6 Tips for Hiking Safety
Hiking Safety Tips in the Backcountry
In this article, we’ll take a look at some tips for how to enhance hiking safety while in the backcountry. We will avoid giving medical advice, as we feel that should generally come from an accredited medical doctor. It should go without saying, however, that knowledge of proper first aid is a useful skill on the trail, but that merely reading about it might not be the best way to guarantee that you will be able to safely deal with injuries that arise on the trail. Instead, we take a preventative attitude towards difficulties that may be encountered on the trail. If you adopt these measures, you are guaranteed to have a more comfortable, less injury-prone experience in the wilderness.
This is probably the most well-known and yet still frequently ignored piece of advice. Blisters are serious, and not taken seriously by many hikers. Aside from the great discomfort that they bring, they also increase the chance of infection if ruptured. Also, if enough blisters are accumulated, walking may be nigh-impossible.
The funny thing about this problem, the most common problem that hikers face, is that it’s so easy to avoid. Wearing socks not made from cotton (look for wicking properties) and having properly fitting shoes that are already broken in is all that you need to greatly reduce the risk of blisters.
However, to go that extra mile, it helps to apply preventative moleskin to the problem areas that you have on your feet, which vary from person to person, BEFORE you start on the trail. Doing this will help to keep blisters from forming in the places where they’re most likely, and will go a long in way in ensuring a comfortable time on the trail.
2. Backpack Loading and Posture
Improperly loading your backpack, or maintain an improper posture, is a more insidious form of harmful behavior. The full effects might not be immediately obvious, and the immediate effects might seem only minor. However, if you intend on engaging in a lifelong pursuit of backpacking, doing it right and maintain the standards of hiking safety will make a huge difference on the wear and tear of your back, shoulders and joints.
First of all, you need to know how to properly load your backpack. The basics of this are simple; put the heaviest stuff so that it stacks upward in your backpack and against the side that will be closest to your back. Fill the outer portions of the backpack with lighter gear. The reason for this is that your spine and shoulders are designed to best carry weight that is located close to the spine. The further from the spine that it is, the more strain that you will feel; this often results in a sort of bird-like stance with head tilted forward, neck outstretched.
If you’re walking in this sort of stance, then you know you have bad posture for backpacking. Good posture is easy to know; it’s the same as your normal walking posture! Head held upright, arms swinging freely, straight back… it’s just like what your mother urged you to do when you were a moping teenager. If your backpack is improperly loaded, this might be impossible. If it’s properly loaded, you still might tend to fall into a slouch-forward posture, and this is something you should try to rectify immediately.
Most backpackers travel in groups. There are numerous reasons for this, not the least of which are socializing and the safety-in-numbers philosophy. There is at least one element of hiking safety that decreases in a group, however, which is pressure to keep up an unsuitable pace.
Every person has a slightly different pace that is comfortable for them. I’ve tended to leave others behind in my wake, but I’ve also been on a few trails where people were almost running past me, and all evidence suggested that they were able to keep this up throughout their entire hike. In fact, in my first major hike, the story of which can be found here (LINK TO BE INSERTED), one of the biggest problems I faced was in being the third wheel in a group of two highly experienced, highly fit hikers, who seemingly bounded along the trail like Superman in a skip.
Whether you feel pressure to speed up or pressure to slow down, this is a detrimental effect on the enjoyment of your trip. When you feel forced to speed up, you can especially run the risk of injuring yourself. As I’ve gotten older, my knees have become less reliable, and to guarantee a low risk of injury, I now try to maintain a slower pace than I did in previous years. Never again will I try to force myself to keep up with others going at a blazing fast pace. You can always catch up at pre-determined rest spots; a longer rest period will always be a good thing for the trail blazers anyway.
4. Pay Attention
This may seem like an obvious one, but there are still plenty of people who don’t do it. We should all be paying attention in our movements every day anyway, but when you’re on trails filled with environmental dangers, it is even more important. Sure, the risks are rarely as great as when flying down the interstate, but the very real possibility of long falls or lacerating branches should still be enough to suggest that a state of caution is necessary at all times while in the wilderness.
Mosquitoes are bad enough, but we all know how to deal with them. The big risks towards hiking safety when backpacking in the Rockies or in other high elevation areas comes from ticks and other similar pestilential critters. Where do you think the conferred name of “pest” came from, anyway? The diseases that these bugs carry can be debilitating, and in some cases fatal. Tick diseases are especially dangerous (and not uncommon), and in some hiking areas fleas carrying the Bubonic Plague (yes, that’s still a real thing that exists in the modern world) such as in the Sierra Nevada range are still a present threat. Keep yourself from being exposed, especially your legs. If you’re walking through grassy areas, do not take off the lower parts of your convertible pants. A nice breeze at your knees is a small price to give up in return for safety against ticks. To avoid fleas, stay away from rodents, even dead ones. Before setting up camp, do a proper inspection of the area to make sure that no such wildlife is nearby.
Finally, maintaining good hygiene is important for multi day hiking safety. The two most common areas of concern with regards to hygiene are water and food. For water, there are numerous ways to ensure sterility. Whether you use a mechanical filter, a chemical purifier, or a UV purifier, use something. These methods all work well and have their various merits. For further information on water filtration, check out our article portable water filtration guide
In regards to food, it may not be necessary to fully wash your food vessels after every use. There are those within the hiking community that think washing with soap, even biodegradable soap, after every meal still places undue stress on the environment. If you agree with their line of thought, making sure that you finish all food in a container and leaving no scraps is important, but only the first step. You should at least bring water to a rolling boil in any vessel with which you eat food before you eat from it again. This will help to guard against various bacteria, but especially the bacteria that cause Giardia and diarrhea.
These are our simple guidelines for getting off to a safe start on any hike. They don’t require any additional gear or a purchase of any sort (aside from perhaps moleskin), proving that the biggest factor in hiking safety is awareness. Know what you’re doing, and do it well! Sound off below with any of your own ideas on hiking safety.