Photo by Megan Jerrard
Despite their bad reputation, we actually love snakes. And we love hiking with them. Not only are they ecologically beneficial, but snakes are a really cool reptile who showcase the ingenuity of mother nature and natural selection; a truly misunderstood, and actually quite beautiful species!
Over decades spent hiking in snake country, our experience has taught us that the majority of common snakes are generally non-aggressive and won’t cause you any problems. Avoid them, treat them with respect, and it's actually pretty easy not to get bitten!
That said, you may run into trouble if you disturb a snake while hiking, and this can definitely happen without intention or realizing! So for those instances, it's essential to make sure you have proper protection from snake bites:
Beyond having a first aid kit and the knowledge of how to treat snakebite, your clothing is your first layer of protection against an encounter; long pants, boots, and gaitors.
Where You'll Find Snakes
Photo by Michael Jerrard
You can find snakes just about anywhere you decide to travel. Over 3,000 snake species exist with around 600 of those considered poisonous. Unless you're headed to New Zealand, Ireland, or to see penguins on the ice, you have the potential to come in contact with a snake. They're present on every continent except for Antarctica.
Though don't fret yet! Not all snakes are dangerous; non-venomous varieties also exist on every continent where snakes are present. Also, very few people actually ever die from bites.
Most snakes would rather to slither away than have a confrontation, and don’t aggressively bite things out of malice. Snake venom is used to subdue prey which would otherwise be impossible to eat, so they don’t generally like to waste their venom.
That being said if their only escape route is past a human with a shovel they are likely to react aggressively! So we recommend you wear the following:
Photo by Michael Jerrard
Above all, you'll want a sturdy pair of boots when hiking in snake country. Most snakebites happen on the feet and legs, so if you have a nice pair of boots that go above the ankle you're in good shape.
The two best boot materials to guard against snake bites are leather and rubber. Most snake teeth are too small to penetrate either, and these are tough materials, so the bite shouldn't actually damage anything.
Make sure the boots rise at least 2 inches above the ankle too, though ideally, the higher the better. As far as comfort goes, snake hiking boots should be cushiony and wick moisture away from the feet.
While boots will be your first layer of protection for your feet and ankles, make sure to wear thick socks too. Thick socks provide an extra layer of protection for your feet.
If you're hiking in snake country, it's important to always make sure you're wearing long pants. Even if it’s hot, you won’t want to be wearing shorts if you happen upon a den of pit vipers.
The absolute best snake proof pants are made from nylon, though other materials like canvas, heavy-duty denim, and leather are also good options.
If you want, buy a pair of snake chaps which are basically overalls that cover your legs. Snake chaps are usually made from durable materials specifically designed to resist punctures from snake bites.
Also, make sure your pants are loose-fitting and not tight. Loose pants give more cloth for the snake to bite so there is less chance one of the fangs makes contact with your skin. Here is a quick rule of thumb: if you can see the profile of your calves through the pants while standing up, they are too tight.
Photo by Meg Jerrard
If you know you're hiking in snake country, one of the best preventative measures you can take to avoid snake bite is by purchasing protective snake gaiters. These are garments worn over the shoe and pants of your lower leg.
This is the area you are most likely to be bitten and by protecting that area, you will greatly diminish your chances of a venomous snake bite (unless you stupidly decide to handle one). But it’s important to note that not all gaiters are designed for snakes.
Most hiking gaitors simply protect you from thorns and branches or aid in keeping dirt and water out of your boots/shoes. So you’ll need to look for a product which has actually been tested against snake bite.
You also get what you pay for when it comes to gaiters. Those colourful cheap eBay specials will do very little if anything to protect you from even small twigs let alone the powerful fangs of a venomous snake. So buy something legit.
Ideally, you should never have to touch a snake while hiking. However, if you find that you absolutely must handle a snake, try to keep some heavy-duty gloves on you.
The skin on your hands is very thin so its relatively easy for a snake fang to pierce, even if it makes little contact. Heavy-duty nylon gloves or leather gloves are a good option here.
Tips for Hiking in Snake Country
Photo by Michael Jerrard
Clothing is your first layer of protection against snakebite, but it isn’t everything though. There are simple things you can do to remain safe while hunting in snake country, as follows:
Keep your hands to yourself. The general rule here is if you can’t see it, don’t reach your hands to it. Don’t put your hands near shrubs, underbrush, or even the water.
Stick to the path. Hike on a designated path, and try not to stray too far. Snakes in the area learn to avoid main paths so you have a lower chance of encountering one if you stick to the trail.
Don’t underestimate small snakes. Even small snakes can be dangerous if they are venomous. Never underestimate a snake based on its size. Even if you see what looks like a baby snake, try to stay clear.
Give them space. If you do run into a snake lounging around while hiking, feel free to take a gander but keep a wide berth. You wouldn’t like it if someone came and messed with you while sunbathing on a rock, so why would you do that to a snake?
Aside from wearing the proper clothing and taking the right measures, the best way to avoid snake troubles is to stay vigilant and attentive while on the trail.
As we said, snake bites are quite uncommon in all countries around the world, so if you follow these rules and wear the right clothes, you should be just fine.