Basic Hiking Safety: 7 Must-Know Tips for Exploring the Great Outdoors

I absolutely love exploring the outdoors. The feeling I get wandering on a dusty trail, thick forest, or snow-covered tundra is kind of primal. To me, there’s nothing better than to stretch my legs in some beautiful scenery while leaving my troubles at the door. It’s one of the few remaining indulgences I can enjoy without paying an arm or a leg for whatever the next great big thing is for mental or physical health.

I’ll forever take time out of my busy schedule to adore the bright blue sky and the comforting warm sun. If you’re reading this, you probably have reasons of your own as to why you love hiking. The benefits seem endless.

Whether you love connecting with nature, getting in a quick or long exercise, spending time with your pets, exploring with friends, or rejuvenating your body and mind, hiking has you covered. Seasoned trekkers, novice adventurers, family day hikers, or whomever, all appreciate hitting the trails in one way or another.

Hiking safety

However, it’s important to keep your hiking safety in mind so your next walkabout isn’t your last. Like with any outdoor activity, if you’re not paying attention, it’s easy to get into trouble while out exploring this beautiful Earth of ours. Unpredictable weather, rugged terrain, wild animal encounters, or becoming disoriented to quickly name a few.

When you boil it all down, hiking safety shouldn’t be taken lightly. Sure, there aren’t many dangers in a local backyard day hike so to speak, but you never know. Why not be prepared, or at least, knowledgeable? It’s easy and doesn’t take much to learn the basics.

So let’s get into it, shall we? In this straightforward guide, I’ll cover the essential tips and practices that every hiker should be aware of. Some of these might seem obvious to many of you, but a few might enlighten you in one degree or another. Either way, it’s worth a read!

1. Plan and Prepare

Before you start a bushwhacking adventure, you need to plan and prepare, especially for challenging or multi-day hikes. Make sure you do your research for your chosen trail. This includes the difficulty level, what type of terrain you’ll be facing, how much elevation gain, and any potential natural or man-made hazards.

Hiking safety

Personally, I love to read what other hikers think. My go-to app or website is Alltrails. If it’s a well-beaten path, it’s most likely going to be reviewed on that site. There’s plenty of pics, maps, and other features that’ll get you all the info you need.

Some things to bear in mind when preparing –

  • Choose a trail suitable for your fitness level and experience. If there’s a certain hike that seems out of your league, you can always train for it!
  • Check the weather forecast and trail conditions. Be prepared for sudden changes in weather by dressing in layers and packing appropriate gear.
  • Inform someone trustworthy about your hiking plans, including your intended route and estimated return time.

2. Pack the Essentials

Next up, what are you bringing with you? Are you packing the right gear and supplies? That includes bringing too much, as any extra weight can weigh you down so be sure to only bring along what you need. It will make a significant difference in your day(s) out in nature.

Hiking safety

Always carry a well-equipped backpack containing essential items, including:

  • Navigation tools such as a map, compass, or GPS device.
  • Adequate water to stay hydrated, along with a water purification method if necessary.
  • Nutritious snacks and high-energy foods to fuel your hike.
  • Extra clothing, including waterproof and insulated layers, to prepare for temperature changes.
  • First aid kit with essential supplies for treating minor injuries and ailments.
  • Multi-tool or knife, flashlight or headlamp, and a fire starter for emergencies.
  • Sun protection, including sunscreen, sunglasses, and a hat.
  • Emergency shelter such as a lightweight tent or space blanket.

3. Dress Appropriately

Choosing the right clothing and footwear is crucial for comfort and safety while hiking. Did you know there is a difference between hiking shoes, boots, and runners? Many don’t. So keep this in mind when you’re picking the proper items.

Hiking safety

Choose moisture-wicking, breathable fabrics that provide insulation and protection against the elements. Avoid heavy cotton or wool clothing, as it retains moisture and can lead to discomfort and hypothermia unless you’re into that sort of thing.

Clothing checklist –

  • Wear sturdy, supportive hiking boots or shoes with good traction to prevent slips and falls.
  • Dress in layers to regulate body temperature and adapt to changing weather conditions.
  • Protect your skin from sunburn, insect bites, and scratches by wearing long sleeves and pants. Tuck them in if you’ll be trudging through areas with lots of sneaker critters like ticks or mosquitoes.
  • If you need to, please wear terrain-specific clothing. For instance, if you’ll be climbing around rocky or brushy trails, pick tough clothing that won’t rip or tear. If it’s going to be hot and humid, wear airy and lightweight clothing and so on.

