How to Prepare for Potential Hiking Dangers
Hiking is a fun way to enjoy nature and keep fit, but you have to do some planning and preparation in order to be safe. This video gives some tips for planning to prevent any potential risks and dangers you may encounter on a day hike.
One aspect of hiking which I did not discuss is wildlife, because I hike in areas with little potential for danger from animals. Therefore, I do not have the necessary experience to offer advice. I would strongly suggest you research an area to determine the likelihood of encountering wildlife. A little preparation goes a long way.
Like a Boy Scout, Always Be Prepared
How's the Weather?
Before going hiking, there are several aspects of the weather you should find out. First, research local weather patterns. The farther you are traveling for your hike, the more important this will probably be. You don't want to arrive on the day to realize that the hike you have chosen is only safe in the summer, and you've shown up in winter!
Some things you may want to focus on are typical weather patterns in the area. For example, are there afternoon showers most days during the summer? If so, you will need to prepare wet weather gear. If the ground regularly freezes at night, you should consider crampons for an early mornign hike. These details can make the difference between an enjoyable day in nature and a slog back to the car.
When hiking, the terrain, like the weather, can make or break your day. If you are looking for a challenge, a total ascent of 50 meters is unlikely to satisfy you. On the other hand, if you have bad knees, scrambling up and down rocks without your hiking poles is likely to leave you in pain or even injured. Fortunately, maps give you all the information you need. Personally, I leave a lot of the map-reading to my significant other (he's much better at it) and Google blog posts about specific hikes to get other people's experiences, especially if, like me, they are over-40 and female.
Studying the map beforehand can tell you how much you will be traveling up and down and the closeness of the contour rings will let you know how quickly you will be doing that traveling. You can use that information to find gentler (or steeper, if you want a challenge) areas near the trail. You can also see what land features may slow you down, such as a stream or bog. The information you can get from the map should inform your decisions about how long you will need to complete the hike. Even so, be sure to give yourself a little more time than you think you need, so you don't find yourself in the woods after dark without a flashlight!
Navigation has never been my strong suit, but depending on where you hike, it can save your life. (I don't hike in those places.) In any case, you should not go hiking without a map and a GPS or compass. You should also not go hiking without practicing using the GPS or compass in a familiar place first, to make sure you really know how to use it.
In the Army, we practiced in parking lots and in areas on base with easily-identified landmarks before going in the field. As a civilian, using a local city map will serve the same purpose. Practice until you can reliably orient yourself to your surroundings using the map and GPS or compass, then you are ready to go.
Eating and Drinking on the Trail
It is very important to stay hydrated while hiking. Unless it is quite hot, you will probably be losing more water than you realize. So, you should stop frequently for water breaks, even if you don't feel thirsty. It's a good idea to pack an extra bottle, in case your hike takes longer than expected. You don't want to run out of water.
Carrying a few (lightly) salty snacks can help replace the salts lost through sweat. Other snacks which will hold up well in a backpack are trail mix, granola bars, and single serving packets of peanut butter, meat/ jerky, and tuna. Sandwiches are great, but tend to get squashed if not carried in a plastic container. You may notice that all of these are high protein foods. They will give you energy over a longer period of time than carbs and keep you going on the trails.
Keep it Safe!
Be sure to prepare a first aid kit and be prepared to administer first aid, if needed. You and your hiking buddies should inform one another of medical issues, such as bee allergies, and what should be done in case of an emergency. For example, if you carry an epipen, keep it in the first aid kit and make sure everyone knows how to use it, in case you are unable to.
Finally, don't forget to leave an itinerary behind, in case you can't get reception on your cell phone. You should include where you will be and approximately what time you should be finished.