Hiking is an excellent form of exercise. When hiking, you can soak up the sun, breathe fresh air and improve your cardiovascular health.
However, hiking can also be dangerous if you do not take the proper safety steps. Although injuries can't always be avoided, there are some specific ways to prepare for outdoor adventures that may reduce the risks. So before you throw that pack over your shoulder, consider these guidelines.
1. Stay Hydrated
Staying hydrated throughout your excursion is one of the best ways to prevent injuries. Lindsay Huettman, an instructor for the nonprofit Wilderness Awareness School, stresses the need to be well-hydrated and well-fueled before heading out. “This can set you up for success,” she says. “I've seen people do the opposite and pay for it severely.”
2. Be Prepared
Research the terrain and weather patterns before heading into new territory—it's imperative to be equipped with enough water, food and clothing layers. (There's a reason that those nut and dried fruit snacks are called “trail mix.") It may be warm out, but it's still imperative to bring the proper clothing in case the weather suddenly shifts.
3. Start Training
By training your muscles for specific excursions, you are essentially reducing your chances of injury. For instance, if you plan on hiking and/or backpacking, practice hill climbs on the treadmill or outdoors and gradually increase the mileage. Carry some weight, such as water bottles in a backpack, and do specific leg-strengthening exercises, such as wall squats. If you're a kayaker, hit the rowing machine and build up mileage. Concentrate on shoulder exercises and those that strengthen the core.
4. Bring At Least One Friend
Hiking alone can be dangerous, so bring at least one friend. When hiking alone, you have a higher risk of being stranded. Before you head out on your hike, be sure you and your friend have enough food and water for the both of you. You also want to develop an itinerary for your hike, as well as an emergency safety plan just in case.
5. Hike During the Day
One of the easiest ways to stay safe while hiking is to hike during the day. Natural sunlight can illuminate your path, making it easier to find your way. Hiking at night can be confusing and disorienting, which can cause you to get lost. Also, nocturnal wildlife poses a threat to unprepared humans. A day hike is a great way to stay safe and enjoy sunlight and fresh air.
6. Pack the Essentials
The first essential is a first aid kit, packed with bandages, antibacterial ointment, gauze and other medical emergency items. The second must-have item is some form of navigation, whether a map, compass or GPS, or all three. Next, wear some form of sun protection, including a hat, sunglasses and sunscreen. If you're hiking during the colder months of the year, an essential is insulated clothing. Don't forget to pack fire-starting items, like a lighter, matches or fire starters. Yet another essential is nutrition, such as no-cook food like trail mix or snack bars. Don't forget to bring water as well. Finally, pack emergency shelter items like a tent, tarp or sleeping bag.
7. Dress Appropriately
Before you head out, be sure you're wearing the appropriate clothes. If it's a hot, sunny day, wear a hat and sunglasses. If it's a rainy day, wear your rain gear. Colder days require layers with insulation to keep you warm. Check the forecast and consider bringing extra outerwear and accessories just incase.
8. Have an Emergency Plan
It is possible that you will get lost during your hike. If so, there are a few steps to follow. First, create a plan and make sure everyone in the group is on the same page. A good idea is to find a tall tree and stick to it if you get lost. When your group realizes you are missing, they will know to look for you at the base. This is a better option than wandering around, as you may find yourself too far from the trail to make your way back. Additionally, your group should decide on a specific whistle or sound to make in the event someone gets lost. A whistle travels farther than yelling, and whistling takes less energy.
9. Bring a Water Purification System
If you can't carry enough water, look into water purification systems, such as pills or filters, to process water from streams or rivers. When you travel by a water source, make note of exactly where you are so you can get back to it later.
10. Plan a Shorter Hike
If you want to go on a long hike, plan a shorter hike first. Small trail hikes are a great way to train for longer trips. You can go on short hikes at local parks or nature reserves. You can also hike on longer trails—just turn around before you get too far. When practicing short hikes on long trails, you can work your way up to eventually walking the entire trail in one trip.
**These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.