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9 Safety Essentials for Taking Wilderness Hikes

Taking wilderness hikes is a great way to refresh yourself mentally and challenge yourself physically.  Getting ready to set off on an adventure that’s going to take you far off the beaten track is an exhilarating feeling. 


However, the old saying, “Hope for the best and plan for the worst,” is never more true than when we’re venturing far from civilization. It’s just not wise to take risks, so careful planning, and intelligent packing can make all the difference.


To ensure that you have an experience that’s memorable for all the right reasons, make sure you consider these nine safety essentials when you’re planning your trip.


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Wilderness Hikes – Safety Tips

Let People Know Your Plans


Ensure you let family and friends know your trip plan: the route you’ll be taking, and possible alternatives you may try, how long you’ll be gone, and at what point they should enlist help if you don’t return as scheduled.


Tell people the make and color of the car you’ll be using to reach your base, as this could potentially help rescuers. If the area you’re planning to visit has an app so you can register your route plan, make use of it so that, in case of emergency, any search can be narrowed down. 


Check the Weather


A detailed assessment of the weather conditions will help you pack the right gear – but be aware that it can change almost without warning. If you’re taking wilderness hikes that are really remote, be prepared for every eventuality.


Taking water-repellent rain gear or a tarp, and some Mylar blankets (aka space blankets) to protect you from the cold and wet won’t add much weight but could save your life. 


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Prepare for Encounters with Wildlife


While every frontiersman would know what to do if confronted by a bear or wolf, city dwellers and weekend hikers, understandably, may not. 


Educate yourself before venturing into the territory of bears or other wild animals, so you’ll have an idea of how to interpret their behavior–in fact, few if any will attack without provocation. 


Depending on where you’re wilderness hikes take you, though, a bear repellent spray may be just as essential as a mosquito repellent to keep you feeling safe.


Use Multiple Navigation Tools


You may be planning to use your smartphone to navigate–if that’s the case your battery needs to last, not just for the planned duration of your trip, but much longer in case you get into difficulties.  That’s why more than one fully-charged power pack is indispensable.


Taking along a compass and map may seem a low-tech solution, but from the moment you find that you’ve gotten lost and have no signal, they’ll be indispensable in leading you in the right direction, back to safety.


Keep Your Energy High


However much food you think you’re going to need, supplement it with plenty of high-energy snacks and bars. These can sustain you in case of an emergency, providing you with enough stamina to keep moving to safety.  


High-fat foods, such as nuts, can help keep your hunger at bay for longer.  Obviously, you’ll take enough water to last for the trip, but also pack some water purification tablets to keep you safe in case you find that you need to drink from streams or pools.


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Consider Your Night Vision


As soon as darkness falls, you’re in an entirely different world. Powerful flashlights should provide enough visibility to set up camp in the dark and allow you to move around safely.


They would also be invaluable as a signaling device if you needed to be rescued, so a good supply of batteries is a safety essential. Imagine being stuck in the forest, hidden by trees, and being unable to signal as rescuers searched for you overhead.  


Hands-free head torches, or flexi-torches that can be worn around the neck, are also useful as they allow you to see while you work or walk in the darkness.


Light a Fire


In the mountains, the temperature can drop to freezing, almost without warning.  Taking enough tools to start a fire (and knowing how to do it), can be considered an essential safety skill.


Not only can you huddle around it for warmth, but you can also use it to heat food and water.  A full gas lighter, as well as a supply of matches as a backup, will help get one going when you’re freezing cold.


Apply Sun Protection


Although the cold at night can be a hazard, so can the heat and rays of the sun in the daytime. So when you go on wilderness hikes, take a good sunscreen, with a minimum SPF of 35, to protect you from sunburn, especially at high altitudes. 


In addition, good quality sunglasses with dark lenses are recommended if you’re hiking on or near snow, as the glare from the sun’s rays is magnified, with up to 80 percent of the light being reflected.


To minimize the risk of eyestrain or other damage, and to ensure you can see clearly enough to avoid hazards as you hike, keep your glasses on from around 10 am until 4 or 5 pm.


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Prepare for Medical Emergencies


A basic medical kit is essential to deal with minor mishaps and injuries on wilderness hikes, which, if left unattended, could escalate into something more serious.


To deal with cuts, scrapes, and even blisters, the first line of treatment is antiseptic wipes and antibacterial ointment. You should always have a supply of assorted bandages and tape to cover wounds, no matter how small, and prevent them from becoming infected. 


Antihistamine treatment for insect stings and bites is another essential. Anti-pain medication such as ibuprofen can be used in case of more severe injury, such as a bad sprain that could otherwise make it difficult to return to base camp.


If you or your party don’t have any first aid training or experience, it’s sensible to inform yourself about some basic techniques either by watching demos on YouTube or by taking along a manual with step-by-step instructions.


Taking wilderness hikes can be an amazing experience, but going without being prepared can also be dangerous. So, pack accordingly, and adventure on.

Carissa Shuman

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