If you’re planning a hiking and backpacking trip, chances are you’ve given some thought to safety.
But there’s more to hiking and backpacking safely than wilderness survival. With so many new things to learn about wilderness safety, many new hikers and backpackers forget about the common-sense side of things.
Don’t let this happen to you, check out 7 safety tips for great hiking/backpacking for keeping safe from weather, fire, and other people while you’re out there in the elements.
1. Bring a cell phone
It’s a good idea to bring a cell or satellite phone. Even in remote areas, you may occasionally be able to get reception — and if you get in a tight spot, it could save your life.
Keep it off to save the batteries, and note, keep the phone number of the local ranger station handy.
2. Leave your valuables in the car
You can’t lock a tent, and you never know who might pass by. Don’t leave stray belongings outside. The more things you leave out in the open, the easier they’ll be to steal.
Never leave your wallet, your I-pod, or other valuables such as jewelry in your tent when you’re not there. Leave them locked in your car’s glove compartment or trunk.
3. Be cautious with fire.
Some places are more prone to wildfires than others. In national parks, daily wildfire risk levels are often posted at trail heads. On high-risk days, the smallest stray spark could easily start a wildfire. Even on days with low risk, build a fire only as big as you need.
To make a fire pit, dig a shallow, circular hole and surround it with rock. Clear an area of sticks, brush, and all flammable materials at least three feet around your fire.
Put the fire out when you leave the campsite or go to bed. Pitch your tent at least fifteen feet from the fire, and never use candles or lighters inside your tent.
4. Protect yourself.
You will usually be safe from wild animals if you take the proper precautions. However, you’re on your own if something goes wrong—and there’s always a small chance you could meet the wrong kind of people.
Guns are illegal in most state and national parks, but pepper spray isn’t. Some parks with large bear populations, such as Yosemite National Park, strongly recommend it for hikers and campers.
5. Make sure someone knows where you are.
Leave an itinerary with a friend or family member. Make sure they know when you expect to come back, and who to call if you don’t.
It’s often good to leave them a map marked with your route, so they can give it to a search-and-rescue team if something goes wrong.
In addition, you can leave notes at the heads of most major trails in state and national parks.
Write down your name, the date, and the route you’re planning to take. Forest rangers rely on these when looking for lost hikers.
6. Watch the weather.
Weather can change quickly, particularly in high altitudes. Be sure you know what kinds of weather your location is known for.
You don’t have to be on a major trip to run into dangerous weather. Mt. Washington in New Hampshire, for example, only has an elevation of 6288 feet.
Still, it’s known for freak snowstorms, high winds, and thunderstorms even on the clearest days. Even on mild summer days, hikers need to bring warm-weather and waterproof clothes, just in case.
No matter where you’re going, be prepared for quick changes in weather.
7. Bring a water filter
Pollution, dead animals, and other hazards often make wild stream, lake, and river water unsafe to drink. If you’re base camping, bring your own water in.
If you’re backpacking and plan to be gone a few days, bring a water filter and iodine tablets to replenish your supply.
Be sure to purify all the water you use for drinking, brushing your teeth, and washing dishes.
If you run out of iodine or break your water filter, you can also purify water by boiling it for at least three minutes.
8. Bonus: Be extra careful when camping alone.
You’re probably much safer camping than walking down a city street. However, lone campers, especially women, are vulnerable in the wilderness.
Don’t tell other people you meet on the trail you’re alone, especially if they make you uncomfortable.
Mention that your group is just ahead of you, and be vague about where you plan to camp for the night.
If you’re particularly concerned, bring a dog.
No place on earth is completely safe. Survival is part wilderness know-how and part common sense. Know your survival basics and follow these simple tips, and your trip should be fun, exciting, and safe.