Tips for Safe Hiking

Lost Hiker (

Adventures begin when we are willing to take chances -- and dreams are realized when we "take the road less travelled."

There's a difference between taking a chance and making a stupid decision that can cost you your life. Unfortunately, some dreams turn into nightmares when hikers leave established hiking trails to follow "shortcuts."

Every year park rangers spend treacherous hours searching for hikers who did not return on time, slipped on waterfalls, got off the trail or encountered other problems.

"Most of the time, our guests are just running late or they've gotten slightly off course," said Danny Tatum, manager of Tallulah Gorge State Park and chief of the Department of Natural Resources' Search and Rescue Team in Georgia. "And sometimes they've forgotten to call home. But occasionally people really are in a bad situation and need help from rescue personnel."

Park rangers offer these tips for fun and safe journeys.

Safe Hiking Tips

  • Avoid hiking alone because the "buddy system" is safer.
  • If traveling with a group, never stray from the group.
  • If hiking alone, pick a well traveled trail.
  • Tell someone where you are going and when you will return.
  • Don't forget to check in with them when you get back.
  • Stay on marked trails. Shortcuts and "bushwhacking" cause erosion and increase your chance of becoming lost.
  • As you hike, pay attention to trail blazes (paint marks on trees) and landmarks. A double blaze indicates a change in trail direction or intersection. Be sure to follow the correct trail.
  • Never climb on waterfalls. Many injuries and deaths occur on waterfalls and slippery, wet rocks.
  • Always carry quality rain gear.
  • Turn back in bad weather.
  • If you become wet or cold, it is important to get dry and warm as quickly as possible, avoiding hypothermia.
  • Dress in layers and avoid cotton. Many fabrics wick moisture, dry quickly or conserve heat. Experienced hikers often wear a lightweight shirt that wicks moisture, while carrying a fleece pullover and waterproof jacket in a daypack.
  • All hikers should carry a whistle, which can be heard far away and takes less energy than yelling. Three short blasts is a sign of distress.
  • Carry plenty of drinking water.
  • Never assume stream water is safe to drink. You don't know what is in the water upstream.
  • Consider investing in a water filter or water purifying tablets at an outdoor supply store.
  • Don't count on cell phones to work in the wilderness, but if they do, be able to give details about your location. Telling rescue personnel that you're lost by a big tree won't help much as telling which trailhead you started from and how long you've been hiking.
  • Don't rely on a GPS to prevent you from getting lost. Batteries can die or the equipment can become damaged or lost. GPS units work much better in open fields than in thick woods.
  • Invest in good hiking socks and boots.
  • Avoid blisters by carrying "moleskin" -- like felt that sticks to your skin -- available at drug stores. Apply when you feel a hot spot on your feet.
  • Wear bright colors.
  • Don't dress children in camouflage.
  • Keep dogs on a leash because they sometimes become injured or lost too.

Carry an Emergency Kit

Each hiker should have these items:

  • Water
  • First-aid kit
  • Whistle
  • Small flashlight with extra batteries
  • Glowstick
  • Energy food
  • Brightly colored bandana
  • Trash bag (preferably a bright color, such as "pumpkin bags" sold in autumn). Poke a hole for your head and wear it as a poncho to stay dry.

Prepare Your Children

  • Talk to children about what to do if they become lost, even if in the city.
  • Teach children that they won't get into trouble if they get lost. You don't want them to be afraid to be found.
  • Reassure children that people (and possibly dogs and helicopters) will look for them if they become lost.
  • Teach them to answer searchers' calls and not hide from them.
  • Do not run. Instead, "hug a tree" and make a comfortable "nest." This prevents wandering even further.
  • Do not be afraid of animals or strange noises. If something is scary, blow the whistle.
  • Come up with a password that a child will respond to if a stranger needs to pick them up. Searchers can use this password.

What to Do If You Are Lost

  • Stay in one place.
  • Make shelter.
  • Stay warm and dry.
  • Be visible and heard.
  • If helicopters are searching overhead, seek an opening in the forest. Lie down so you look bigger from the air.

Prayer is always a good course when you've strayed off the path.

Click Here for Safe Hiking Tips

About the Author Robert Sutherland:
Robert Sutherland is a travel writer enjoying life. Robert has two adult daughters and six grandchildren.
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