Nothing compares to a hike, especially in a mountainous region. There are adventures to be had along the way, and the promise of a gorgeous summit view as a reward. Food tastes better here, and it never feels like a workout at the gym. However, if you consider yourself a newbie and have no idea how your super outdoorsy friends became such experts, remember that when it comes to hiking the safety rules are pretty basic. Once you get those down, you can start expanding into more challenging areas (like snowshoeing in the mountains or overnight camping).
First, remember that how to get there matters. Choosing a vehicle like a Volkswagen Atlas SUV lets you carry all your gear while also allowing you to navigate tough terrain. Few of the best hikes have nicely paved trail heads. And if you do need to car camp? You definitely want a sizable and safe machine. Whether you rent, borrow, or buy, simply getting to the trailhead is the first task. Having chosen a vehicle, here are six ways to stay safe on the trail.
Disclaimer: This is a collaborative post with MJV Media
1. Stay on the trail
It sounds pretty basic and like common sense, but it’s astonishing how many people wander. There is a multitude of risks when you do this. Off-trail is where dangerous native animals, from snakes to cougars, call home. It’s easy to get lost. There might be poison oak. If you do get lost, rescue teams are going to be looking on trails well before off of them. Plus, it’s easier to spot people on trails from overhead (i.e. search helicopters) than in the wild. If you can’t tell where a trail ends, it’s best to turn back.
2. Travel with at least one other person
The more people you hike with, the safer it is. Many mountainous regions have no Wi-Fi. If you get hurt, you’re going to be in a sticky situation. Although it can feel great to hike alone, it simply isn’t a safe option. Stick to neighborhood solo walks. If you don’t have friends that hike, that’s okay. There are plenty of open hiking groups always looking for new members. This is also a fantastic way to learn more about hiking skills and expand your social circle.
3. Pack the right amount of water
This amount will depend on you, the length of the hike, and the heat. Higher heat means more water. If you want to minimize the amount of water you carry (it can be heavy!) hike in the early morning and finish before the temperatures peak. A CamelPak can help with carrying water and you’ll always have a straw nearby. You likely already have an idea of your own dehydration schedule, but plan for at least eight ounces per hour for challenging hikes.
4. Keep an eye on the weather
Mountainous areas get sudden snowfall and fierce weather earlier than valleys. For new hikers, choose spring and autumn months or early in the morning in the summer. Avoid winter hikes until you get a little more experience. If you do hunger for a snowy hike, join a skilled group and crew that can help you on your first few treks. However, even if you do follow weather reports, there can be surprises. If it looks like the weather is taking a nasty turn for the worst, turn back. You can always try another day.
5. Wear long pants
Even if it’s hot out, long pants might be your only defense from a dangerous bite or poison ivy. Baggy and lightweight pants can actually be more comfortable and keep you cooler than something like capri yoga pants. Wear socks that can be pulled up high, too. Hiking boots are a must, though you might be able to get away with gym shoes for a short and easier hike.
6. Carry first-aid kits and some sort of defense
A simple first-aid kit can be a literal lifesaver. It can also make hikes a lot more comfortable if something like a blister from your new hiking boot happens. But what exactly is meant by defense? The answer to this question depends on where you’ll be hiking. Carrying police-grade mace is always a good idea and can be used on many mammals (besides humans). Consider what kind of risks are in the region you’ll be hiking and plan accordingly. A knife is always a good idea, as well as a whistle.
Finally, make sure you pack protein-rich food and snacks. You need to keep your energy levels up as you hike, and especially so if you get lost. Dress in layers, and even if it’s supposed to be warm out tuck a long-sleeved jacket into your pack. Planning for worst-case scenarios in a reasonable fashion is always a safe bet.