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There’s nothing quite like immersing yourself in the great outdoors with an excellent hike. Fresh air? Peace and quiet? Stunning views? Yes, please. But as awesomely invigorating as hiking can be, it also carries some real risks.
Fortunately, there are many ways to minimize your odds of encountering an emergency while hiking and equip you to handle one just in case. “The more prepared you are, the more likely you are to have a good time and stay safe,” Hoyer says.
These expert safety tips are crafted to help you prep smart and trek smart. Make sure to follow them before and during every hike.
1. Consult a park ranger.
When deciding where to hike, your best bet is typically going to be a national or state park. They’re staffed by rangers with a wealth of information about what you need to stay safe in that particular location. Give the park office a call before your hike, visit the official National Park Service (NPS) site, or stop by the office before you leave the trailhead.
2. Bring at least one friend.
You and your companions should discuss a few things before you set out, like how strenuous a hike you're all OK with, your general itinerary, and an emergency plan. Those last two deserve a bit more detail, so let's get to it.
4. Agree on an emergency plan.
“Part of your plan for any hike should be what you’re going to do in an emergency situation,” Hoyer says. Before heading out, know how you will call or send for help in the unlikely event something bad happens. (Again, the park service is a prime resource here).
5. Prepare for the weather.
This goes beyond just checking the weather before your hike. Talk to the rangers or consult the park site to find out what inclement weather events are most likely at this time of year and how to stay safe in them. “Even with the best weather forecast, big storms can come up quickly and unexpectedly,”
6. Be ready to turn back.
“You can look at a map and talk to folks all day. But when the rubber meets the road and you have to make decisions, you’ve got to be willing to turn around,” Hoyer says.
You’re more likely to make a poor judgment call—ignoring signs your body needs a break, pushing a straggler to keep up, pressing on when a storm rolls in—when you’re hyper-focused on getting to an end point.
You’ll find it easier to be flexible if you keep in mind an objective besides the summit, literally or metaphorically. Remember that you’re out there to enjoy yourself. Look at any obstacle in your path as “a great opportunity to enjoy the view and turn around,” “If you don’t get to where you thought you would, it can still be an awesome hike. It's about being on the trail, being where you are. That’s the adventure.”