How to Stay Safe While Hiking in Asia

Don't Let One of These 10 Dangers Get You in Trouble

The trekking and hiking in Asia are fantastic. But unlike hitting the trails at home, Asia presents a few new unfamiliar challenges that could ruin an otherwise excellent adventure. Knowing the fundamentals of hiking safety is key to keeping small situations from cascading into survival situations.

From day hikes to overnight treks and volcano scrambles, you'll never run out of jungles and rainforests to explore — particularly in Southeast Asia's tropical climate.

As anyone who has experienced a survival scenario can attest, they are rarely triggered by one catastrophic event. Bad situations are more often caused by small decisions and a sequence of things that go wrong. Being prepared — and knowing the real threats — are key.

  • 01 of 10

    Not Getting Rescued

    In the event that the unthinkable happens, would anyone even know if you needed rescue? The "cavalry" will never come if they don't know you need them to come.

    Even when hiking with others, let someone not on the hike know where you are going and approximately when you plan to return. Someone should know if you are overdue.

    Visit the parks office or tourism authority for a map; tell a ranger or someone in charge what time you expect to return. At the very least, tell the staff at your hotel or guest house about your adventure plans so that they can alert authorities if you fail to return.

    Don't make the common mistake of relying solely on technology as a means to call for help.

  • 02 of 10

    Being Unable to Walk Out

    Mountains outside of Chiang Mai, Thailand
    ••• Trekking in Nothern Thailand. Kritsada Kata / Getty Images

    The golden rule of hiking safety is to be prepared for the unexpected. Most overnight survival scenarios don't begin as grand adventures; they most often begin as day hikes that go wrong somehow (e.g., weather changes or injury prevent you from getting out before dark).

    Hiking with someone else doubles your chance of survival. Not only does sharing the adventure with someone make it more enjoyable, doing so greatly improves your odds of getting out in case something unexpected happens.

    A simple sprained ankle could become a serious situation if hiking alone. Having a partner to go for help can make the difference. Plus, two brains are better than one: someone may realize that the trail no longer looks familiar in time to turn around and make a correction.

  • 03 of 10

    Mosquitoes

    Mosquito biting someone
    ••• Renaud Visage / Getty Images

    Although Southeast Asia boasts far more poisonous snakes than you would care to know about, mosquitoes are technically the most dangerous animal in the jungle.

    Dengue fever, a mosquito-borne illness, is epidemic in Southeast Asia. Mosquitoes that carry malaria typically bite at night, but dengue-infected mosquitoes bite during the day when you are likely to be on the trail. A single bite could ruin your entire trip. Dengue is a much bigger threat than malaria pretty well throughout Asia.

    Until a dengue vaccination becomes available widespread, the best you can do is prevent as many mosquito bites as possible. Despite the heat, cover as much skin as you can, and reapply repellent after sweating a lot.

  • 04 of 10

    Running Out of Daylight

    Independent Trekking in Nepal
    ••• Independent trekking in Nepal can be very rewarding!. Greg Rodgers

    Daylight is your most important resource on the trail. Life gets very cold, confusing, and dangerous without it. Always build in a time buffer, and know that the trail may get dark (e.g., mountains or forest canopy block light) well before whatever is official sunset time.

    A mistake as innocuous as taking a wrong turn could cost you more daylight than expected. In low light, mountainous trails with views turn from blessings to dangerous hazards. Be prepared with a few simple items that will help you get through an unexpected overnight stay so that you can get out safely at first light.

    Even if you expect to be back before dark, carry a light source or two. Trails are harder to see in the dim light of the rainforest canopy. Have at least one additional item of clothing that you can put on for warmth.

    Continue to 5 of 10 below.
  • 05 of 10

    Dehydration

    Trekking in a jungle in Asia
    ••• Trekking in Asia through one of Laos' protected areas. Greg Rodgers

    Expect to sweat exponentially more in Asia's humid jungles and forests. You can live without a lot of things, but water isn't one of them.

    Even being mildly dehydrated makes concentration more difficult and could cause you to make poor decisions. Irritability is one of the early signs of dehydration.

