Seasonal Safety Tips for Hikers

Wednesday February 15, 2012 No Comments

Seasonal Safety Tips for Hikers

HIKING SAFETY

No matter the season, never hike alone. The Adirondack Mountain Club recommends a minimum of three people in a hiking group, and each person should be equipped with a map and compass. Study the map before heading out on the hike and stay together on the trail. Always let family or friends know your hiking plans, and sign in at trail registers.

SUMMER HIKING SAFETY TIPS:

  • Hot weather: Depending on where you plan to hike, you may want to avoid hiking between the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. (considered the hottest part of the day). The National Park Service suggests soaking yourself whenever you are near water during hot temperatures.
  • Changing weather: It may be warm when you start your hike, but mountain weather can change quickly. Check weather conditions at all the elevations you plan to hike. Layer outdoor clothing and technical clothing according to the weather conditions.
  • Snow: Even in summer, there can still be snow at the higher elevations, and this is a major cause of injury for hikers, according to the Washington Trails Association (WTA). Use common sense if you encounter snow. The WTA says that if snow is only partly covering the trail, the pitch is not too steep and there is a well-worn boot path across it, hikers should be fine. As it become warmer, the snow becomes less stable, however. Your leg could plunge through the snow up to your waist (called post-holing) and this could cause a sprain or break in your ankle. Be careful around snow-covered slopes or avalanche chutes filled with snow.
  • Summer hiking gear: The National Park Servicesuggests bringing along these 10 summer hiking essentials:
    • Water (plain and electrolyte-replacement drinks)
    • Food, especially salty foods (eat twice as much as normal)
    • First aid kit
    • Map
    • A pack to carry everything
    • A flashlight and spare batteries
    • Spray bottle (for your own personal A/C)
    • A hat and sunscreen
    • A whistle and signal mirror for emergencies
    • Waterproof clothing
    • Stay hydrated. Hikers lose fluid (sweat) during the summer months. Make sure you drink enough to avoid thirst, and take water with you even if you don’t think you will need it. You will become thirsty faster on a hot day. On average, a person who exercises may need an extra 1.5-2.5 cups of water a day to make up for fluid loss, according to the Mayo Clinic. Training expert and writer for Competitor magazine, Matt Fitzgerald, recommends sports drinks as the most effective hydration during hot days in a recent article. He says, “…because a sports drink contains dissolved minerals and carbohydrates, it’s absorbed into the bloodstream more quickly than water, which has fewer or no dissolved particle. If your stomach is sensitive to sugar, try an electrolyte tablet that dissolves in water, such as Nuun.
    • Listen to your body: Pay attention to these warning signs of heat illness (from WebMD):
      • Cramps that suddenly begin in the hands, calves or feet
      • Hard, tense muscles
      • Fatigue and/or weakness
      • Nausea
      • Headaches
      • Excessive thirst
      • Muscle aches and cramps
      • Confusion or anxiety
      • Drenching sweats, often combined with cold, clammy skin
      • Slow or weak heartbeat
      • Dizziness and or fainting
      • Agitation

FALL HIKING SAFETY TIPS:

  • Hydrate: Just because it is cooler, doesn’t mean you aren’t losing fluids when you sweat. Remember to drink when you’re thirsty. Pack a thermos of hot chocolate or cider to warm you from the inside, suggests writer Brad Viles in an article in the Bangor Daily News.
  • Time change: Don’t forget that it will get darker earlier. Pack a working flashlight or headlamp and extra batteries. Viles also points out that it gets darker earlier in the forest because trees block the sun.
  • Changing weather: It may be cool when you start your hike and heat up during the day (and then get very cold again as the sun goes down). Plus, as it can any time of the year, mountain weather can change quickly. Check weather conditions at all the elevations you plan to hike. Layer clothing according to the weather conditions.
  • Watch for animals: Don’t forget you are sharing the trail with wild animals, especially bears that are binge-eating in preparation for winter. Here is some advice from the Colorado Division of Wildlifeon what to do should you come across a coyote, snake, bear or mountain lion:
    • Coyotes: Use a loud, authoritative voice and walk towards a coyote. They will typically run away.
    • Bears: The most common species of bear in the U.S. is the black bear. Brown bears (Grizzlies) live in the northwest U.S. and in Alaska. If you are hiking in bear country, be sure to make plenty of noise so you don’t surprise a bear. If a bear acts aggressively, give it a “wide berth by stepping off the trail on the downhill side.” Tyler Baskfield, Communications Manager for the Colorado Division of Wildlife, says you should, “Look as big as possible, talk to the bear, and back away slowly…Don’t run or climb a tree because that’s prey behavior.” If attacked, the general advice is to play dead.
    • Mountain lions: Stay alert while hiking. Don’t wear hats, visors or headphones, and if you see a mountain lion, you should react as you would in a bear encounter. “Look as big as possible. If you’re wearing a coat, hold it out. Raise your arms slowly. You want to look like a formidable opponent to a mountain lion.” If you are attacked, fight back. Try not to crouch or turn your back, but Baskfield says you should throw things, fight, and go for their eyes.
    • Snakes: Watch where you step. Snakes can usually feel the vibrations of the ground and will leave the area, but if you see one, tap a stick on the ground. It will most likely slither away. Baskfield says in the spring, snakes often sun themselves on rocks, so avoid rocky untraveled areas.

