Take a hike! That sounds easy enough, even when shouted with a menacing scowl and accompanied by an obscene hand gesture. However, in review of ranger rescue reports across the country, hiking may be more complex than simply “taking” one.
All outdoor activities are risky in their nature, however it is possible to mange that risk. Surely, as in all things, there are some aspects beyond your control. However, from the gear you carry to how you walk, there are several controllable factors which mitigate the risk involved in hiking.
Prepare a Trip Plan
Before venturing outdoors, prepare a “trip plan” that lets people know where you are going and the basics of your jaunt. Make sure you leave a copy of your trip plan with someone back home. Preferably this person awaits your return and is responsible enough to call for further assistance.
Include the following in each trip plan:
- Your name and names of companions
- Emergency contact information
- Date and time of departure and expected time to return
- Place hiking to and route followed
- Equipment carried
- Which authority to contact if you don’t come back
While at the trail head or on the trail, be sure to sign in (and out) of registers. This is extremely important if you change your proposed route or plan. If rescue parties are looking for you, their first step is to examine all the sign-in registers.
Hiking is a physically demanding activity. Sure it may sound just like walking, but add a pack and scramble over rough terrain and you’ll see how exhausted you become. If you are just starting to exercise, consult your doctor and get a check-up to make sure you healthy enough to begin hiking.
Yoga is an outstanding activity for developing the strength, agility, and flexibility that you need for hiking. Check out “Yoga Basics For Beginners” for more information on getting started in Yoga.
It is important to stretch before and after hiking. Though, it seems like you may just be using your legs, hiking works your entire body. Be sure to stretch your back, abs, and arms too.
The great thing about hiking is that the more you hike the stronger you become. Hiking is after all a great to increase fitness, lose weight, and reduce stress.
Research the Trail
It’s hard to prepare for a hike if you don’t know where you are going and what to expect on the trail. Though there are some fantastic guide books and maps out there, rarely do they contain all the current information you need for a safe hike.
One of the best resources is your local hiking club. Joining an outdoor club like the Adirondack Mountain Club, Appalachian Mountain Club, or Sierra Club will introduce you to like-minded folks and give you great ideas for local hiking trails.
The one downfall to printed hiking guides is that they don’t give current conditions to the trails you are hiking on. When the remains of Hurricane Irene passed through the Adirondacks, it washed bridges out, obliterated trails, and created new slides. Even the most current hiking guide, won’t prepare you for something like that.
Most wilderness and hiking areas have active internet forums in which users post current conditions and potential hazards. Check out Views From the Top for a fantastic North East outdoor internet forum. Trail conditions can change in an instant when bad weather hits. Always check local forecasts and watch the sky for weather hazards.
Hike with a Buddy
Though solo hiking has many pleasures, for safety reasons it is ideal to hike with a small group of competent people.
Many outing organizations, the Adirondack Mountain Club for one, recommends hiking in groups of four people. This Telegraph article expands on that. That way in case someone is injured, one stays with the victim, while the other two get help. No one is ever alone that way.
Be careful not to hike in too large of a group though, as it is destructive to the environment. Most wilderness areas have hiking party limit of ten. The safety factor also diminishes with large groups.
Use Trekking Poles
Ever see those those weird hikers with ski poles, what the heck are they doing? They are being safe. As most animals know, four legs are better than two.
Ever get sore knees while hiking? Trekking poles, according to several studies, reduce knee strain by as much as 25%. Not to mention their general aid in stability,
If you don’t feel like shelling out the greenbacks for a nice set of trekking poles, an old pair of ski poles or even a hiking stick will be better than nothing. Avoid the economy poles you see at the big box stores; they are made of inferior materials and use dangerous locking mechanisms.
Know When to Turn Around
It’s getting dark, you’re bleeding, and out of water: time to turn around. Honestly, it was probably time to turn around hours before that. One of the most difficult tasks for any hiker to acquire is the ability to judge yourself, your companions, and the path on which you are headed.
In our competitive society, where abandoning your path is seen as a failure, turning back when “the summit is right there” is hard to do. Summit Fever, that irresistible drive toward the peak, is characterized by an extreme lack of judgement and has been the demise of many backpackers and hikers.
If you die on the trail, they’ll probably only name a campsite after you – is that really worth it? One of my favorite outdoor quotes from mountaineer Ed Warden is,”Getting to the summit is optional but getting down is mandatory.” There will always be another day for a summit bid, but you only have one life to live.
Many hiking blogs advocate carrying cell phones as a means of extra security; however, most mobiles offer false security and over-confidence. How many times have Search and Rescue teams been deployed to extricate hikers whose only equipment was an iPhone? Unfortunately it happens all too often. Sure carry a phone, but don’t depend on it.
Though technology, like satellite messengers, are tools to increase hiker safety, they shouldn’t be relied on in absence of common sense. Like all tools, technology is only as effective as the person operating it.