Hiking is fun, exhilarating, and one of the best ways to escape the stress of city life. But like almost any endeavor in life, it comes with its fair share of risks and dangers. Falls, exposure to extreme heat, getting lost, accidents, death, and extreme thirst are common things hikers face. Studies show that falls are responsible for nearly 50% of all accidents (fatal and non-fatal) during mountain hiking. The same study calculated a mortality rate of about 4 deaths per 100,000 hikers yearly. Yes, the stats are grim, but the benefits of hiking completely outweigh the risks as long as you take the necessary precautions. Here are some common hiking risks and what you can do.
- Getting lost
Did you know that an average of 2,000 hikers get lost every year? Even worse, some of them never find their way back, including the experienced ones. The main reason many lose their way is because they tread unfamiliar terrains. Understandably, hiking through lesser-walked routes gives you a true feeling of adventure and freedom. But it always comes with the risk of losing your way. Going off course can lead to disorientation, thirst, dehydration, starvation, and even potential injury the longer you stray. Running out of resources and trying to find your way through the dark worsens the situation.
No matter how confident you are in your navigation skills, please stay on marked trails. Also, carry a backpack containing water, snacks, a map, a GPS device, and a compass – and learn how to use them before your trip. A portable power bank, an extra battery, and a flashlight may also be handy. You can light a fire and leave it to produce smoke, use mirrors, whistle, or use hand-held flares to signal for help if you get lost.
- Bad weather
Many outdoor hazards are a result of bad weather. Wind, snow, rain, thaws, freezing temperatures, heat waves, and thunderstorms present tough challenges to hikers and increase the risk of fatal accidents. Before planning any trip, you must know what weather conditions to expect. Listen to or read from a reliable source of weather information in your destination before you set off. If you’re heading to an unfamiliar location, spend a few days checking the weather pattern to give you an idea of what to expect. The more info you gather about the weather, the better. So, read newspapers, watch the weather channel, listen to the radio, and check online for weather forecasts for that specific day. Remember that most forecasts can be wrong, as weather is unpredictable sometimes. Mountainous areas, for example, are notorious for creating their own weather, while low-level areas have less weather impact.
- Fatigue and dehydration
Some people turn on a blase attitude when hiking into the wilderness. They don’t know when to stop when excitement and rush from venturing into the unknown overtake them. Doing this may lead you to go too far with too little energy and resources to sustain you. Before realizing it, fatigue sets in, your stomach starts rumbling, and your throat goes dry. Fatigue and dehydration can quickly disorient you while wearing you out, causing you to make many other mistakes. Take the time to research your route. Be certain about the terrain, bail-out points, route length, and elevation gain to plan your walk accordingly. Also, carry essentials along to sustain you. At the very least, you should have some bottles of water, energy-boosting snacks, and food in your backpack.
- Motor vehicle accidents
Depending on your hiking location, you may encounter road users who don’t pay attention to hikers. Unscrupulous drivers can be a menace when accessing trailheads or walking along roads to reach your hiking location. So, always be aware of the traffic situation at your destination and take the necessary precautions. Obey traffic laws when using any major road. Stay on the shoulder of the road, preferably facing oncoming traffic. Also, wear highly visible clothing and do your best not to walk by the road in low visibility. That means planning your trip to take full advantage of the daylight from the beginning of your hike until you return to your accommodation. Despite your best efforts, careless drivers can still pose a risk. Don’t hesitate to seek legal assistance if such drivers knock down you or a loved one. A wrongful death attorney will also help you receive compensation should you lose a loved one to a careless driver.
As mentioned, falls account for nearly half of all fatal and non-fatal hiking accidents. Slippery surfaces, uneven terrains, and not having the right foot gear are some of the most common causes of falls when hiking. Steep inclines and locations near water bodies are also behind many fatalities. Preparing adequately before your trip is the only way to avoid these risks. Invest in proper footgear designed for hiking terrains. Tread cautiously when negotiating rocky mountain terrains, slippery or unstable surfaces, and hiking close to water bodies. Consider getting some training before attempting mountain hiking for the first time. That can prevent most rookie mistakes that end fatal.
In some cases, fatal hiking accidents and falls could result from negligence. Poor trail maintenance or unavailable warning signs could cause hikers to make wrong and, unfortunately, fatal moves. In such cases, a wrongful death attorney can help you get compensation if you lose a loved one.
- Getting caught out in the dark
It’s possible to hike in the dark, but that’s for the pros who know the terrain or the route like the back of their hands. If you’re a rookie, beginner, or using a route for the best time, please avoid getting caught in the dark. It’s best to plan your route so you can set off and return when there’s still natural daylight. Darkness can also catch up on you if injury slows you down. It’s possible to misjudge your pace or how long it takes to reach the trail’s end. Knowing your hiking speed is super important. If possible, go with a guide, especially if it’s your first time. Remember that hiking in the dark means an increased likelihood of getting lost.
- Going solo
Hiking solo isn’t necessarily dangerous, but only in the right locations. Some hiking destinations are notorious for questionable disappearances and foul play. Your safest bet is to walk in a group when hiking in such locations. A wiser option will be to avoid such locations at all costs. Even if you’re confident in your abilities as a hiker, inform others about your trip before you set off. Notify anyone you can trust, tell them your route in advance, and tell them to call for help if you don’t return by a specific time. You can also keep a tracking device on you or invest in a personal locator beacon (PLB). The latter can help rescuers find you in no time in an emergency. But remember that just because you’re easier to find doesn’t always mean you’re safer, so consider going with someone or a group.
Outdoor temperatures can drop rapidly, even in moderate climates. Hiking in wet and windy conditions can also cause the body to lose heat faster, increasing your risk of developing hypothermia. When your body temperature drops and you start feeling too cold, confusion and exhaustion can quickly set in, potentially life-threatening. You can avoid hypothermia by taking three major precautions. First, dress in layers to retain body heat. But don’t end there; carry extra clothing in your backpack. A raincoat will also be very helpful in unpredictable weather. You might also want to learn how to start a fire before setting off. The second precaution is to plan your trip during a favorable season or at destinations with favorable weather. Thirdly, remember to take advantage of natural daylight.
- Wild animal encounters
Wild animals don’t like their privacy intruded on (particularly those that feel threatened), and they’ll make you pay dearly for it. You’ve probably seen online footage of hikers chased by bears or encountering other wild animals while hiking. They lived to tell the story, but it’s best not to take chances. Please be alert if your hiking location is known for wild animal encounters. Look out for signs like animal tracks and scats when walking, and do your best to stay out of sight of any animal. Don’t let your food attract the wrong guest. Pack it away in an airtight container to avoid being tracked down by a wild animal. Insects and ticks can also be a massive health hazard. Avoid locations with a high insect population. Otherwise, wear clothes that cover your limbs and use an insect repellant.
- Sunburn and heatstroke
Hiking under the sun’s full glare can be fun, but there’s nothing pleasant about experiencing sunburn or heatstroke. Sunburn can cause inflammation while tightening the skin. You’ll also risk dehydration and experience considerable pain and overheating. Prolonged exposure to extremely high temperatures can also cause heat stroke when your body can no longer control its temperature. Your sweating mechanism will fail at this point while your body struggles to cool down. If you feel too hot at any part of your hiking trip, please turn around and head back to your station. There’s no shame in giving up under such conditions. Despite how adequately you’re prepared (sunscreen, water, and everything needed to combat the heat), extreme heat is not worth dealing with when hiking.