    Although cumbersome, carry more water than you think you need, and stay in the shade as much as possible. Have a reliable way to treat water (e.g., chlorine dioxide or a Sawyer filter are inexpensive solutions) in your survival kit for peace of mind.

    Remember: even if you drink as much water as possible, loss of electrolytes in a jungle environment will also cause a steady decline in energy.

  • 06 of 10

    Sunburn

    Bali High Season People Under Tree
    ••• Jim Holmes / Getty Images

    Severe sunburn isn't just something that ruins island vacations, it can actually decapacitate you.

    The sun is far stronger in Southeast Asia near the Equator; carry a higher SPF than you use at home and reapply frequently. A hat and sunglasses with UV protection are essential.

    Apply sunscreen after applying mosquito repellent; DEET will weaken your protection.

    Quality sunscreen is frequently more expensive in Asia, and much of the stuff you find in remote areas is fake or expired. Add sunscreen to the list of things you should bring from home rather than plan to purchase locally.

  • 07 of 10

    Poisonous Plants

    Jungle Beach in Sri Lanka
    ••• Jungle Beach in Sri Lanka is, unsurprisingly, surrounded by jungle!. Brett Davies - Photosightfaces / Getty Images

    Most trekkers are smart enough not to eat mysterious plants found on the trail, but some greenery can cause problems just through contact.

    Unless necessary, don't touch anything while hiking in the jungle! This basic rule will keep you out of trouble more times than not. Many plants in Asia will give you an unpleasant rash. Unless you're a botanist, touching plants is unnecessary anyway.

    Antihistamine (Benadryl is a popular brand) pills and cream should be part of your first aid kit for Asia in case you have an allergic reaction to some unfriendly flora. They'll also help you in case you are bitten or stung by something.

  • 08 of 10

    Bad Footing

    Gunung Sibayak North Sumatra Indonesia
    ••• Climbing to the top of Gunung Sibayak is an exciting thing to do in North Sumatra. Matthew Williams-Ellis / Getty Images

    Many dangerous situations that occur while hiking in Asia are due to unexpected slips and falls.

    Although flip-flops are the default footwear of choice in Asia, they are not suitable for hiking and scrambling. Volcanic shale can be brittle and loose; tourists die every year while climbing volcanoes in places such as West Sumatra.

    Continue to 9 of 10 below.
  • 09 of 10

    Monkeys

    Tourist in Asia with Monkey
    ••• Monkey messing with a tourist. Tetra Images - Yuri Arcurs / Getty Images

    Yes, monkeys! They're mischievously entertaining in places like Ubud in Bali, but they can be aggressive on the trail.

    You are likely to encounter many species of monkeys while trekking in Asia. Macaques in particular are curious and can sometimes turn aggressive. Even one bite or scratch from a monkey can result in a fever or infection; all bites require rabies shots.

    Even if a bite isn't serious, rabies has a zero survival rate, and symptoms don't appear until it's too late. If bitten, you'll have to abort your adventure and get to a clinic right away.

    Monkeys have an uncanny sense of smell; any food you are carrying — even unopened — can bring a lot of attention on the trail! Immediately drop anything that a monkey grabs. Unfortunately, this even applies to the strap of your expensive camera; playing tug-of-war could result in a bite.

  • 10 of 10

    Bad Weather

    Typhoon near Japan
    ••• Would you know how to prepare for a typhoon hitting Japan?. Handout / Getty Images

    Unexpected weather is the number one killer of adventure travelers in Asia, and not just while trekking in the snowy Himalayas. Even during the dry season, weather can be unpredictable — particularly around mountains and volcanoes.

    Heavy rain can come in monsoon volume, turning trails into rivers and hiding the safe path beneath mud. Early-morning starts are best. Most thunderstorms pop up in the heat of the afternoon. An early start will give you extra time to get out if the weather — or something else — goes wrong.

    The secret to real hiking safety is to know roughly what threats to expect from the region, and to be a little prepared for small things that go wrong along the way.