Most hiking emergencies are preventable. Aside from accidental injuries, most rescues result from hikers being unprepared. Here are 5 things I would never do on a hike that, in addition to the 10 Essentials and Leave No Trace principles, help keep me stay safe and take care of the trail. Following these guidelines can keep you safe on the trial, too!
I never hike without checking the local weather. - There's a saying that there's no bad weather, only bad clothing or gear, and to an extent, that is true. When you know the weather, you can prepare for what might come your way. If you have your 10 essentials, you should already be prepared for rain or changes in temp. But knowing that a storm is on its way helps you decide where and when to hike. If you're new to an area, it's important to research the weather patterns in that place by looking online, checking hiking groups, and talking to locals. For instance, many people head down to the bottom of the Grand Canyon without realizing that the temperature rises significantly as you go toward the bottom. Other people attempt to summit the White Mountains without knowing that weather patterns at the top can be completely different than what is forecast at the trailhead.
I never hike without telling someone where I am going, how far, and when I expect to be back. - Even if you are hiking with a buddy, it's important to let someone else know where you are so they can check on you if they don't hear that you made it back safely. Send a simple text message before you head out. Include some details so they know what to tell rescuers if needed. For instance, it's important to know if you are planning a three-miler to your favorite lake but are taking a book and hammock and might take a nap or if you plan to be back by lunchtime.
I never hike somewhere new without studying the trail map and reading trail reviews first. - If I'm going somewhere new, I study the map the day before or the morning of my hike. I want to know what to expect and mark particular junctures or landmarks that will help orient me to the map so I can look for them while hiking. I also research the trail and read recent reviews to learn about trail conditions, obstacles like fallen trees, trail closures, and the parking situation at the trailhead.
I never take a shortcut on a hike. - Staying on the trail can be a challenge. Animal trails can look well-worn enough to make you think it's a real path, but I always follow my map. Stray human trails or animal trails might seem like the shorter and more direct way to go, but they can lead to getting lost or dangerous elements like high water crossings or cliffs. Staying on the trail also protects sensitive plant life. Even in the desert where everything looks the same, it's essential to stay on the trail so that you don't disturb the delicate but protective top layer of soil.
I never hike without more water or food than I think I need. - Sure, some people think it is overkill, but I've helped countless hikers who needed more food or water by overpacking myself. Not to mention the many times I've had to dip into my 'just in case' stash myself because I needed extra calories or hydration.
Stay safe on the trail by being prepared and never hike without doing these things too!
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