My friends and colleagues tell me that I can be a real stickler for hiking safety, but I don’t mind, safety is super important and paramount to the enjoyment of any hike. This applies to hikers of all levels, and if you are just starting out because you have been called by the mountains, here are some basic tips to get you started:
- Don’t Start Off on Your Own: You are much better off joining a hiking club than venture out on your own right away. More experienced hikers will be there to support and guide you and will know what to do in case of an emergency. Apart from the obvious support that you will get in a group setting, it is also a great way to socialize and get to know people. Pretty much every community the world over has some sort of a hiking group for you to join.
- Choose the Right Trail for Your Level of Fitness: To choose an appropriate trail that matches your fitness level, there is an easy way to determine how far you will be able hike. Firstly, you need to ask yourself how far you can walk on level ground and then reduce that distance by approximately one third. Remember, it takes approximately 1 hour for a beginner to walk/hike 2 miles. If you are climbing, you add an extra hour for every 1000 feet of altitude you master. These three pieces of information should give you a good idea of how far a distance you can hike. Start small and if you find your chosen hikes to easy or short, you can always increase the distances and raise the difficulty levels. It’s also always a good idea to take regular walks between hikes in order to build up strength and fitness.
- Choose the Right Footwear and Clothing: Get advice from an expert hiking shoe salesperson, try on lots of pairs and choose the most comfortable, regardless of the price. See it as an investment in your health. Before taking your new boots on their first outing, wear them around the house for a while to get used to them. Synthetic or woolen socks are less likely to give you blisters. Some people say that you should dress like an onion, meaning that it is better to wear several thin layers than just a couple of heavy layers. It allows for greater temperature control too. Make sure that your most outer layer is both water and windproof.
- Pack the Ten Essentials: You cannot go hiking without even one of the following: map & compass, sunglasses & sunscreen, insulation, illumination, first aid kit, fire, tools & repair kit, nutrition, hydration, emergency shelter (tent, garbage bag). Always remember to pack light!
- Learn to Hydrate Properly: As a beginner you may not be aware just how important hydration is. Plan on drinking approximately 1 liter for every two hours’ of hiking.
- Learn How to Read a Map: Even if you are hiking with a group of more experienced hikers, learning how to read a map is essential to your safety. Topographic maps are easy to understand once you know the basic principles. Study the map the evening before your hike and throughout the trip so that you know exactly where you are and what lies ahead.
- Leave a Hike Plan With a Loved One: Make sure to tell someone exactly where you are going, what time you are leaving, what route you are taking and what time you expect to be back at. This will ensure that you can be found easily in case of an emergency.
- Pace Yourself: Do not power ahead at the start, divide your energy equally throughout the hike and make sure to take rests. If you are hiking with a group, speak up if the pace is too fast for you, they will understand!
- Check the Weather: Be sure to check the weather forecast before you set off, many a sunny day has turned nasty!
- Respect the Mountain: Be grateful for the opportunity to hike in a beautiful mountainscape, tread lightly on rare flowers and plants and never, ever leave rubbish behind!
Hiking is a privilege and all of us together need to take care of nature and all the many wonderful species. If we want to continue enjoying nature on hikes, climbs or walks, we need to learn and study how best to protect nature and all its creatures. If you are new to hiking, you are in for an abundance of fun, amazement, challenges, camaraderie and breathtaking moments, and you will take something different from every hike you venture on. Be open to learn and explore, to ask and examine and always be safe with yourself and others and be gentle with nature.