Keeping safe while hiking begins with careful planning and preparation. In fact, you can almost always avoid serious safety issues by following the outlined below:
- At the trailhead check the weather and read recent Trip Reports to find out about current trail conditions and potential hazards, including dates of hunting season.
- Write a Trip Itinerary (find a printable one here) and purchase any necessary Permits or Passes. Give copies of your itinerary to a friend and sign in at trailhead registers.
- Always bring the Ten Essentials and First Aid Kit.
Prowling and theft can happen even in the backcountry, so take precautions when you park your car at the trailhead. Lock your doors, close your windows, and never leave anything valuable inside.
On the Trail
Common sense will almost always keep you safe on trail, but the following will help keep you and your group safe, just in case.
Stay on the trail. The chances of getting lost or injured increase dramatically as soon as you step off the beaten path.
Set the right pace and take breaks when needed. Pick a pace that's comfortable for everyone, and be sure the leader can always see the whole group. If the pace is too fast for anyone, have the slowest members lead.
Take breaks whenever they're needed, especially on long hikes and hot days.
Hike within your skills and abilities and those of the least experienced group member. Remember, it’s OK to turn back if a hike ends up being more difficult than expected.
Be aware of your surroundings. Watch for storm clouds, potential hazards on the trail, wild animals or hunters and inform the group immediately if you have concerns.
After the Hike
- Write a Trip Report and post it to WTA.org! It's a fun way to keep track of your progress as you begin hiking more difficult trails, plus you’ll help other hikers plan their trips.
- Take a Wilderness First Aid course. Once you know what you can expect on the trail, learn how to treat some of the most common injuries and ailments.
- Stretch, ice and keep track of injuries. Remember to stretch to prevent pain, ice to reduce pain and consult a physician If pain persists for more than a couple days.
Leaving civilization behind doesn't mean living civility behind, too. You're not the only one enjoying the great outdoors, so read up on these rules of hiking etiquette and Leave No Trace techniques and keep in mind the following:
- Give other groups space (and right of way): Don't crowd other parties; either pass them or wait to give them some space. Similarly, let faster groups pass and yield to those hiking uphill when you're descending. And don't forget to say hello to passers-by!
- Watch your noise level: Let yourself (and others) enjoy the sounds of the outdoors by limiting your group size to six or fewer and keeping your noise level to a minimum. If you bring your cell phone, turn it off and only use it in case of emergencies.
- Minimize your impact: As the saying goes, leave only footprints, take only pictures. Pack out all your trash, never attempt to approach or feed a wild animal and stay on the trail to avoid trampling delicate flora and fauna.
- Be a good group-member: Set an appropriate pace, warn others about loose rocks and other hazards and hold overhanging branches out of the way so they don't hit those behind you in the face.