In many places across the country, summer is a great time for hiking. With kids out of school, people taking vacation, and days lasting longer, more and more people are hitting the trails – both seasoned hikers and newcomers. Whether you’ve been hiking your entire life or you’re just starting out, there are certain precautions you should take while hiking to avoid potentially dangerous situations.
The most common mistakes people make when planning a hike
Knowing your limits and listening to what your body is telling you
When the going gets rough, know when to turn back
4 things to think about before every hike
The most common mistakes people make when planning a hike:
Perhaps the biggest mistake is not planning adequately for a hike. So often, hikers will anticipate the entry hike without taking into account the return hike, even if it is mainly downhill. Not preparing for changing weather can be uncomfortable, if not life-threatening, along with miscalculation of daylight and then hiking in the dark without a flashlight (one of AHS’s 10 Essentials of Hiking). The greatest enemies of a tired, inadequately prepared hiker are: panic; confusion; and lack of action.
Here’s the truth—most hikers, even experienced ones, spend too much time and energy worrying about the scary—but low percentage threats like bears, mountain lions and poisonous snakes (granted, in some areas these are real threats, but..) and not enough time concerning themselves with the dull but common dangers like germs, blisters and hypothermia. As I noted, dramatic changes in weather when not prepared for it, water crossings when you can’t swim or have the skills/equipment to cross safely and over-dependence on technology to save the day are far-greater concerns.
And the number one threat, whether for day hiking or backpacking is getting lost! The trailyou are following fades out. A storm obscures trail markers. You’ve misjudged how long it would take you to climb the peak and now you have to stumble along in the dark—lost, cold and scared (enter our enemies, panic and confusion). Knowledge is your best defense. Learn your trail maps, know how to use a compass and always leave word of your plans with friends and/or rangers. The typical lost hiker has not prepared well and also hasn’t packed any survival gear. Poor decisions especially “plowing ahead” when the trail is lost, rather than backtracking to a known spot is a recipe for getting lost or worse. One of the most common and avoidable mistakes is hiking without ever looking back. Looking towards your destination is required, of course, but the trail looks very different on the return. Periodically look back down the trail, make note of key landmarks and crossings and you will have a safer hike and get home.
Things to Think About Before Every Hike
This is especially prevalent with people who think they are just taking a ‘short hike’ and think it is silly to tell someone where they are going. With hiking, common sense and preparation are essential to have an enjoyable, trouble-free hike.
I recommend that for every hike you:
Make a plan – this includes telling someone else and estimating how long the total hike will take, plus extra time;
Hike Smart – a smart phone is no good if it does not work and even if you can get a signal and talk to rescuers, rangers, or friends if you don’t know where you are, what then? Reading about the trail beforehand, knowing what to expect from the trail, and knowing about how long the trail should take are all pieces of information that are important for you to know and for someone back home to know;
Go Prepared – bring rain gear and warmer clothes. A knife for making kindling and matches or a lighter. A first aid kit. A map of the area can be extremely helpful in case you get off on a wrong trail. Bring food and plenty of water. Be sure to bring a flashlight. It's better to be safe than sorry. Collapsible hiking poles for rougher terrain or switchbacks. A compass might come in handy too.
Know Your Capabilities – People who don’t turn back when common sense, or others with common sense, tells them they can’t make it up and back safely are foolhardy and sometimes dangerous to themselves and others.
Enjoy Your Summer in the Mountains!
Karen Knutson, Althena Fitness 2022
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