11 Ways to Stay Safe While Hiking: What Every Hiker Should Know

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The snow has melted from all but a few spots of our favorite high alpine trails. The paths to amazing views in Olympic National Park and the Pacific Northwest are getting more crowded. New hikers are discovering nature and those who hike in the summer have dusted off their boots, found a hike in Exotic Hikes Guidebook and hit the trails. Even those of us who have been hiking year-round are reaching further and further into the interior of the beauty of Cascadia, reconnecting with nature one step at a time. Each of us is exploring for our own reason, but all of us are at risk for something serious to happen.

We won’t sugarcoat this. Hiking can be dangerous. Sprained ankles, bad cuts and bruises, serious falls, broken limbs and even death are possible on almost any trail, but the risk of death or serious injury can be minimized by following a few simple steps.

Bring the 10 Essentials!

Image from: https://www.mcnett.com/gearaid/blog/ten-hiking-essentials

This is one steadfast rule that the majority of hikers will skimp on. Bringing 10 things with you, especially in the age of the minimalist hiker, seems wasteful and awkward, especially on shorter hikes. Skipping a few things might lighten your load, but why not have the peace of mind knowing that you are prepared? If you are hiking on a real trail, have a bag with everything in it. You never know…

Know your Terrain!

Walking the ledge atop Colonel Bob in a storm

Before you hike something, know what it will be like and do some research. Read a guidebook, check online, ask Exotic Hikes a question, look at Topo maps and Google Satellite images; do whatever you can to understand what you will be dealing with. By researching your trail and the terrain you will be encountering, you will be able to bring the right clothes, shoes, amount of water and food and other miscellaneous gear.  Researching terrain will also let you know if you should expect a water source on the trail or if you need to pack extra water with you.

Dress Properly!

What not to wear on a day hike.

If you hike any of the popular trails in the region during the spring summer and fall months, you have seen your fair share of people wearing clothes that aren’t the smartest for day hikes. At the end of June, 2014, two young women from Olympia decided that they would take a trip up to the summit of Mount Ellinor on the Olympic Peninsula. The day was wet and cold, but they decided to climb up Mt. Ellinor in yoga pants, tennis shoes and workout tops. The weather soon reduced visibility to just 15 feet before the inevitable happened. Unprepared for the conditions and unfamiliar with the terrain, one girl slid, ripped her pants wide open and was forced to dial 9-1-1 for help to get down the mountain.

Before you say “Oh, I would never do something like that!”, think about each time you went out for a quick hike “knowing” everything would be ok. Wear the right clothes and the right shoes and bring raingear with you at all times. Even if the forecast calls for no rain over the next five days, always be prepared. A simple rule is that if you are wearing something you usually wear to work out in the gym while on a hike, you are underprepared.  You might want to show off that “Bod” you have been working on since New Year’s, but showing off your toned arms and abs isn’t worth the risk of an injury, hypothermia or worse.

Leave a note of where you are going!

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This is common sense. Never go hiking without telling at least 2 other people where you are going and when you expect to return. We would type more in this section, but the reality is, if you don’t do this and stick to your itinerary, you are an idiot. Leaving a note takes all of 5 seconds and could save your life. This is one of the simplest ways to stay safe and get rescued, should you get stranded.

Know your limits and abilities!

Colonel Bob Peak, Olympic Peninsula

You, more than anyone else, know what your body is capable of doing while hiking. The worst thing you can do is to push yourself too hard and get stuck, unable to hike up or down. Do not feel like you have to keep up with someone hiking faster than you, as they are hiking at their pace and not yours. As soon as you feel out of your comfort zone, take a break, eat some protein, and drink some water and rest. If you still feel fatigued after a break of 5 or 10 minutes with zero improvement of your health and well-being, rest a bit more and call it a day. You are hiking for your enjoyment, not to keep up with everyone else.

Take plenty of breaks!

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Hiking isn’t a race. If you feel tired, stop and take a small rest. There is no shame what-so-ever in having someone pass you on a trail. If you start getting tired, find a stump to sit on and kick back to enjoy the beauty of nature. Sometimes, just sitting in solitude along a trail can bring the best moments. After resting for 15 minutes in silence, birds start chirping more and wildlife not seen emerges from the forest around you. While everyone else is rushing to their destination, it is more than allowed to stop and smell the roses, especially when doing so will keep you rested, safe and thinking straight.

