Hiking Trail Safety: 7 Tips
From clothing to weather conditions, knowing what to prepare for will help you enjoy your experience, stay safe and gain knowledge and experience with each trip.
1. Play it Safe: It’s important to consider your fitness level when trucking through the wilderness. Cell phone apps like Alltrails can help you find a trail in your area, and also give you the level of exertion, from easy to difficult. By knowing the risk levels beforehand, you can lower your risk of injury, fatigue and other dangers. It is recommended that you bring a friend along on your hike and let others know where you are and when to expect you back. If a dangerous situation should occur, search parties will know where to look.
2. Hydrate: Water is life, as the saying goes, but did you know that more than half your body weight is made up of water? Without proper fueling and refueling, your body can lose water, making you lightheaded and nauseated. Dehydration is a cause of deaths amongst hikers, and without enough water, hikers may become disoriented, lost, lose balance and even die. Pay close attention to the symptoms of dehydration. If you think you’ll be hiking more than a day or two, take a purification system. Never drink untreated water. The best way to check your hydration level is to check your urine. If it is light yellow or clear, you are well hydrated. Darker color means you are not. And, always pace yourself and take breaks when necessary.
3. Dress the Part: Although the weather on the west coast is mostly warm, it’s important to wear appropriate layers, especially if your hike stretches into the evening, as temperatures will drop. Start off with a wool, fleece or synthetic base layer, as these are the best to absorb perspiration and wick away wetness from the skin; add a long sleeve fleece or synthetic for the second layer; a sweater for the third/top layer; and a rain or warm jacket as your shell or outer fourth layer. Comfortable running, hiking or insulated boots are recommended. High tops are preferred to avoid twisted ankles. Additional gear to consider: trekking poles, sun glasses, hat, gloves and scarf.
4. Check Your Skin: Preparation before the hike is always crucial. “One of the first things you will want to apply is Sunscreen 30+ SPF to your body, and lip balm that also has an SPF 15+ to prevent your lips from becoming chapped or burned during the warm season,” says Andrew Chao DO, PIH Health Family Medicine. Second, spray DEET 40 over clothes from head to toe. This will help ward off mosquitos and other bugs. Avoid high brush and weeds and always stay in the center of the trail to avoid any pesky encounters. Check your skin and clothing for any ticks. Known for hiding in warmer places on the body such as head, around the ears, bellybutton, armpits and groin, ticks can carry Lyme disease. If you encounter a tick, never yank it out of the skin, but rather burn the base of the tick so that it wiggles its way out of your body; and then seek medical attention immediately for further examination.
5. Keep it As You Found it: For example, disturbing rocks, small or larger could cause a rockslide, while leaving orange peels or food wrappers behind may entice wild animals to approach the trail, increasing the dangers for those who may follow behind you. Keep an empty clear bag that you can store and seal all waste in, and discard when you get home
6. Bring a First- Aid Kit: Whether it’s a scrape, bug bite or sunburn, proper protection is good to have readily available. Pack a safety bag of band aids, sunscreen, anti-itch ointment, over the counter allergy medication and instant ice packs. Additional items are per your discretion.
7. Be Aware: If bitten by a snake, stung by a bee or you become disoriented, it’s important to be well aware of your surroundings and know how to get out of trouble. Most trails will have an information board at the beginning of the trail. Scan through it, and check out any posted dangers, be aware of cell phone service and always be on guard for potential threats. Staring at your cell phone while walking isn’t safe when in nature, as trails can be uneven or unexpected visitors may cross the path. Know how to get ahold of your local authorities and park rangers, and in worst case scenarios, call 911.