Have you wanted to explore the outdoors but are unsure about where to start? Are you thinking about doing a backpacking trip but feel intimidated by doom and gloom news stories about lost hikers? Here are 10 tips to make your hike safe, enjoyable and memorable.
- HIKE IN A GROUP
Besides being safer, group hikes help you enjoy quality time with friends and to get to know people better. It’s always fun to experience nature together and everyone will have a story to talk about after the hike. In addition you might learn from more experienced hikers, whether it’s safety tips, ideas for new places to hike, or tips on supplies to bring. Another advantage is if a hiker in the group is struggling, you can help by distributing loads.
When I was hiking, I had friends recommend awesome new trails such as Muir Beach Trail in the Marin Headlands and Point Reyes. I also meet cool people who even did rock-climbing in Yosemite and traveled to pretty remote places. I learned tons about safety, new hiking spots, and the cool experiences people had.
IF YOU ARE HIKING ALONE: make sure you do it right. If possible pick a well-traveled, well-marked trail, tell someone where you are going beforehand, know your physical limits, and be prepared with water and food. If you’re hiking in a fairly remote/wild place, I highly recommend getting something like a SPOT Transponder. This device can help you send pre-determined messages to family and friends, and if something goes wrong you can send a help signal to emergency responders who will track down your location.
- DRINK, DRINK, DRINK
And I don’t mean the Bacardi vodka here :P. Make sure you and your entire party has plenty of water the entire hike, both on the outgoing and returning trip. A good rule of thumb: Always bring a little extra than you think you might need. Check out this page to see exactly how much water you should bring on the hike. This will prevent any shortage/complains. Your backpack gets lighter each time you stop for a drink, making your return trip little less laborious.
- CARRY CALORIE-RICH SNACKS
Food provides you with essential energy but it also adds weight. That’s why for backpacking trips, it’s recommended that your snacks have at least 100 calories per ounce and that formula is good to keep in mind for long day hikes as well. For examples of snacks that meet this standard, click here. Also check out this article for additional tips.
- SECURE YOUR VALUABLE BELONGINGS
Hikes cause things to be easily forgotten or lost, especially small, valuable items. Take a photo ID, insurance card, and credit card on the trail and keep them in a secure location such as a backpack zip up pocket. For extra precaution, take pictures of each of these items and email them to yourself, so it makes the process easier of you lose any of these items. Remember, don’t have a situation where you lose your credit card to a vast place like Yosemite!
- REPACKAGE TO REDUCE WEIGHT
It’s easy to automatically grab more supplies than you need, but if you pack carefully and pay attention, you can cut out a lot of weight. For example you won’t need a whole 8-ounce bottle of bug spray on a day hike and probably not even on an over-nighter. By finding smaller containers and pouring an ounce or two, or however much you need, of bug spray, sunblock or similar items, the weight saved adds up and for that you will be thankful, especially nine or ten miles in. For tips on shaving weight from your pack, click here.
- WRAP SUPPLIES TO PROTECT THEM
You’ll be carrying lots of water, and that’s good! However, on a cold hike, even a small spillage of water can ruin the contents of your backpack. In this precious tip I encourage you to keep yourself and your gear dry. Put at-risk items in a Ziploc bag, sleeping bags in a large trash bag, and clothes in waterproof bags. Also, if applicable, carry and use raingear. There’s nothing more frustrating than getting all your clothes wet on a chilly hike that lasts many hours.
- LEAVE YOUR COTTON CLOTHES AT HOME
Ever heard of the phrase ‘Cotton Kills’? I actually hadn’t heard of it until recently, when a very experienced hiker explained it to me a couple years ago. Cotton clothes are extremely bad for hiking, especially on long, arduous ones. Once your cotton clothes get wet from sweat or rain, they lose all insulation protection and your body can become dangerously chilled – especially during cold, high-altitude nights. Other fabrics to avoid include modal, rayon, viscose, tencel and lyocell fabrics at all costs for hiking clothes. Use material specially made for hiking. Wool is acceptable, but also can be less comfortable than more specialized material.
Other fabrics to avoid: corduroy, denim, flannel or duck. 50/50 cotton-polyester blends are also a no-go. Make sure you get the right clothes!
- LEAVE BACKUP PLANS
Leave your planned path and trail with someone you trust back at home. If you get lost or in a life-threatening situation, your trusted friend or family member will can search for you in the right area and have a much higher chance of rescue. Oregon hiker Mary Owen endured a harrowing ordeal in the wilderness near Mt. Hood. Although she listed her contact information and expected return time on a registration form, the form was lost and she was not found for six days. Many people are also familiar with the story of Aron Ralston, who did not let anyone know his plans when he went canyoning in the Utah wilderness. His story was made into the film “127 Hours.”
- ADHERE TO “LEAVE NO TRACE” ETHICS
Is your social media account worth getting death threats over? If not, don’t be like Andre Saraiva, who was caught vandalizing in Joshua Tree National Park. In addition to following Leave No Trace ethics, consider joining a trail clean-up event – it can be a great way to give back while enjoying time outdoors with other like-minded hikers. Organizations such as Trash Free Earth hold trail clean-ups regularly, helping federal and state agencies that have to stretch their budgets.
- HAVE BASIC PROTECTION AT ALL TIMES
Hat, sunscreen, sunglasses, or all of them (which is recommended), always have the most basic protections with you from the outside elements. Even on cloudy days, UV rays can still penetrate and give you a nasty sunburn. As an extra tip, keep a small, fully replaced first-aid kit for minor injuries or other unexpected events. If you want to make sure you have the best gear possible, check out my recommended hiking equipment here.
For more advice and awesome hikes, stay updated on my California Hikes Blog.
Thank you and I hope to see you on the trails soon!
Florian is a part time adventurer and full time college student in the central coast of California. He’s hiked all over California, including Yosemite, Tahoe, LA, and the San Francisco Bay Area and has also done multi-day hikes in the Swiss Alps. Follow him on Facebook and Instagram.