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Hiking 101: Get Trail Smart

Keeping safe while hiking begins with careful planning and preparation. In fact, you can almost always avoid serious safety issues by following the outlined below:

Prowling and theft can happen even in the backcountry, so take precautions when you park your car at the trailhead. Lock your doors, close your windows, and never leave anything valuable inside.

Ancient Lakes by Breanna Singleton.jpg
Ancient Lakes Trail. Photo by Breanna Singleton.

On the Trail

Common sense will almost always keep you safe on trail, but the following will help keep you and your group safe, just in case.

1

Stay on the trail. The chances of getting lost or injured increase dramatically as soon as you step off the beaten path.

2

Set the right pace and take breaks when needed. Pick a pace that's comfortable for everyone, and be sure the leader can always see the whole group. If the pace is too fast for anyone, have the slowest members lead.
Take breaks whenever they're needed, especially on long hikes and hot days.

3

Hike within your skills and abilities and those of the least experienced group member. Remember, it’s OK to turn back if a hike ends up being more difficult than expected.

4

Be aware of your surroundings. Watch for storm clouds, potential hazards on the trail, wild animals or hunters and inform the group immediately if you have concerns.

After the Hike

  • Write a Trip Report and post it to WTA.org! It's a fun way to keep track of your progress as you begin hiking more difficult trails, plus you’ll help other hikers plan their trips.
  • Take a Wilderness First Aid course. Once you know what you can expect on the trail, learn how to treat some of the most common injuries and ailments.

Tomyhoi Peak by Tim Nari.jpgTaking advantage of the extended summer, hikers enjoy a the high country along the trail to Tomyhoi Peak in the North Cascades. Photo by Tim Nari.

Sharing the Trail

You're likely not the only one enjoying the great outdoors, so when you head out on trail, make sure to treat others (and the trail!) with respect. Here are a few tips to keep in mind:

  • Give other groups space (and right of way): Don't crowd other parties; either pass them or wait to give them some space. Similarly, let faster groups pass and yield to those hiking uphill when you're descending. And don't forget to say hello to passers-by!
  • Watch your noise level: Ensure that others can enjoy the sounds of the outdoors by keeping your speakers off during your hike.
  • Minimize your impact: As the saying goes, leave only footprints, take only pictures. Pack out all your trash, never attempt to approach or feed a wild animal and stay on the trail to avoid trampling delicate flora and fauna.
  • Be a good group-member: Set an appropriate pace, warn others about loose rocks and other hazards and hold overhanging branches out of the way so they don't hit those behind you in the face.

Of course there are extra considerations, both for safety and etiquette when hiking with children or bringing your dog on the trail, so make sure to read up on those before setting out!