Hiking Concerns: How to Stay Safe on the Trail

by on August 21st, 2013
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If you like hiking and have done it a number of times, you may have already figured some of these tips out. However, don’t skip the article because there are probably things you haven’t thought of in it.

Planning: Even a day hike can require some planning, especially if it’s a new trail or the weather conditions warrant it. You need to plan where you’re going, how far you’re planning to hike, and what to take.

Part of your planning should include who you will notify that you’re going out and when they should expect you back. That way, if you don’t return reasonably close to the time given, someone can notify the authorities.

What to Bring: Some of this depends on how long you’ll be out, how arduous the hike is and the weather. Always bring water and a knife. A first aid kit, space blanket, cell phone and matches are a good idea. We also carry food or “Go Goo,” a substance that contains sugar, caffeine and other substances that can make a difference in getting you back to safety should you have a problem. As I’ve had some serious injuries that limit mobility to a certain degree, I carry a hiking staff.

What to Wear: Pay attention to the weather. If you plan to hike when it is hot or cold, dress appropriately. Always wear a hat. It can protect you from ticks, and provide insulation in either extreme of weather. A broad rimmed hat that goes all the way around the head is best, but even a baseball cap will be beneficial.

Look at your footwear carefully, both socks and shoes. Socks that move moisture away from your foot are best. You will probably find them at a sports store; most regular stores don’t carry them. You may also want to get sock liners. These can help with moisture removal and with blisters.

Wear shoes with a good tread and strong ankle support. Hiking boots are best, but you may be able to find a comfortable sneaker or running shoe that will work for you. Most trails have a variety of terrain, from rocks to sand to mud. Your shoe should be able to handle this variety and not have you fall down.

Safety Issues: Never go off trail. That’s the fastest, surest way to get lost. Even if your buddy “knows” the new route, it’s not safe. A known route usually goes around dangerous conditions, and it’s where searchers will look for you first should you not get home.

Always be watchful. Many trails are used by bicycle and horseback riders. They have the right of way over pedestrians, especially the horse. They can spook if you aren’t careful and there is no telling what the horse will do. You don’t want to find out the hard way.

Snakes, coyotes, wild cats of several varieties and even bears may be a problem. Usually, there are notices at the trail head if there has been a recent spotting of any of them, or other dangerous animals. You’re encroaching on their territory, it’s up to you to remain vigilant.

Care on the Trail: Be prepared to practice some first aid, either on yourself, another hiker or an animal. There was a time when my husband was hiking where this was brought home.

It was a very hot day, and he was on his way back down the mountain. He came across a couple with a large dog. The dog was lying down, and not responsive. He offered some of this water, which was gratefully accepted. A couple more hikers appeared, and all of them picked the dog up (he was big enough to need at least two to carry at all times) and began going down the trail.

When they got towards the end of the trail, one of the hikers mentioned he lived close by. They waited in the shade while he got a wheelbarrow to finish getting the dog down the mountain. By then, the dog was a little more responsive, but not much so. The couple thanked everyone and took off for the vet. We don’t know what happened after that, but hopefully the dog survived.

You may never face an issue of this nature, but you don’t know. Follow the Boy Scout rule and Be Prepared.

In Case of Emergency: If you get lost, stop moving. It’s harder to find a moving target than a stationary one. If you are seriously injured, hopefully you have a partner who can go for help, or your cell phone has enough strength to reach someone. Again, don’t try to keep moving. You could make the injury worse.

Hiking is a fun sport, but it should be undertaken with care. There are many more dangers on a hiking trail than there are on a football field or in any other sport.

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