How to Stay Safe While Hiking (A Guide to Hiking Safety)

It’s important to stay safe while hiking.

Hiking is fun. It’s an adventure. It’s a great way to stay in shape and lead a healthy lifestyle. There is so much to see and do as a hiker.

But hiking can be dangerous, too. It can even seriously injure or even kill you.

Safety, above all else, is the most important component of enjoying your hiking trips.

Telling you to stay safe isn’t enough. There are things you need to know more about regarding hiking safety.

In this guide, I’ll show you how to stay safe while hiking so you can leave the trail with good memories, not bad injuries.

NOTE: This guide contains affiliate links, which means I may earn a commission if you purchase items through the links. Alternatively, you can Google Search for the products yourself if you do not wish to use my link. My link will not impact your price.

More People Need to Stay Safe While Hiking

It’s more important than ever to stay safe while hiking.

After the pandemic, the number of hikers has significantly increased. While that is a good thing, it has a dark side: the rate of hiker fatalities has also increased.

Hiking is safe by all means, but there are many dangers associated with it that can impact you if you experience them. Nature is raw. There are no man-made controls to keep you safe. Nature is unforgiving.

The number one cause of death for hikers is falling from cliffs, mountains, and higher points. The number one prevention method for falling is to watch your step and put safety first. If you get anything from this guide, it should be to “watch your step and put safety first.”

Now, let’s get to the guide and show you how to stay safe while hiking.


How to Stay Safe While Hiking

Staying safe while hiking isn’t difficult. For the most part, it’s common sense. However, there are some additional tips to consider to make your hiking experience even safer and more enjoyable.


Hiking Gear

It’s important to bring the right gear on every hike, whether the distance is short or long.

There are 10 essentials that you should take with you on every hike. These essentials will help ensure that you remain safe and comfortable while you trek through nature. These 10 recommendations include:

  1. Wear sturdy Footwear, such as hiking boots, trail running shoes, or hiking shoes. Stay away from Crocs, sandals, and normal tennis shoes. You want something rated for the outdoors. Get waterproof footwear for the colder months to keep your feet dry.
  2. Navigation, such as a map and compass, GPS, and apps on your phone. If you can, it’s good to have two to three forms of navigation. You need to learn how to use your navigation before going on a hike.
  3. Bring extra water and a filter to keep yourself hydrated. I use the Sawyer Mini Filter. Before using it, you should test it out and understand how it works. If you bring plenty of water to drink, you’ll be able to stay safe while hiking a lot easier.
  4. Bring extra food and snacks to keep you fueled for your hike. Choose food and snacks that are easy to prepare and eat while hiking in nature. Make sure the food and snacks have plenty of carbs and calories to fuel you.
  5. Extra layers and rain gear, just in case you need them. A simple raincoat or poncho will do for rain gear. You might also want to take a rain cover for your backpack. As for extra layers, a pair of insulated running tights and a shirt with an extra pair of socks go a long way and are extremely lightweight.
  6. Fire, Lights, and a Whistle are great items to take to stay safe while hiking. Bring a lighter and waterproof matches. Bring a flashlight or headlamp with extra batteries. Bring a whistle just in case you need it for communication.
  7. First Aid Kit, just in case you need it. You don’t need to bring a full trauma kit. Bring a small kit with the basic supplies. Add a few extra things like hand sanitizer, moleskins for blisters, anti-diarrhea medication, and any medicines you take.
  8. Bring a knife with you in case you might need it. You might need it for defense. You may need it to cut small limbs for a fire. You might need it to repair your gear and for first aid. A good hiking knife is a tool that every hiker should be equipped with.
  9. Sun protection is a must when hiking. Bring a hat, sunblock, and sunglasses. You get more sun exposure than you think you do when hiking in the woods. Remember to reapply sunblock as you hike because you can sweat it off easily.
  10. Get a hiking backpack, not something that you’d use for school. A hiking backpack will have features that will bring comfort and safety to your hike. A regular backpack isn’t designed for outdoor use and may result in injuries after prolonged usage.

Make sure you wear appropriate clothing for hiking. You can wear hiking-specific clothing such as convertible pants and hiking shirts. Hiking socks are also a good option. You can also wear athletic clothing such as tights/leggings, biker shorts/half tights, and athletic shirts as long as the material is breathable. Don’t wear cotton. Stick to polyester, nylon, spandex, and merino wool products.

Bring survival gear. These are items you would need just in case you have to stay the night in the woods. You could get hurt or lost and have to stay put for the night. Basic survival items include a shelter such as a tarp or a hammock, a paracord to tie things down, an emergency blanket, and the ability to make a fire and stay warm.

Bring one or a pair of telescopic trekking poles with you. These are convenient when you need to keep your balance when crossing a creek or a rocky terrain. You might find yourself needing to use them for your entire hike or only here and there.

Consider getting a PLB or personal locator beacon. If you need emergency assistance, you can activate this device to alert the proper authorities. PLBs have saved many lives.


Prepare First

Preparation is the key to preventing most incidents. If you properly prepare for your hike, you’ll most likely have a very positive hiking experience.

Being prepared doesn’t require that much, either. For the most part, it’s about slowing down, taking your time planning your hike, and thinking about ways you can stay safe while hiking.

