet to make sure you're not going to trip and although that's good make sure to look around and be aware of what is around you. Use all your senses. Listen, look, smell. Be alert. Not only is it safe to be mindful, but it also helps you to enjoy the hike too. Be mindful of nature, take it all in, and experience peace and beauty.
10. Preparation is key. Be prepared when you go out on your hike. You need to take things like extra layers, a water purification system, and a headlamp. We've written a separate article that goes over 14 essentials you need to take on your hike.
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Hopefully, these tips help you to enjoy nature in a safe way as you get out and hike this season. Happy hiking!