WINTER HIKING SAFETY TIPS:

  • Wear layers: Wear a thin synthetic layer of technical clothing underneath a breathable shell layer made of nylon or Gore-Tex. The first layer or base layer will wick the cold sweat away from your skin and the second layer will keep out the cold. If it’s very cold, you may also need a middle layer, such as fleece. Avoid wearing cotton as it will keep cold moisture close to your skin. Remember to avoid overdressing as it can cause excessive sweating. Don’t forget to wear reflective hiking clothing so vehicles can see you through snow and rain, or in the dark.
  • Keep your head and face warm: Wear a hat that covers your entire head, including the ears. Hats made with moisture-wicking materials work best. And wear sunglasses to protect your eyes from snow-blindness. If it is very cold, you may try wearing a balaclava that covers your face, head and neck, and is made of moisture-wicking material (such as one made with Under Armour® ColdGear® fabric) underneath a fleece layer and topped with a rain-repelling shell made of a fabric like Gore-Tex®.
  • Breathable backpack: An article by Trails.com suggests purchasing a backpack made of breathable materials to avoid a sweaty back and sore shoulders, such as the Deuter Futura 28 Daypack.
  • Better boots: Wear insulated boots, waterproof boots. Don’t wear leather boots, according to the Trails.com article, because leather freezes. Plastic boots and rubber boots contain materials that are better for winter hiking boots.
  • Navigation tools: Learn how to use topographical maps and a compass since, according to an article on SectionHiker.com, your GPS may not work during stormy winter weather.
  • Avalanche awareness: Check avalanche conditions before you leave for a hike, especially if you plan to hike in backcountry areas. Conditions that can cause avalanches include heavy snowfall followed by slow warming and rain, according to the Washington Trails Association (WTA).
  • Pack smart: The WTAsuggest bringing an emergency shelter and/or sleeping bag, a portable shovel and an avalanche beacon, plus these other winter hiking essentials.
    • Topographic map
    • Compass
    • Extra food
    • Extra clothing and waterproof clothing
    • Firestarter
    • Matches
    • Sun protection (for eyes and skin)
    • A pocket knife
    • First-aid kit
    • A flashlight with extra batteries
    • Water and a way to purify it
    • Listen to your body: Shivering is normal, but constant shivering is a key sign of hypothermia, according to the Mayo Clinic. Here are the signs and symptoms of hypothermia:
      • Shivering
      • Clumsiness or lack of coordination
      • Slurred speed or mumbling
      • Stumbling
      • Confusion or difficulty thinking
      • Poor decision making (such as trying to remove warm clothes)
      • Drowsiness or very low energy
      • Apathy or lack of concern for one’s condition
      • Progressive loss of consciousness
      • Weak pulse
      • Slow, shallow breathing

SPRING HIKING SAFETY TIPS:

  • Gear: Carry rain gear and several layers of clothing, advises the Washington Trails Association (WTA), “and anticipate changing the layers often to combat rain, wind, sweat and mists from waterfalls.”
  • Snow: There will still typically be snow at the higher elevations, and this is a major cause of injury for hikers, according to the Washington Trails Association. Use common sense if you encounter snow. The WTA says that if snow is only partly covering the trail, the pitch is not too steep and there is a well-worn boot path across it, hikers should be fine. As it become warmer, the snow becomes less stable, however. Your leg could plunge through the snow up to your waist (called post-holing) and this could cause a sprain or break in your ankle. Be careful around snow-covered slopes or avalanche chutes filled with snow.