Due to COVID-19, many people who aren’t regular hikers have been seeking the local trails as a way to exercise outdoors. Though it’s great to see the popularity of the outdoors increase, it’s not as great to see a decrease in safe hiking precautions. Use this easy hiking-safety-101 guide to make sure you’re well prepared for a fun and safe day outdoors.

Let’s talk basics:

Hydration: bring water! Even if you are only going on a half-hour hike, at least bring a reusable water bottle. You never know if your short walk is going to turn into a long one, whether by intention or not. I recommend 0.5–1L per hour, especially during the summer months.

Food: bring a protein bar or a snack just in case. You don’t want to get miles into a trail only to realize your energy is failing and you’ve got to hike the return miles back out.

Sun protection: you’ve surely heard it before but let’s say it again together: wear sunscreen. Also, it’s a good idea to wear a hat or invest in UV protective clothing. Taking care of your skin is vital to your health since it’s the body’s largest organ. Period.

First-aid kit: better to have it and not need it, than need it and not have it. You can make your own with supplies you probably have at home. Just get hand sanitizer, bandaids, gauze for larger wounds, and maybe an allergy pill or ibuprofen for swelling or pain and place into an empty mint box.

Know what to expect:

Heights and exposure: Check the elevation gain and how much shade the trail has before you go so that you’ll know if you can handle the hike. Also, check how close the trail is to any steep cliffside via pictures. I once reached a hike’s summit, exhausted from the climb, only to step way too close to the unknown edge. Knowing what to expect can keep you safe.

Do some research on the trail conditions before you go. I usually use hiking apps and scroll down to the comments to see what people have said about the trail recently. For example, if someone says it’s overgrown then I’ll make sure I’m wearing pants and thick socks to cover my legs from unwanted bugs or poison oak. 

Moving on to outdoor warnings:

Your first stop should be the hiking poster board: Many hiking trails (especially if they’re part of a State Park) have a trailhead information board that will display a map and local information. Usually, it will have a map of the hike, a short description, and animal warnings. This is here for a purpose: to share the critical information of the trail.

Possible animal encounters:

Rattlesnakes are commonly seen on hiking trails, especially in summer months. If you’re unfamiliar with the rattle’s sound, search for Rattlesnake sounds on Youtube to educate yourself on what to listen for. You’ll hear them before you see them since they’re warning that you’re too close. So keep your ears open, and don’t wear headphones or blast music since you could miss a critical warning signal.

Mountain lions are less commonly seen on hiking trails but it can happen. A mountain lion usually won’t hurt a human unless its sick or starving. If seen, don’t approach it and don’t run. Make yourself look larger and if attacked, fight back. If you do encounter one, report it to your local forest ranger station.

Bees and hornets are common.Remember that you are in their territory, so all those flowers that make a great photo-op could turn into getting multiple stings by disturbing the bees. Plus, hornets can make their hives in the ground, sometimes right next to a well-traversed trail. Again keep your ears open so that you’ll know if you’re getting too close.

Coyotes are not typically dangerous but don’t tempt one to chase you by running away. Keep eye contact and make noise while making yourself look big, which should cause them to leave.

And finally communication:

Make sure that someone who is not joining the hike knows which trail you’re going on. I’m 25 years old and I still tell my mom the name of the trailhead that I’ll be hiking.

Check your cell signal periodically while you’re hiking. This way, if anything were to go wrong, you’ll know how far to retreat to reach service again.

Enjoy and leave no trace:

Always remember to practice leave no trace principals, meaning if you pack it in then pack it out too. Let’s take good care of nature so it can be enjoyed for generations to come.

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Let me know if you enjoyed this hiking-safety-101 guide! Feel free to share any more tips and tricks you’ve learned in the comments below!