Hiking is one of the best ways to see the wonderful natural beauty that there is to see in the United States. Whether you are just going for a quick two-hour jaunt or are hiking the Appalachian Trail, there is always plenty to see.
However, every year many people die doing an activity they love, and it can be all too easy to overlook the dangers that you can face out on the trail. Here are a few things you should be looking out for and considering before you lace up your boots and head out to see where the path will take you.
There are several areas of the country where wild animals can be a factor that hikers will encounter, but the type of animals encountered can vary depending on where you are in the country. Make sure that you are familiar with what kind of animals you may encounter, whether it is black bears in the northern states or rattlesnakes in California. Then learn how to deal with such a situation should you encounter those animals.
Changing Weather Conditions
When you are heading for the hills or the coast, it can be all too easy for the weather conditions to change, and certain areas often have a reputation for the clouds and rain coming in quickly. In these situations, it is important to be prepared and know what your backup plan is, whether you have rain gear and sufficient knowledge of the route to get to the end, or you have an alternative low-level route to your destination. This can be a vital part of your preparation.
Another thing that many people will overlook when they are planning a hiking trip is the area that they will be exploring. Going into remote areas can be beautiful, but there are also risks to be considered. Make sure you carry enough food and water for the entire trip. It may be worth having a bivouac bag in your pack in case you are injured and have to wait for help to arrive. You won't always have cell phone coverage in these areas, so it is also worth making sure that you let someone know of your plans so that they know where to look for you.
Depending on GPS
GPS is a fantastic tool that can make navigation and exploration while you are out hiking a joy, and these devices also provide great information about your activity while you are out. However, these devices shouldn't be treated as an alternative to maps, as they are not infallible, and wet weather is not always compatible with electronics. Having a map with you and knowing how to read it is a vital backup plan.
Fatigue is one of the biggest killers when it comes to hiking, and the statistics confirm that there are far more people who are injured while descending a mountain than there are when people are ascending it.
Make sure you are choosing a route that is appropriate for your level of fitness, that you have enough food and drink, and that you maintain your focus even when you are tired, otherwise accidents can happen all too easily.
Crossing Rivers and Streams
When you are out in the backcountry, the areas to cross rivers and streams may not always be via bridges that have handrails. When you are crossing on wet rocks or a damp log laid over a stream, make sure you are careful to keep your footing. If you do have to cross at a ford (shallow place) in the river, only do so when you are sure it is safe, as even relatively shallow rivers can have a strong current.
Give Yourself Plenty of Time
One of the most dangerous things to do when you are hiking is to overestimate what you can achieve in one day or one afternoon on the trail. Do not bite off more than you can chew. The dangers of hiking become significantly greater when you are rushing to try to get to your destination before dark, or you haven't taken into account the elevation in planning the day, so make sure you have enough time to complete your hike comfortably.