Safety While on the Trail
Whether you’re taking a stroll around the Quarry trails here in town or doing a trek through the Shenandoah National Park, it’s important to remember that the hot weather and physical challenges of hiking present certain risks. The good news is that most of these risks can be mitigated by good preparation and remembering a few key things:
- Stay Hydrated!
I like to say that dehydration is the most preventable injury that occurs on hikes or any outdoor activity. With 90+ degree weather, the threat of dehydration is especially serious. It may start as headaches and fatigue, but can quickly lead to confusion and feigning, so always carry more water than you think you will need. For an all day hike, I recommend 3 liters per person, and for a half day take 2 liters. Make sure you are drinking plenty of water before you start hiking, and continue to drink after you finish. It is much easier to prevent dehydration than it is to treat it.
- Bring extra snacks.
We don’t often think of safety and snacks going together, but hiking can burn a lot of calories. It’s one of the reasons a lot of us get into outdoor sports, but it can also be dangerous if we are not replenishing those calories. Not eating throughout a long hike can result in low blood sugar or hyponatremia (lack of salt in the blood). These issues may be no big deal to many people in the front-country, but out in the back-country they can turn into rescue situations if not taken care of. If you are prone low blood sugar, be sure to bring some sugary items such as gummies or sport drink powder (my favorite is NUUN). For hyponatremia, everyone should bring some salty snacks such as crackers or salted peanuts to replace the salt lost in sweat.
- Always carry a first aid kit.
[xp_academy_unique_fact]A first aid kit is your first line of defense in the case of physical injury on the trail.[/xp_academy_unique_fact] Antibacterial cream and Band-Aids can prevent a small cut from turning into a trip-ending infections, and gauze and athletic tape can patch up a more serious injury until medical help is reached. The size of your first aid kit and what materials you bring depends on how long you are out for, how many people are with you, and any medical training you might have. If you are at all unsure of what to put in your kit, I recommend using a pre-packaged first aid kit such as Adventure Medical Kits or speaking to someone with a wilderness medical certification (WFA, WFR, or WEMT).
- Layers, layers, layers!
Layering is the name of the game when it comes to hiking apparel. No matter what season you are hiking in, it’s important to be prepared for a range of weather conditions. If you are starting in the morning and it is relatively cool, instead of wearing a heavy coat wear a long-sleeve over your tee-shirt and a light jacket or a vest over that. Peel off or add layers throughout your hike as the weather fluctuates and you warm yourself up. If you are starting in the heat of the day, bring some extra layers in your pack in case it gets cooler at night. Having the proper attire can mean the difference between a comfortable hike and hypothermia or heat exhaustion.
- Choose the right footwear for you.
[xp_academy_unique_fact]One of the most important pieces of gear you have is your feet. Protect them.[/xp_academy_unique_fact] The tough thing about feet is that they’re all different and it’s crucial that you get the footwear that’s right for you. For example, if you have somewhat weak ankles or are carrying a lot of weight, it’s good to have a boot with full ankle support and a stiff sole. If you have a high arch, I recommend getting a shoe or boot with a rigid insole that will support your whole foot. If you are used to wearing barefoot-style shoes or have a flatter foot, consider a more minimalist shoe or one with a less rigid insole. The best way to figure out is to come in to your local outfitter and try on a few different styles. Having the wrong footwear on a hike can lead to serious discomfort and foot injuries in the long term.
- Wear Sun protection.
This one’s a no brainer. Sun burn can take a great day and turn it into an extremely painful memory. Also, prolonged exposure can often lead to sun poisoning, a potentially dangerous condition in the back-country. Even if you are planning to be underneath the trees or clouds, those UV rays can still find you so put on that sunscreen!!
7. Call Mom/Dad/Kids/Neighbors/Friends/Coworkers/Postman/Anyone!
Always, always, always make sure that somebody knows where you are going and your general itinerary. It is as easy as, “Hey ______, I am heading out to the central Shenandoah for a 4 mile hike in the Big Meadows area. I’m planning to start at noon and should be back around 3pm.” If an emergency occurs and you were not able to contact anyone, that person will be able to provide rescue crews with invaluable information about where you might be and your approximate timetable.