For those who love the great outdoors, hiking is a great opportunity to disconnect from daily life, stay physically active, and fully immerse yourself in nature. However, the wilderness also comes with a variety of unknowns and potential risks, which can lead to accidents and injuries that can quickly turn a wonderful day in nature into a terrible one. The good news is that by following certain guidelines and precautions you can prevent injuries and accidents from occurring. Here are some of our best tips to stay safe and prevent injuries while hiking.
Be Prepared and Plan Ahead
Before embarking on any hike, do proper research on the trail you’ve chosen including its terrain, difficulty level, and dangerous wildlife or challenges you could encounter. It’s best to choose a trail that’s compatible with your fitness level and experience. You’ll also want to check the weather forecast and dress accordingly. Thorough planning can give you an idea of what to expect which can help you minimize risks and prepare you for emergency situations if they happen to occur.
Pack Essential Survival Gear
Even if you plan to be out for only a day, unexpected things can happen so you should always plan for the worst and pack essential gear necessary for survival. Run through your gear checklist and make sure you have all the essentials including plenty of water, energizing snacks, a first aid kit, a map, a flashlight, a multi-tool and other necessary items you should always bring with you in the wilderness. These items can be invaluable in emergency situations.
Warm Up and Stretch
Before your hike, it’s beneficial to stretch and perform a light warm-up exercise to get your muscles and joints fully prepared for what’s ahead. Warming up your muscles can help increase flexibility and mobility, ultimately minimizing the risk of strains, sprains, and pains while hiking.
Use Trekking Poles
A trekking pole or walking stick is a great tool for hiking that can help improve your balance and stability, especially if you encounter uneven, loose, and steep terrain or need to cross a body of rushing water. They’re also great for minimizing impact on your joints, especially on descents. Another added benefit of having trekking poles is they are multi-purpose, making them a great addition to your gear. They can be used to judge the depth of a river you need to cross, for tent set-ups, to clear trails, protect yourself against wildlife, or even as a tripod for a camera.
Wear the Right Footwear
What you wear on your feet while hiking is crucial, not only for comfort but for traction, protection and support which will ultimately prevent injuries. Invest in a pair of high quality, sturdy, and well-fitted hiking boots with adequate ankle support. You want to make sure to break them in before embarking on a long hike to prevent possible discomfort and painful blisters.
Wear Layered Clothing
While footwear is vital, the rest of your clothing is equally important. Dressing in layers keeps you warm and dry while allowing you to adjust your clothing as the temperature changes throughout your hike. Even if it’s a warm day, having long layers can protect you from mosquitos and spiky shrubbery or toxic plants you may encounter during your hike. When dressing for layering, you should typically have a base layer to wick away sweat, a middle layer to insulate your body heat, and an outer layer to shield yourself from wind, snow, or rain. You’ll also want to protect yourself from the sun and the elements by wearing a hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen.
Water is essential for survival, so you want to make sure to bring enough water for your hike, preferably extra. Two liters per person, per day, is recommended according the National Park Service. Remember to drink water throughout your hike to stay hydrated, not only when you’re thirsty. Thirst is a sign you’re already becoming dehydrated. Sports drinks or rehydration tablets are great to have as they keep you hydrated while also replenishing vital electrolytes and vitamins. The day of your hike, avoid consuming too much caffeine or alcohol, as they can dehydrate you. If you’re planning to go on a longer hike, it’s helpful to research what natural water sources may be available to you and how to find safe drinking water.
Know Your Limits
Whether you’re an experienced hiker or just starting out, it’s important to hike at a pace you’re comfortable with, especially if the trail is more challenging than what you’re used to. Listen to your body and rest when you need to. Overexertion can increase your risk of injuries and fatigue. Take advantage of shady areas to take a break and recharge. Drink plenty of water and eat energy-boosting snacks.
Stick to Marked Trails
Most state parks have marked trails which let you know where you are and where you’re going. These trails are also regularly maintained to ensure your hike is safe. Stick to the marked trails and avoid taking shortcuts or venturing off the trail to reduce the risk of getting lost or encountering dangerous terrain or wildlife.
Be Mindful of Your Surroundings
When hiking, it’s vital to not get complacent and always be aware of your surroundings. Awareness can prevent injuries or accidents from happening. Be aware of the wildlife around you and stay on the look out for potential hazards like slippery surfaces, loose ground, fallen rocks, etc. Its always beneficial to check with local hiking guides, park authorities, or experienced local hikers for advice and information about the area.
Be Extra Cautious on Descents
Descending can be taxing on your knees and other joints, and downright dangerous when there’s uneven terrain or loose rocks and gravel. Wear good hiking shoes, take your time, watch your footing, and use a trekking pole or walking stick to maintain your balance and pace. You can avoid putting excess strain on your knees by slightly bending them allowing your legs to absorb more of the impact.
Don’t Hike Alone
Hiking with others not only makes your experience more fun, but it’s also a lot safer. The more people you have with you, the more knowledge and experience you have collectively. If you do choose to hike alone, make sure to tell someone your travel plans including where you’ll be hiking and when you plan to return.
Get to Know Your First Aid Kit
While it’s absolutely essential to bring a first aid kit with you into the wilderness, knowing its contents and how to use it is just as important. We may not always be able to prevent every injury from occurring but we can gain the knowledge and skills to learn how to recognize and treat them if they do. With Wilderness First Aid training you’ll learn life-saving skills such as CPR, how to think critically in emergency situations, and how to treat a variety of common injuries and illnesses you could encounter in the wild.