Hiking, like any outdoor sport, comes with some inherent risks. Making sure you pack the Ten Essentials, leaving your itinerary with family and friends, and other common-sense precautions go a long way toward minimizing that risk so you can just enjoy the wonder of your hiking experience. But accidents, sometimes truly tragic ones, do happen.
We've all had those close calls — skidding our boot across some loose gravel and feeling our heart skip a beat because there's a drop-off right there, or tripping over a tree root and almost taking a tumble down a hillside. Whether you are brand new to hiking or have been at it for years without incident, it's never a bad idea to go back to basics.
TIPS FOR HIKING WITH SURE FOOTING
It sounds simple and easy. Hiking is walking, putting one foot in front of the other. But as summer rolls into fall, and rain starts to make trails more slippery, remember that the ground isn't flat, and a heavy pack can throw off your balance. Some trails pass right by steep cliffs. Snow may be slippery. Loose rocks on trail tread may shift unexpectedly.
You can't control the environment, but there are ways to become more sure-footed when you hike.
- It may seem silly to say, but watch where you are going. Washington's stunning views have a way of distracting even the most adept hiker.
- Keep your hands free by stashing or securing your camera, phone or GPS device while hiking.
- When scrambling, check the stability of the rocks before you trust them with your weight.
- Be aware of where you are standing. This is especially true when you are taking a photo or having a photo taken of you.
- When putting on your pack, give yourself room to safely re-balance yourself.
- Take extra care around cliff areas, especially when it's been raining.
- Don't be afraid to turn around if the weather conditions change, you hit a rough patch in the trail or anyone in your hiking group gets tired.
- Try trekking poles — these are great for helping you keep your balance on steep trails, circumventing obstacles and crossing streams and snowfields — though beware that having good balance on your own two feet is the most essential.
- As summer turns to fall, consider bringing traction devices for your boots.
- You can also improve your balance with basic conditioning exercises. Do the "Daily Dozen" [PDF}, a set of hiking exercises from John Colver's Fit by Nature.
Each one of us is ultimately responsible for our own safety in the backcountry. Choose hikes that feel safe to you and step carefully out there.