4. Stay Hydrated and Nourished

Never underestimate how much water or calories you’ll need during your hikes. Sometimes dehydration will sneak up on you out of nowhere and if you aren’t properly prepared, you’ll run into problems. One time I was hiking along the Nepali coast on Kauai and I ran out of water halfway through. I can’t begin to describe the pain level that shot through my legs because I was so dehydrated. If it wasn’t for a fellow hiking pair, who supplied me with a water filter, I would have been pretty doomed.

Hiking safety

So it goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway, proper hydration and nutrition are essential while hiking. Even if you don’t feel thirsty, take a break and sip on some water or eat a lightweight, high-energy food to replenish electrolytes and keep you going! Remember to:

  • Drink a bunch of water before you step foot out the door. Continue drinking water throughout and once you’re finished with your trek, you’ll never guess, drink some more water.
  • Don’t drink beverages with a lot of caffeine as they tend to dehydrate you quicker. Save those for later. The same goes for any alcoholic drinks.
  • Pack a variety of snacks, including trail mix, energy bars, fruits, and jerky, to fuel your hike.
  • Take regular breaks. Rest, eat, and drink as much as you need, especially during strenuous or long adventures that tax your body more than it’s normally used to.

5. Follow Trail Etiquette

Many new trailblazers aren’t aware there is an unwritten code that all hikers follow. These simple and effective rules are pivotal in both respecting the environment, as well as fellow hikers. Following the proper trail etiquette also helps keep you safe! If you don’t know, take a few minutes and read up on the dos and don’ts. You never know, it might save your butt one day! Some simple guidelines:

Hiking safety
  • Yield to uphill hikers and give way to faster-moving or passing hikers.
  • Stay on designated trails to minimize erosion, protect fragile ecosystems, and keep you from going where you shouldn’t wander into.
  • Leave no trace by carrying out all trash and waste, including biodegradable items.
  • Keep noise levels to a minimum to avoid disturbing wildlife and other hikers.
  • Respect wildlife from a safe distance and refrain from feeding or approaching animals.

6. Be Prepared for Emergencies

I know it’s unsavory to think about, but accidents happen to the best of us. Nobody can see the future of what’s going to happen, but we all can take easy precautionary measures that will better prepare us for when the sky falls down.

Hiking safety

A good start is to familiarize yourself with basic wilderness survival skills. How to find water, build a basic shelter, learn how to read a map, use the stars for navigation, etc. You should also know how to respond to the most common troubles like:

  • Injuries such as sprains, cuts, or blisters: Brush up on your first aid skills so those minor injuries don’t turn into major ones.
  • Getting lost or disoriented: Stay calm, retrace your steps if possible, and use a map/compass or other GPS device to find your way back.
  • Poor or severe weather: Seek shelter, protect yourself from the elements, and wait for conditions to improve before continuing your hike.
  • Encountering dangerous wildlife: Remain calm, avoid sudden movements, and slowly back away from the animal without turning your back on it.

7. Trust Your Instincts

There’s a lot to be said about listening to your inner narrator. More often than not, the little voice telling you “Don’t do that”, or “Bring those extra pair of socks, just in case” is usually right. How many times have you said to yourself, “Damn, I knew I shouldn’t have done that!”. Those feelings are there for a reason.

Hiking safety

Venturing into the wild always undertakes certain risks so when you do go out, let your gut instinct and intuition be your guide. If something feels off or unsafe, don’t push your luck. Instead, listen to your body signals and proceed accordingly. Remember, the goal of hiking is to enjoy the journey and appreciate the beauty of nature, while also making sure it’s not the last hike you’ll ever take.

Final Thoughts

Hiking is awesome and can throw you a curve ball or two when you’re not looking. But, as long as you know what you’re getting yourself into, bring along the right gear, wear the right clothes, eat and drink enough, be courteous, plan for emergencies, and trust your gut, you should be A-O.K.!

No matter the season, safety should be paramount. Whether you’re hoofing it in an arid desert, tropical rainforest, or snowy mountainside, consider the unique challenges coming your way and prepare for them as best you can. For example, those interested in winter hiking should carry extra layers with them, while hikers on the beach can ditch the jacket at home.

If you’re interested in a great article on winter hiking, check out these proven winter hiking tips for better peace of mind!

Following these basic hiking safety tips and practices allows you to focus your attention on an amazing experience and not on what could go wrong. I’m sure we can all agree that confidence and peace of mind can be priceless feelings in certain situations.

Thank you so much for taking the time to read my article. I hope you’ve learned a thing or two and are now better suited with the proper mindset so you can explore the wonders of the great outdoors safely and responsibly.

As always, happy hiking and happy trails!

Author

  • James Ryan

    A seasoned hiker and adventurer who loves to travel and experience new things. An extrovert and creative at heart, James is most definitely a "People Person". He started this blog in the hopes of making somebody's day just a bit brighter!

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