Safety Tips for Hikers

Hiking in the great outdoors is a wonderful way to relieve stress, get good exercise, and spend time enjoying your natural surroundings. However, nature itself can be unpredictable, and hiking—like any other outdoor activity—is not exempt from danger. Here are some safety tips for hikers who want to stay a step ahead of potential risks.

1. Make a list of all the gear you will need so you don’t forget anything. To make things easier, you can use a pre-written checklist like this one (for a day trip) or this one (for a longer hike).

2. Bring a map. GPS technology is helpful, of course, but service can be spotty in the wilderness and a long-enough battery life can never be guaranteed, so don’t rely on it entirely. Make sure your map is up-to-date and that you know how to read it as well as how to use a compass.

3. Hike during daylight if at all possible. To avoid getting stuck outside in the dark because the trail turned out to be longer than you had planned for, pick a turnaround time rather than a turnaround point so you’ll be able to make it home before dark.

4. Focus on the journey, not the destination. If you get too obsessed with reaching a certain landmark or going a certain distance, you’re more likely to make poor decisions, like not taking enough breaks and not turning around in time to get home before the sun sets.

5. Research the trail. Hiking a new trail is always fun, but if you haven’t traveled it before, you may encounter unforeseen dangers. Most well-known trails have their own website, but if yours doesn’t, check your state or regional government website or consult with a park ranger. DON’T hike uncharted trails and DON’T go in blind.

6. Check the weather forecast. Weather can change dramatically from hour to hour, so keep checking it until you’re ready to leave. Rain (or even snow) doesn’t mean you have to cancel your hike, but it can indicate the kind of gear you need to bring. For real-time updates on trail passability in inclement weather, call your local Parks & Rec office.

7. Know your limits. Taking risks you’re not prepared or skilled enough to handle yet can literally put your life in danger.

8. Tell someone exactly where you’re going, where you plan to stop along the way, what time you’re leaving, and what time you can reasonably expect to return. Better yet, tell the park office or rangers’ station so they can relay the info to Search & Rescue in the event of an emergency.

9. Hike with at least one other person. Hiking alone can be peaceful, but anything can happen in the wilderness, and you might find yourself in a tight spot you can’t get out of on your own. 

10. Pack the 10 Essentials. The 10 Essentials is a list of absolute must-haves for hiking safety created by the National Park Service. It’s not a fully comprehensive list, but it’s an excellent starting point. For utmost preparedness, consider any other needs that may arise as well. 

11. Stock your first aid kit appropriately. Even while hiking outdoors, you may still find yourself in close contact with others, so keep pandemic safety in mind by including a protective face covering and plenty of hand sanitizer made with more than 60% alcohol. Also remember to bring any medication you take regularly or may need if your trip ends up taking longer than planned, such as extra diabetes supplies, an EpiPen, or heart medication.

12. Buy the right footwear. Of all the hiking safety tips you’ll hear, this is the one that has the biggest impact on your hiking experience. Hiking boots should have a proper fit, ample cushioning, and adequate grip. Don’t wear cotton socks; they retain moisture and can cause blisters. Buy socks made especially for hiking, available at any athletics store. They can be expensive, but it’s definitely a wise investment.

BREAK IN YOUR BOOTS BEFORE HIKING. DO NOT WEAR BRAND-NEW BOOTS ON A HIKE. Hiking in brand-new boots will lead to serious blistering, which can take days or even weeks to heal—time you could have spent doing more hiking!

13. Protect yourself from the sun’s effects. Wear sufficient sunscreen, stay out of the heat by seeking shade during the hottest part of the day, wear a shade hat to protect your ears, neck, and scalp, and STAY HYDRATED. Don’t push yourself; rest when you need to. Finally, know how to recognize signs of heat exhaustion in yourself and your fellow hikers.

14. Speaking of staying hydrated, TAKE EXTRA WATER. Nope; even more than that. Whatever amount you were thinking of, multiply it by two. If you’re worried about weighing down your pack, carry water purification and decontamination apparatuses and find out the locations of natural water sources along your intended trail.

15. STAY ON THE TRAIL. If you get hurt or lost, staying on the trail and staying right where you are will make it much easier for rescuers to find you. Plus, straying from the trail disturbs the nearby environment and may also create the impression of a false path that can mislead other hikers.

16. Be extra careful past the halfway point of the hike. At the beginning of your hike, you’re psyched, you’re energized, and you’re fully present in the moment; towards the end of your hike, your energy begins to flag, your muscles begin to fatigue, and your mind becomes more prone to wander. Stay hydrated, eat to keep your energy up, and rest frequently to help preserve your energy for the return hike.

17. Have a definite plan for emergencies. Should you call 911, or does the park you’re hiking in have its own emergency number? Will your cell phone still have service in the area where you plan to hike? If not, does someone in your group have a satellite phone or other emergency alert device? 

The TOPPS Security Key Fob is a great choice for hikers and hiking safety because it’s connected to the 4G and the 5G network, meaning it has excellent coverage, even in the wilderness. If you get in trouble while on a hike, simply push the button on your TOPPS Security Key Fob to send an immediate alert to an agent at the TOPPS Security Network with your exact GPS coordinates so help can reach you quickly. Plus, the key fob has a battery life of around 5 days when fully charged (perfect for longer hiking trips) and can be charged at your bedside, giving you quick access to emergency services in the event of a break-in or home invasion.

For more information on hiking safety like wilderness survival tips, camping etiquette, and proper footwear guidelines, check out the American Hiking Society’s website or the NerdFitness Beginner’s Guide to Hiking. Happy trails!