As an outdoor photographer, I spend most of my time out on trails. Trail safety is top of my list when it comes to client work. In this post, let’s cover some basic hiking safety tips for beginners.
10 HIKING SAFETY TIPS FOR BEGINNERS
There is nothing like spending your morning on a trail immersed in nature, fresh air, and beautiful views. Hiking is beneficial for physical and mental health, boosts endorphins, and encourages us to be present in the moment. Outdoor activities are never 100% safe, but there are a few small things each of us can do to keep ourselves prepared, comfortable, and enjoying our time!
1. PLAN AHEAD AND DO SOME RESEARCH
A crucial part of hiking is planning ahead and knowing what to expect! There are tons of resources available to you to learn more about the area you’re hiking in, the weather patterns, the best times of year (and the day) to go, and specific trails.
We use blogs, national forest websites, and AllTrails to gather trail information. Going to a new trail can be intimidating, and a great way to feel more prepared is by using the AllTrails app or website! AllTrails allows you to find trails by map or name, and compare mileage, elevation gain, difficulty, and route types. Within the app, you can view photos of the trail and look at a map to understand where the trail goes and its elevation changes. Most importantly, you can read reviews of the hike from other users! These can be super helpful to learn about current conditions, wildlife on the trail, recent weather, and trail difficulty.
We highly recommend getting an AllTrails Pro account, as this allows you to download the trails for offline use. Many trails are out of cell range, and having access to a map and GPS location of where on the trail you are can be a literal lifesaver (and necessary in emergencies).
2. CHECK THE WEATHER
Along with planning ahead comes checking the weather! Knowing what to expect for temperatures and precipitation will keep you prepared and ready for whatever is coming your way! In summer months, it is important to know how warm the temperatures will get, and this can help you gauge if you should start your hike early! In Arizona, summer months bring on sunrise and sunset hikes. They also bring monsoons! Always be prepared for afternoon rain storms in the desert and the mountains, as they can quickly become dangerous! Flash floods can happen in a moment’s notice, and you can likely avoid being caught in one by checking the weather beforehand. Checking the weather can also give you information on what you should wear, if you will need extra/waterproof layers, and how much water you will want to bring! In all weather, it is necessary to wear sunscreen and reapply!
3. BRING PROPER FOOTWEAR
Shoes that are broken in and comfortable will keep you happy and able to walk for long periods of time. Shoes are one piece of gear we have become absolutely obsessed with, as happy feet equal happy hikers. If your shoes rub in weird places, give you blisters, or make your arch ache, it will be best to leave those ones at home! Find shoes that fit your feet well that you could wear all day. We’ve all been in situations where we just want to rip our shoes off because they hurt so badly. We promise, this one will be so worth it!
4. MAKE SURE YOU HAVE PLENTY OF FOOD AND WATER
Hiking can be strenuous! Having snacks and water to keep you full and hydrated is super important to keep you happy, hiking, and most of all, healthy. Bringing some protein bars, trail mix, and/or fruit you love is easy and makes for a great reason to stop, snack, and enjoy the views! A good rule of thumb for how much water to bring is one liter for every 2 hours of planned hiking (and then add a little more). Bringing too much water is always better than bringing too little! This number should also increase in heat, strenuous conditions, and altitude. Dehydration can be very dangerous, and it is so much easier to just carry some extra water. Sometimes hikes end up longer or harder than planned, and you will be grateful you have it!
5. BRING A FIRST AID KIT
Being prepared for a hike means being prepared to take care of yourself and others in cases of emergency or distress. We cannot predict when a first aid kit will be needed, but when you (or other hikers) need it, you likely really need it. You can make one of these at home by going to the pharmacy and buying separate items, or you can purchase a hiking first aid kit that is already put together! Here is one from REI that would be easy to fit in a day pack! If you are going to make your own, we recommend bringing items like: benadryl, ibuprofen, bandaids, ace bandage, gauze, neosporin, alcohol wipes, non-drowsy allergy medications, any medications specific to you, etc.
6. BRING THE 10 ESSENTIALS
The 10 Essentials are 10 items that will keep you prepared no matter what the adventure. These are a group of items anyone spending time outdoors should have, no matter how big or small the adventure. We have already covered a few. Here is the full list:
- Emergency Shelter (We use this one)
- Extra clothes/layers
- Navigation (We use AllTrails Pro to download trails/use as GPS. Many people use the Garmin InReach or Spot for navigation. It is also a good idea to have a paper map, as technology can fail/run out of battery!)
- Illumination (headlamp usually)
- First Aid Kit
- Fire (Lighter or matches)
- Heat/Sun protection
Bringing these with you on every adventure can quickly become second nature, and will likely come in very handy at some point. Hiking, especially on longer trails, can lead to very unexpected circumstances. Being prepared will benefit you, your hiking partners, and the other hikers you encounter on the trails!
7. BE PREPARED TO ENCOUNTER WILDLIFE
When it comes to hiking safety tips for beginners, learning how to coexist safely with wildlife is at the top. When we spend time in nature, we are going into spaces many animals call home. It is our responsibility to be respectful of their space and know how to react if we come into contact with them! AllTrails and National Forest websites can be useful to learn what animals you may come into contact with and how to act during a wildlife encounter.
For example, if you come across a rattlesnake, it’s important to stay calm, give it 15+ feet of space, and do not throw anything or make the snake feel threatened. If you encounter a mountain lion, stay calm, don’t run, and stand your ground/do not bend over. These kinds of encounters are frightening but are usually totally manageable if you stay calm! We are in their space and we are responsible for learning how to act around them.
Along with wildlife comes bugs. Bug spray can be a great item to always carry in your pack! Also, if you are in an area with ticks, make sure to check your entire body after the hike.
8. LISTEN TO YOUR BODY
Hiking is meant to be enjoyable! Take your time, listen to what your body is telling you, and take breaks! Hiking can bring so many new experiences including higher elevations, more strenuous activity, and longer days than many of us are used to. Your body knows what it can and cannot handle, and it’s important to pay attention to when your body needs rest, more water/food, or to turn around. Longer hikes are something to work up to.
Also, hotter days can make hikes a lot harder! There is no shame in turning around and trying again next time. Being prepared comes in before the hike and also throughout the hike. Check in with yourself throughout the hike and make sure you feel 100%. After all, we want you to want to hike again!
9. LEAVE NO TRACE
One of the most important parts of hiking is doing our part to take care of the trails and areas we visit. We want humans to be able to enjoy these beautiful places long after we are gone. To keep these places beautiful, we all do our part to Leave No Trace.
The concept of Leave No Trace revolves around each of us leaving as little impact as possible on the land (almost as if we were never there at all). This includes staying on the trail, packing all of our trash back out, not picking flowers/plants, not carving into trees, leaving what we find (rocks, artifacts, etc.), and respecting wildlife. These are small things every hiker can easily do to ensure these areas will remain open and beautiful for years to come! An extra part we add on (and encourage you to as well) is to pick up trash we find on trails.