Stay Hydrated and well fed!

Don't go chasing waterfalls. Using a LifeStraw on Mount Ellinor

The absolute worst thing you can do while hiking is to not stay properly hydrated and fed. Depending on the hike, you can lose anywhere between 2,000 and 6,000 calories to reach your destination. Those calories need to be replenished, or you will start seeing an increase in cramping, loss of high level cognitive abilities, dizziness and severe lethargy. Hiking is not the time to skip a meal or hold steady to your diet. Eat a ton while on the trails and diet while at home.

More common than not eating is not bringing water with you. Nearly every time we go up Mt Ellinor, we give away 5 or 6 bottles of water to hikers who brought just one small bottle of water for the entire trail. This is inexcusable. Bring more water than you think you would ever drink, bring extra Gatorade and bring water purifiers with you. If you are properly hydrated, you should need to urinate at least once on every hike, and the urine should not be dark yellow or brown.

Check the weather!

Storm rolling in on Mount Ellinor, Olympic Peninsula

The weather can change every five minutes in the Pacific Northwest, but it can be predicted somewhat well. Checking the weather for the location where you will be hiking the days leading up to your hike and then double checking the morning of your adventure will make all the difference in the world. Knowing what the temperature is, what the percentage for rain will be, the long term forecast, the ceiling of clouds and the wind speeds will help you decide what the perfect clothes will be for your trip. It will also tell you whether or not going out that day is a good idea. If the weather looks bad, but you really want to hike, find a location where the weather will impact you the least. If you are not used to hiking with low visibility in wind, rain and sleet, avoid the mountains during stormy days.

Example: If the forecast looks like clouds in the afternoon with a chance of rain in the evening, expect rain, wind and cold temperature. Being over-prepared is not a bad thing.

Stay on the trail!

Mount Ellinor, Olympic National Forest

Staying on the trail should always be done, not just for your safety, but for minimizing humanity’s impact on the fragile natural areas we all enjoy so much. Numerous injuries occur each day on trails around the country from people leaving the trail for a better picture or to make the trip more fun.  Injuries also occur off trail by hikers who get lost on the trail, which is something studying the terrain and trails can help alleviate. By staying on the trail, you are keeping yourself in a well-known area, so if an accident was to occur, search and rescue could easily reach you and transport you to safety.

Leaving the trail on a hike should only be done for two reasons: To use the bathroom or to avoid an aggressive animal.

Give animals their space!

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Animals are wild, and no matter how many people they see, they can still attack. Just a few years ago on Klahhane Ridge in Olympic National Park, a man was gored to death by a mountain goat. Hikers were getting too close to the animals. From not urinating far off trail, to feeding the goats, they became comfortable with getting too close to people. In 2012, Mount Ellinor was closed due to an aggressive mountain goat problem. While many laugh at this notion, mountain goats, like any animal, will attack if threatened. The best way to not threaten an animal is to keep your distance at all times. If a mountain goat does approach you, the National Forest Service recommends making noise, waving your arms, or if all that fails, throwing a rock or branch in the direction of the goat to scare it away. This should only be done if the goat is legitimately threatening you, not just walking by.

Also, do not feed or try to touch any animal. This includes squirrels, chipmunks, birds, deer or other people’s dogs.

More on goat safety: http://www.fs.usda.gov/detail/olympic/home/?cid=stelprdb5412239

Do not leave your hiking partner!

Walking ahead of Einmaleins at Lake of the Angles, Olympic National Park

If you are hiking alone or with a group, never leave someone behind or let someone hike on too far ahead. This is where a large number of accidents happen, including a recent death of a notable hiker in Washington State, Karen Sykes. Leaving someone behind is rule number one and should be avoided at all costs. If your group is tired and can’t continue, stop and head back. Live to hike another day.

Following these rules is not a guarantee to keep you safe, and many other hikers have their own rules for safety that are great. This list is intended to get each and every hiker thinking about their own actions and behavior on mountains and, hopefully, being prepared enough to help others be safe on the trails. Please share this list with everyone you know who hits the trails so we can try to get through a season without hearing about a hiker who was ill-prepared needing to get airlifted off of a mountain.

Credit to : http://blogs.seattletimes.com/today/2014/06/mount-rainier-hiker-karen-sykes-died-from-hypothermia/

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