By Heather Madsen

Hiking is a great and affordable way to get outside and enjoy nature. However, a common mistake beginner hikers make is not preparing adequately for their outdoor adventures. While exploring new terrain and immersing yourself in nature is fun, it can also be dangerous if you aren’t properly prepared. Here are 5 things you should remember before you decide to hit the trails.

Research Where You’re Going

Research may sound boring, but it will actually help you avoid emergencies and have fun, while staying safe. You don’t have to do a deep dive, but checking applicable weather forecasts, wildlife sightings, and maps is a great place to start. This will also help you avoid over and under packing for your trip, because you’ll know what you need to be prepared for. Preparation is the best prevention for emergencies. Learning about the potential dangers you might encounter on your hike will not only keep you safe, but also allow you to enjoy nature to its fullest extent. Popular hikes will usually have online reviews or sometimes the city or state will have their own website dedicated to their hiking trails and will provide information or ranger stations for you to utilize.

Choose the Right Clothing and Supplies

Now that you know the basics of where you’re going, you can plan your bag and clothing accordingly. If it’s going to be hot and sunny, wearing breathable fabrics and bringing sunscreen are probably both good ideas. Alternatively, if it’s going to be overcast or rainy, a jacket and waterproof hiking shoes would be the better way to go. Speaking of shoes, your most important piece of clothing will be your footwear. Always wear appropriate footwear that has adequate support and coverage for your hike. Also, keep in mind what sort of nature you’re going to encounter. For example, if ticks are a problem in that area, it would be best to pack tweezers or a “tick twister” and to wear adequate bug repellent. Finally, probably the most important item you should pack is water. Dehydration is not only uncomfortable, but can also be dangerous.

Know Basic First Aid

You can buy a basic first aid kit almost anywhere, but if you don’t know how to use the supplies, they aren’t going to do you much good. Along with your location research, you should also learn basic first aid uses and emergency procedures. Knowing CPR, the Heimlich, and how to dress a wound could potentially save your or someone else’s life. Also try to make it a habit of learning what potentially dangerous animals or plants you might encounter on the trail and prepare accordingly. You’ll be glad you did if you ever need to maneuver around a snake or successfully avoid a patch of poison ivy in your way.

Plan for Emergency Communication

Hopefully your hike goes smoothly and all of your preparations are unnecessary. However, sometimes accidents happen and even your first aid kit might not be enough to help. In cases of emergency you should have some form of communication prepared, especially if you’re going on a solo hike. Satellite communication devices are a great way to reach people, even when you’re out of cell service. If you can’t afford one, or don’t have one though, there are alternatives. A whistle can travel farther than your voice and is generally recognized as a call for help in the wilderness. It’s also a good idea to tell someone you trust who won’t be on the hike, when you plan on leaving and returning. Should the unthinkable happen and you can’t make it back to the trail head or your car, someone will know something is wrong when you don’t check in at the agreed upon time.

Be Smart and Know Your Difficulty Level

Every year, many people try to do popular trails that are above their skill level, and get lost or injured and have to be rescued. While those hikes may sound exciting and fun, if you aren’t physically and mentally prepared, they could turn into disasters. So start on trails that are well known, and geared toward your difficulty level. Consider going with a more experienced friend that might be able to recommend trails and advice that would work for you. As you become more experienced and familiar with hiking, you can venture deeper into the outdoors, and onto more difficult trails. Also, keep in mind that the terrain isn’t the only thing that could injure you. Never approach or try to touch wild animals, and leave the plants alone. Aside from the fact that many hiking trails have rules against picking flowers or taking souvenirs, you might accidentally touch a plant, like poison oak or stinging nettle, which will be painful and require medical attention. Remember: you’re a guest in nature, and it’s your responsibility to be respectful of the wildlife and environment.

Now that you’ve done your research and preparation, you’re ready to start hiking! Have fun exploring the great outdoors with your new knowledge.

If you have any questions about what was discussed in this article, or if you'd like to learn more about hiking and emergency preparedness, visit us at your local store or online at