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Hiking and Backpacking Safety Tips

How to stay safe on hiking trails


Updated June 08, 2007

Hiking is a great way to add a little variety to your exercise routine and some simple safety precautions will ensure an enjoyable trip. In addition to being prepared physically, you will want to select the right trail, pack the right gear, and know how to take care of yourself in an emergency.

At Home Planning

  • Select a trail that matches your conditioning, the amount of time you have and the type of terrain you enjoy. Get a topographic map or a hiking guidebook. And always check the weather forecast before you head out.
  • Conditioning. Make sure the trail you select matches your ability. In the early season, you should start with moderate hikes and build up your endurance over the season.
  • Let someone know where you are going and when you plan to return.
  • Line up a hiking partner if possible. While it is best to avoid hiking alone, if you must go by yourself, it is wise to pick more popular trails so that if you run into trouble, it's likely that someone will on on the same trail to offer assistance.

On The Trail

  • Dress in layers and always bring rain gear to prepare for changing weather. Avoid cotton clothing, which insulates poorly when wet and dries very slowly.
  • Make sure your hiking boots fit properly. To avoid blisters and sore spots, never wear a new pair of boots on a long hike. Break them in slowly by testing boots on shorter hikes or walking around your neighborhood a bit first.
  • Carry a compass and a topographic map of the area and know how to use both.
  • Pay attention to landmarks on the trail, and check your map often, even on an obvious trail. You should also turn around occasionally to see how the trail looks when you are heading the other direction. This will make finding you way back much easier.
  • Don’t get separated from your partner or group. Always keep within eyesight of your group and stop and re-group at any trail junctions.
  • Carry a whistle within easy reach. Three blasts of a whistle is the universal signal for help
  • Drink often to avoid dehydration.
  • Don't drink water from ponds or streams unless you have treated it first by boiling, filtering or using purification tablets.
  • Carry the ten essentials for hiking.

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