What I Learned About Hiking Safety

For day hiking, the time to think about what you could’ve, should’ve, would’ve done isn’t when you are lost in the wilderness, or when you’ve turned an ankle on the trail, or when you’re trapped by bad weather, or when you’re suddenly overcome by an illness on the trail. We don’t plan to have an incident on the trail, but I know from experience that they sometimes happen. Here are some common-sense safety tips to consider before heading out on the trails.

Make a Plan and Share it with a Loved One

While hiking solo in the Rockies a few years ago, I was overcome by illness and deteriorated rapidly over a period of a few hours. Luckily, I made it back to the trailhead and was able to get myself to a hospital (pneumonia of all things…sheesh!). What I was thinking about on those hours on the trail was that I was glad I had made my hiking plan and shared it with a friend. I told her where I was going, the route I would be on, and when I expected to be back. I told her that if I hadn’t contacted her by 8 PM, she should start to worry and that if she hadn’t connected with me by 11 PM, she should call for help. Although I made it back on my own, I was comforted that help would have been on its way.

Consider Taking a Friend

Many people like to hike alone; there’s something enjoyably meditative about it. But there is safety in numbers. Someone can always run or call for help if there is an incident on the trail. And in bear country, unpleasant bear-human encounters are reduced significantly as your hiking group grows in size.

Keep Some Essential Items in Your Pack with You Always

I have a few things I keep permanently in my day pack – first aid kit, small flashlight, matches, sunscreen, bug repellent, an army knife, extra socks, a toque and gloves (even in summer), and some toilet paper and baggies. I don’t even take them out after a hike. And on hiking day, I throw in extra water, a map, and a bright-coloured sweater or jacket. If I’m lost on the trail, I’m going to be thinking about staying warm, staying hydrated, and staying visible, so I think these items fit the bill.

Check the Weather Report

One easy thing you can do is check the weather report before you head out to the trail. If inclement weather is expected and you still want to hike, you will be able to dress more appropriately for it.

Stay on the Path

I’m not sure if you’ve read Stephen King’s book, The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon. It’s a story about a nine-year-old girl, Trisha, who wanders off the trail to relieve herself, gets lost in the woods, and is stalked by a sickly bear. It’s a terribly frightening story, as only Mr. King can make it. But gosh darn, if Trisha had only stayed on the trail, I wouldn’t have had to lose sleep over Mr. King’s tale.

Hiking is an exhilarating activity, but a few common sense steps to prepare for trouble on the trail can go a long way to providing you peace of mind. Mother Nature can be spectacular, but she can also be indifferent to your woes. Stay safe. And happy hiking!


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