It’s summer! The time for family vacations, days at the pool, and lots of adventures! For my family, summer also means hiking season! Hiking is a great way to explore, spend time together as family and friends, and get some exercise! While hiking might sound intimidating to some, the great thing about it is there is a hike for everyone.
Once you start looking around in your area you’ll find short, flat, beginner hikes; longer intermediate hikes; and more advanced, technical hikes. You can take advantage of the many hiking parks available with well-developed trails or you can explore more on your own in areas where the trails are harder to find and navigate.
Hiking is such a great way to get outdoors and relax in nature. It is even more relaxing when you follow a few guidelines. These guidelines will help keep you safe and help others continue to enjoy the trails after you leave.
1. Be Prepared! Being prepared for your hike is the best way to stay safe. Find out ahead of time how long your hike is, what the terrain is like, and what the weather will be like for that day. Once you have your hike information, it’s time to pack.
Here’s a list of basic hiking essentials:
- Water. Take more water than you think you’ll need. If you know there is water on the hike and you don’t want to pack extra, make sure you have a way to filter and sanitize the water you find.
- Food. It’s important to have food with you. Some hikes will take longer than you are planning on, and you don’t want to run out of energy on your hike. Make sure you pack some salty snacks to replenish the salt you sweat out, especially during these hot summer days.
- Sunscreen and a Hat. No one likes to be sunburned and keeping your head covered will help decrease your risk of heat exhaustion.
- Bug repellent. Hiking is much more enjoyable without a swarm of gnats and mosquitos around your head.
- Sturdy shoes. Not only will good closed toe shoes support your feet on uneven terrain, but they will also protect you from scratches, plant irritants, and snake bites.
- First aid kit. Pack band aids, moleskin, and some antibiotic ointment in case of scratches from branches and rocks or blisters from ill-fitting shoes. Anti-itch cream is also a good idea in case you run into any plants or bugs that irritate your skin.
Depending on what you found out when you were researching your hike, you might need additional items. If the day will be colder, you’ll want a jacket and some long pants. If you’ll be going on a less well-marked trail, you’ll want a trail map and a compass. Preparing for your specific hike will ensure an enjoyable experience.
2. Prevent Snake Encounters. Something that many people worry about while hiking is snakes. Snakes are definitely out there, but if you are careful, you can still hike safely. Like I mentioned above, wearing sturdy closed toe shoes will protect your feet should you happen to step too close to an unsuspecting snake. If you are going into an area that you think will have a lot of snakes, wear long, loose-fitting pants. Stick to the trail and avoid walking through long grass or in areas with lots of leaves and foliage covering the ground. Be careful when picking up rocks or logs as snakes can hide underneath. Avoid stepping or putting your hands somewhere you can’t see, especially if climbing on rocks2. And just remember, snakes like to avoid humans, so if we do our best to stay in our territory, they’ll be less likely to bother us.
3. Don’t Hike Alone. Even if you know the area well, the unexpected can happen. Hiking in groups allows everyone to watch out for each other, and there’s always someone that can go for help should the need arise. If you’re determined to hike on your own, make sure someone knows exactly where you’ll be going, when you are leaving, and how long the hike should take you.
4. Leave No Trace. A big part of the fun while hiking is enjoying nature. This can be spoiled when others are not considerate of keeping our trails clean and litter free. A good rule of thumb is to pack out whatever you pack in. This includes packing out all food, even if it’s biodegradable. Avoid walking off the trail or letting your pets run off the trail. Not only will this keep you and your pets safer, but it will preserve the area and limit habitat destruction.
Hiking is such a great exercising alternative during the summer. Following these guidelines will help make your adventures more relaxing and fun for everyone involved!
So get outside, see new things, get your heart rate up, and enjoy hiking!
1. All Trails - http://alltrails.com
2. Snake Safety - http://www.fs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DOCUMENTS/stelprdb5393596.pdf