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We’ve all heard the old saying, “Expect the unexpected,” but it seems that we never truly take it to heart until we are in a sketchy situation. Hiking is no different. Read on for some advice on how you can enjoy and stay safe during your next hiking excursion.

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Don’t Get Lost

A compass is the most common gadget to avoid the ‘uh-oh’ moment when you realize you’ve somehow gotten turned around, but it isn’t your only option. Trail-marking ribbon will not only ensure you don’t get lost, but help rescuers find you should you need help. The tape is brightly colored, and can be easily tied (and removed) from trees and branches as you hike. If despite your best efforts you get lost, or even injured, your plan of action should be to stay calm, stay put, find shelter, and signal for help.

At this point, you’ve likely already realized that cell service is non-existent but don’t count your cell phone out just yet. Due to a mandate by the FCC, network providers must transmit emergency calls to 911 even if you don’t use their service. If your provider doesn’t offer coverage in your hiking area, another provider nearby might. Even if the call won’t go through, your phone contacts the nearest cell tower, leaving a digital handshake. As long as you leave your phone on, emergency personnel can utilize the handshake to pinpoint your location. Other options to call for help are a SPOT Satellite Messenger or a Personal Locator Beacon (PLB). If technology fails you, utilize fire, whistles, signal mirrors, and flashlights. Make sure someone knows the area you will be hiking in, and when you expect to be back home.

Watch Your Step

Hiking requires lots of walking, and one wrong step could leave you with a twisted ankle, broken foot, or scraped up knees and hands. While it is impossible to prevent falls altogether, there are some steps you can take to reduce your chances. First and foremost, make sure your weight and balance isn’t thrown off by a heavy backpack. However, the key to avoiding falls is to practice defensive hiking. In the same way that defensive driving enables you to anticipate potential driving hazards, defensive hiking can alert you to sudden changes in terrain. Make it a habit to routinely scan the trail ahead to find the best route and foot placement.

Increase your stability with a trekking pole as well as footwear with adequate traction. While you might have a favorite pair of hiking shoes, a worn out shoe can increase your risk of falling. If you see any of the following signs, it might be time to think about a replacement:

  • Frayed/worn laces – This is the earliest sign that it’s time for a replacement, as it points to long use (most hiking shoes last from 500 to 1,000 miles).
  • Cracked midsole – A midsole that is cracking reduces cushion and foot support, which could lead to bothersome blisters.
  • Worn tread – A worn tread can cause you to lose traction on the various terrains you encounter, increasing your risk of falling.
  • Discomfort – Any sign of discomfort is a sign that your shoes aren’t meeting your needs anymore. If you experience blisters, joint and back pain, aching feet, or hot spots, your shoes aren’t up to taking on another trail.

Protect Your Valuables

When you’re on the trails, take steps to keep your valuables safe, especially if you’re traveling abroad. Pack light and keep any important documents, credit cards, or money out of sight. It’s also a good idea to invest in an anti-theft backpack.

Hiking is an activity enjoyed by people of all ages and abilities, and by taking the right safety precautions and taking steps to truly enjoy your time in nature, you can join in on the fun too. Make sure you have the right equipment and tools for any possible situation you might encounter, and as always, expect the unexpected.

-Thank you to Carrie Spencer for submitting this article.

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