If you’re planning on going hiking sometime soon, that’s terrific — it’s a great way to get exercise, push your limits, and connect with the natural world. But like any outdoor activity, it comes with its share of dangers: weather, wild animals, poisonous plants, and so on. So if you want to get into the great outdoors and make it home again, brush up on these 10 hiking safety tips.
For starters, tell people where you're going, and mention when you expect to be back, whether you’re alone or in a group. In the event you don’t make it back, because you’re injured or lost, someone will notice, and search parties can be sent out right away. It really helps if they know where you were headed -- there’s a lot of nature out there, and only one you to find.
Neither Aron Rolston, the hiker who cut off his own forearm to free himself from under a rock, nor another hiker who got lost in the same area told anyone where they were headed. See the pattern?
If you were hoping for a sunny weekend of hiking but hear there's a storm approaching, postpone your trip. Nature does not care about ruining your weekend, it doesn’t care whether your get hurt or make it home. Remember that turning back isn’t admitting defeat, it’s respecting the wild world you so enjoy.
A pocket knife, compass and map (make sure you know how to use them) are at the top of the list. Don’t forget a first-aid kit, matches or a lighter, and plenty of food and water. If you’re hiking in a cold climate, bring warm clothes. If you're staying overnight, bring what you need for camping.
One of the best parts of exploring nature is encountering the creatures that share the planet with humans. Remember that they’re called wild animals for a reason. Bear attacks are rarer than you might think, but they still happen. Bring some bear repellent spray along. And just because an animal strikes you as harmless, exercise caution; even mountain goats have killed hikers on occasion:
Now let's talk about what to do if you get lost. Read on ...
It’s easy to panic when you realize neither you nor anyone else knows where you are. But the most important thing to do is stay calm: Acting predictably will make it easier for a rescue team to find you. Sit down. Decide whether you're going to get food or water, or build a shelter or a signal fire first, and then stay the course.
Make the job of whoever’s looking for you as easy as possible. If you have bright clothing, put it on. Stay in open, high ground. Blow a whistle at regular intervals.
In addition to staying in sight, try to signal your position to potential rescuers. Build a fire where it will be visible and won’t start a wildfire. Make a signal on the ground that will be visible from the air. Skip the classic "Help" in favor of three piles of anything (e.g., three piles of leaves) arranged in a triangle shape -- the international wilderness symbol for distress.
Unless you're Bear Grylls himself, you're going to feel the pangs of fear setting in. Don't let emotion take control -- keep your head and think clearly. Use that fear and adrenaline to motivate yourself to do everything that needs to be done. If you can do that, you'll find yourself moving quickly and efficiently, and not running around like a chicken with its head cut off.
If you find that your one day hike has turned into an open-ended situation, you’ll need to find more water. Don’t waste time looking for possibly edible berries; you can go a month without eating, but only three days without drinking. Know where to look for water: dew on plants, banana and plantain trees, and tropical vines are good places to start.
Make sure to purify any water you find before drinking it: with purification tablets, a filter or by boiling it.
If you're truly lost, chances are it's going to take a little while to find you. Making a shelter to spend the night in should be a priority. It can protect you from rain, wind, snow, insects, and sun during the day. It doesn’t have to be big -- just large enough to fit you.
No matter the daytime temperature, it can get cold at night. Insulate your shelter with leaves, grass, and even snow. Insulate yourself as well.