10 TIPS FOR STAYING SAFE ON THE TRAIL
Hiking in itself is not a dangerous activity. After all, it’s just walking. However, the wilderness environment that you’re hiking through has plenty of inherent dangers. They’re nothing so bad that you need to be paranoid, but arming yourself with some general know-how, and exercising a good dose of common sense, can help you respond properly and make good decisions if an unexpected event occurs. Here’s 10 tips for dealing with everything from bear encounters to swollen rivers to poison mushrooms to help you have a safe and enjoyable outdoor adventure.
- Wear long pants and sturdy boots to protect your feet, ankles and legs—the most likely place you might get bitten.
- Be alert in grassy, shrubby areas. Snakes like hiding in these areas as they wait for their next meal to pass by.
- Use trekking poles to tap trailside grasses and shrubs. Snakes don’t like vibrations and will move away.
- Keep your pup leashed so they don’t go bounding into brush and grasses that might be hiding snakes.
- Check under, around and behind rocks and logs before stepping off the trail to sit or take a break.
IF YOU ENCOUNTER A RATTLESNAKE:
- Back away slowly, and don’t make any sudden movements.
- Give the snake a wide space and allow it to leave the area.
- Do not antagonize rattlesnakes by poking or prodding them!
- If bitten, wash the wound and seek medical attention.
- Talk, sing, or whistle to announce your presence to any bears that might be in the area.
- Look for signs of bears, such as paw prints, scat piles, and scratched up trees.
- Be extra-alert in dense shrubby areas—especially around berries—and when approaching blind curves.
- Keep your pup leashed so they don’t chase, antagonize or try to engage with bears.
- Cook your meals away from camp, and store your food safely by hanging it or keeping it in a bear-proof container.
IF YOU ENCOUNTER A BLACK BEAR:
- Talk softly and do not make direct eye contact.
- Back away slowly, keeping your eyes on it; never run!
- Give the bear space to leave the area.
- If attacked, fight back!
- Scout for a safe crossing location; be aware of any potential hazards downstream, e.g., waterfalls, rapids, etc.
- Look for wide, shallow, calm water where you can see the bottom of the riverbed.
- Scan your crossing area for any underwater or hidden debris that be a tripping hazard or cause injury.
- Keep your boots on to minimize slipping on rocks and to reduce your chances of jamming toes or injuring feet.
- Unbuckle your pack’s waistbelt so you can get out of it easily in case you go for an unexpected plunge.
- Cross facing into the current to give yourself the best leverage; use trekking poles to assist your balance.
- Scan log make sure it’s stable and will support your weight.
- Look for loose bark or bare patches that might be slippery.
- Focus on the log or the opposite riverbank; do not look at water as that can make you dizzy.
- Check fire and weather reports before heading for the trail. If thunderstorm activity is forecast, reconsider your plans.
- If you see wildfire smoke in the direction you’re traveling, turn around or exit to the nearest road or trailhead.
- Never hike toward an active fire. If the wind picks up or changes direction, you may not be able to outrun the fire.
IF CAUGHT IN A WILDFIRE:
- Seek lower ground in a clear area, such as a grassy meadow, or near a lake or large pond; get in the water; or
- Seek higher ground in a rocky area, such as a talus slope, above the treeline; stay out of avalanche chutes.
- Avoid saddles and ridgelines, as fire spreads uphill faster, and can be funneled through saddles.
- Get somewhere out in the open to make yourself visible to any rescue aircraft that may be searching for hikers.
STORMS & LIGHTNING
- Check area weather reports before heading for the trail. If thunderstorm activity is forecast, reconsider your plans.
- If you observe storm building in your area, or in the direction you’re heading, take shelter to wait it out, or turn around.
- If you exit the trail, take shelter in a car or building.
IF CAUGHT IN A STORM:
- Get off of high peaks and ridges and take shelter in lower, forested ground; stay out of wide-open areas.
- Choose forest with small- to medium-sized trees; avoid tall old-growth; keep some space between you and the trees.
- Avoid open backcountry shelters, shallow caves and mines.
- If you’re in a group, spread out so you’re not all clustered together—just in case.
- Crouch low to the ground on a sleeping pad so you’re not in direct contact with the ground.
- Cover your ears to protect your eardrums from sudden thunder blasts directly overhead.
COLD & HYPOTHERMIA
- Check the weather and temperature forecast before heading out. If inclement weather is forecast, reconsider your plans.
- Pack your Ten Essentials, including a rain shell, puffy jacket, shelter (tent or bivvy sack) and fire starter.
- Layer up in breathable, moisture-wicking garments; avoid cotton. Include a hat and gloves.
- Build a campfire.
- Get out of any wet clothing; layer up in warm, dry clothes.
- Eat foods high in protein and carbs that take a longer time to digest, thus creating core heat.
- Drink water to stay hydrated, as dehydration contributes to hypothermia.
- Do vigorous exercise, e.g., jumping jacks or burpees; if in your tent, do sit-ups in your sleeping bag.
Even if water looks clean, it may contain Cryptosporidium or Giardia. These pathogens can cause flulike symptoms that can last a little as a few weeks, and as long as a year. Symptoms don’t begin right away, but take 1–2 weeks before onset.
- Avoid dark, murky water, as this contains rotting organic material. It could be harmful, and usually tastes disgusting.
- Avoid light, milky water in volcanic areas. This water contains tiny particles of silica (glass), which can clog filters and cause digestive problems.
- Avoid water w/ toxic blue-green algae. This can cause digestive issues in humans, and can kill small animals.
PURIFY YOUR WATER:
- Use a water purification device, such as a pump or filter.
- Boil water for five minutes .
- Strain dirty water thru a bandana.
- Before heading out, leave your itinerary with roommate, friend or family member who knows where you’ll be, and when you’ll be back.
- Carry a map and compass—and know how to read them.
- If you carry an electronic navigation device (GPS), know how to use it, and carry extra batteries.
IF YOU GET LOST, S.T.O.P:
- Stop and take a few deep breaths. Have a drink of water. In order to make smart decisions, you need remain calm.
- Think about your situation and how you got to your current location, i.e., what direction were you traveling?
- Observe your surroundings and try to identify familiar landmarks. If you were taking photos, look for clues.
- Plan your next steps, considering how much daylight you have left, weather conditions, and your food and water.
Hike the PCT
Get the entire Hiking the PCT
library and start planning your
own epic adventure today!