Hiking can be both a rigorous and rewarding experience. You can challenge yourself to climb to new heights, experience changing terrain, and witness the hidden beauties that await over mountain peaks, along coastlines, or tucked away in the forest. Risks are inevitable when exploring these remote and rugged terrains; however, by taking the right safety precautions, you will find the last step of your trail scratch-free.
Growing up as a Scout, much of my knowledge has come from personal experience, or from the experiences of Scouters and other youth. My hiking experience as a Scout has taught me about the top nine risks you are most likely to face while heading off on the trail, and how to ensure they do not interfere with your adventure.
Dehydration is a common risk for hikers. Depending on the duration of your hike, it is important to consider the amount of water you will need and the sources available to you.
Most trails are established near streams, rivers, or lakes; however, if you plan on going out for more than a few hours, you should ensure that these resources are close to the trail and permit water extraction. It is also important to carry filtering equipment with you to remain safely hydrated.
Once you have established your sources of water for the journey, remember to drink early and often. Hydropacks offer an easy to carry and drink format that usually carries around 2 L of water. These are ideal for those who want to avoid having to refill their bottles halfway through a hike, or constantly having to stop to hydrate.
Personally, when hiking, I find myself getting thirsty and dehydrated because I forget to stop for breaks while enjoying the views and wildlife. Having a hydropack straw readily available to drink from allows me to constantly keep hydrated without having to change the way I am enjoying the journey
Wildlife is one of the biggest attractions while on a hike. Stories of seeing large mammals, intricate foliage and even insects are fun to share with friends and family upon return, but it is important to remain cautious.
You often hear that making noise is important for allowing animals to be aware of your presence. This is best done by having constant conversation with whoever you are with. If travelling by yourself, thinking out loud is often the best way to maintain enough noise to warn animals. Yes, this means talking to yourself, but what better place to do this than when no one is around?
If you do encounter animals while hiking, speaking softly and moving slowly is most ideal for smaller creatures, but for larger mammals such as bears and moose, it is extremely important to remain still and wait for them to move away from the area. If they intend on staying longer and are blocking your path, slowly turn back while keeping an eye on the animal.
Plants can also pose a threat to humans, whether it be poison ivy or thistles, they can all impact the enjoyment of your hike. Knowing what these plants look like and remaining on the trail are the best ways to avoid unwanted encounters with both these plants and other types of wildlife.
Bugs are often overlooked in the wildlife department but insects, mosquitoes and flies can be just as dangerous as plants and animals. Mosquitoes are a nuisance everywhere; however, in the backcountry they can be worse if you are travelling through a moist lowland region. Bug spray may not be effective in these areas, and if that is the case, wearing longer sleeves and pants will keep your skin out of their reach.
5. Know your abilities
Know your physical abilities when going hiking, especially when enjoying the outdoors with a group of friends with different skill levels. Taking the time to review the trail together is extremely important in ensuring everyone is comfortable with the exertion that is required. Your review should include the changes in elevation throughout the journey, and the overall distances of the trail.
Often one of the biggest mistakes made in this review is only looking at the net elevation of the trail. This is a dangerous mistake to make because if the trail starts in a valley and goes over a mountain into another valley, the net elevation will be nil; however, there could be a 2000ft climb in the middle that is overlooked.
6. Dress the part
Dress the part when going for a hike. Proactively wearing layers, appropriate footwear in the right materials will ensure a smooth journey. Hikes can take you from cool shaded forests to dry sun-exposed ridges within a few kilometres. Or, from a 30 degree summer day to a damp single digit reading within a couple hours, so it is important to ensure you’re equipped for all types of weather.
Personally, I like to start off with a t-shirt, followed by a thin breathable long-sleeved layer, topped with a thicker layer and a waterproof layer. I can quickly take these layers off as I go, and put them back on as it cools down.
A common complaint of hiking is blisters. Proper footwear, starting with your socks is the best way to minimize these little guys. Wool socks that allow feet to breathe will keep moisture off your feet and keep the blister environment to a minimum. Often, I wear two pairs of socks, a thin tighter layer underneath and thicker layer on top (both wool). Hiking, walking or running in new shoes is battle you do not want to face, so if you are investing in new shoes, wear them around your house and when you are training for your hike.
7. Hiking alone? Tell someone
Hiking alone may bring you the spiritual, calm and quiet side of nature, but it does come with added risks. It is important to let someone know your plans by telling them where you are going, when you are leaving, when you will return and when you have returned. That way if they do not receive a call within a couple hours of your estimated time of arrival, they can notify local emergency crews that you could possibly be injured or lost in the area.
8. Be prepared
Being underprepared should never be an issue for a Scout but this must not be overlooked. In the event of getting lost, taking longer on the trail or getting caught in bad weather, it is important to have enough materials to survive. Always pack more than you need, include lightweight snacks, a comprehensive first aid kit, extra warm clothing, matches, and technological independent equipment for directional help, like paper maps and compasses.
9. Enjoy Yourself
Don’t forget to enjoy yourself! Spend an extra few minutes taking in the view or watching a spider spin his web. Cater your planning to your situation and lifestyle, so you can ensure it doesn’t interfere with your enjoyment; and make the safety measures a part of the regular enjoyable routine.