The global pandemic has encouraged people to get outside for fun, fitness, and fellowship. This increased interest in hiking means more inexperienced people are hiking, and the hiking veterans are delving deeper into the wilderness to avoid the crowds. As a result, there have been more hiking and trail rescues than ever during 2020. Emergency personnel put themselves in danger to rescue newbies and experienced hikers alike. Therefore, here are some of the mistakes to avoid based on recent rescue situations.
Wearing street clothes - Hikers that need rescuing are often wearing street clothes like they're going for a stroll in the park. Jeans and sneakers are fine for short (1 mile or less) and well-traveled paths, but not for going 10 miles in rugged terrain. While Grandma Gatewood wore dungarees and a pair of Keds to hike the Appalachian Trail, street clothes are less sturdy, stay wet longer if it rains, and are more prone to causing skin irritations than athletic or hiking clothes.
Lacking protective clothing - Casual day hikers don't need to carry emergency blankets but should bring additional clothing should the weather change. Many trails are in terrain that is predisposed to sudden drops in temperature or rainstorms. Therefore, always carry a rain poncho and an extra layer for warmth. In addition, both mountainous and desert regions get cold at night. So, should something happen that required you to spend the night outdoors, you'll want an extra layer. My slogan is, "Always pack a puffy."
Leaving phones in the car or at home - Not all trials have great cell service. However, you can often get a signal on a mountaintop. A cell phone enables you to pinpoint your location, download a map, use a compass, and call for help. It can even be your flashlight if it gets dark. So even if you don't think you've got service, bring it anyway! AND, always carry a small portable charger as a backup!
Not carrying a map - Whether you rely on paper or a downloaded map (and I recommend using both!), you always need a map! And, you need to review the map before you get started. Relying solely on trial markers and what someone told you is irresponsible. Trail markers are highly variable from place to place. Many trails also have splinter or animal trails that veer off from them, and without a good map, you won't know which to follow.
Not taking food and water - Even if you think you'll just be gone for a short time, always carry more food and water than you think you'll need. If you get lost or injured, and you're stuck in the woods longer than you intended, you'll need the extra supplies.
Starting late in the day - There's nothing wrong with an afternoon hike, but unless you've studied the trail map, you could wind up out after dark. Daylight is your friend while hiking, so unless you've planned and prepared for a night hike, start early.
No light source - A headlamp or small flashlight is all you need to carry for a day hike. Having some light helps you find your way if you're stuck out there after dark.
Disregarding signage - If a trail is designated as closed, washed out, or dangerous, heed the warning! Someone took the trouble to put up a sign to keep you safe. Make sure they haven't wasted their time.
Not turning around and going back the way you came - The phrase, "It's just over the hill," has taken hikers deeper and deeper into the woods and away from the trailhead. If you don't have a map and you start to get concerned, turn around. Unless you know the area well, it's easy to get disoriented on the trail. You can't trust your perception of your location. So when in doubt, turn around!
Failing to hug a tree - You read that right! If you get into trouble and can call for help, stay put! Don't wander or think you'll try to meet the rescuers. You've given them your location now just hang tight and trust them to get to you.
Not telling someone where you're going - Always let a trusted person know when you're leaving, where you are going, and when you'll be back. If they don't hear from you in the specified time, they should try to contact you. If you remain out of touch, they should initiate a rescue.
Want more one-on-one guidance on how to be a healthy and safe hiker? Contact me and let me know about your upcoming adventure!