Determine your physical activity and hiking experience before you choose a trail. Choose easier trails at first and work your way up to more difficult ones as you gain experience and ability to hiker harder. Stick to the easier trails until you know them from front to back, and then go for a harder trail when you’re ready.

Make sure you time your hike right. Go when conditions are safe. Go when others will be out there, or maybe you want to go when it’s not tourist season to get the trails to yourself.

Study all the local hiking trails in your general area. Determine which trail is right for you based on its difficulty level, your own experience, and its length. You can always turn longer trails into out-and-backs and turn around anytime you want to.

Create an emergency plan for hiking. Based on your area, determine what situations would be classified as emergencies. These could include severe weather or landslides. Then, create a plan for responding to them. Having some kind of plan is better than having no plan at all.

You should also have a Plan B. Things happen, and your planned hike may not be the best idea. Maybe all the parking is full. Maybe too much rain has caused a trail closure. It’s a good idea to have a Plan B and even a Plan C, just in case your original plan doesn’t work out.

Before you go hiking on your chosen trail, check for alerts, closures, and trail conditions. Most trails are part of a system that has a website or a social media page about it. Maybe they even have a phone number. It’s best to check first and make sure you don’t run into problems when you get there.

Check the weather forecast before going on your hike. Make sure you’re not getting ready to hike in conditions that could harm you. This will also help you dress for the weather and bring the right layers in case you need them.

Try to understand the wildlife in the areas you hike in. You really want to focus on wildlife that could present a safety problem. Understanding when they’ll be out, hibernation seasons, and other such things can help you prepare for your hike.

Prepare yourself for bugs and ticks. Biting bugs like black flies, horse flies, and mosquitoes can make hiking challenging, but you can usually apply repellent to prevent them. Ticks, on the other hand, are harder to deter and often more dangerous. Permethrin is one of the best lines of defense in dealing with ticks. Try to prepare yourself for these pests before you go on your hike.

You also want to make sure you understand what poisonous plants are present. In most cases, you’ll simply have to deal with poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac. Staying on the trail and washing your skin and clothing/footwear can prevent most issues with these plants. However, in some areas, other plants can produce more serious injuries such as Giant Hog Weed. It’s a good idea to know about the potentially dangerous plants in your area before you hike it.

Preparation is essential to ensuring that you can enjoy the entirety of your hiking adventure.


Know Your Limits

You’ll be able to stay safe while hiking if you truly understand your hiking limitations.

This is especially important for beginners.

Hiking seems easy enough to jump in head-on and get good at. But like with any other fitness activity, like running and cycling, it takes practice and consistency to level up your hiking skills and abilities.

If you’re brand new or inexperienced and you tackle a trail with a lot of miles and rolling hills, you’re probably going to have a very negative experience, especially if you’re out of shape to hike such a terrain like that.

When choosing a trail to go on for your next hike (or even first one), it’s important to ask yourself a few questions first:

  1. How hard is the hiking trail in terms of elevation, length, and ruggedness?
  2. How strong of a hiker are you in terms of experience and physical fitness?

If you’ve never hiked on a long, hilly, and rugged trail before, you shouldn’t choose it as your first hiking destination.

If you’re not experienced in hiking and you aren’t in the best hiking shape, you should choose an easier trail to enjoy until you’re ready to move on to the more advanced trails.

The best thing to do is to choose a trail that matches your experience and fitness level. Hike it frequently. Hike it until you know it by heart, front and back, and then when you’re ready, you can move on to a more difficult trail.

Knowing your limits as a hiker is important.

When you choose trails based on your limits, you’ll be able to stay safe while hiking. It’s easy to want to do the harder trails, but the problem is that you won’t enjoy any of them. They will be a struggle, and you’ll just want them to end.

That’s not going to help you enjoy hiking.

Hiking should always be a positive experience.

Safety Hiking Trails: Little Grand Canyon

Tell Someone First

One of the best ways the stay safe while hiking is to know that someone has your back just in case you don’t make it back out.

Tell someone where you’re going before you go on a hike.

However, it shouldn’t be as simple as that.

You should try your best to create an itinerary for your friend or family member who will have your back if you don’t make it home.

Include things like:

  • Where you will be hiking
  • A map and a circle around the area you’ll be in
  • Trail numbers/names
  • When you plan to start
  • When you plan to be done

If you don’t make it home at a certain time, your friend or family member can notify to proper authorities to send help.

You could be lost. You could be injured. Knowing that someone out there has your back is critical to keeping you calm and ensuring you can be found.

The idea of knowing that no one knows where you are can be scary and unnerving if you are in a situation where you need help.

Remember the guy out west who got his arm stuck between rocks and had to cut off his arm? Don’t be that guy.

Tell someone where you’re going, at the very least, so that the authorities have some kind of intelligence when they start to look for you.

You might even seal up some clothing that you’ve worn and give it to your friend or family in case of a worse case scenario where search K9s need to find you for recovery. It’s important to bring you home at the end of the day.

Please let someone know where you’re going before you go.


It’s Not a Race

Being in a hurry the whole time you’re hiking is an easy way to get hurt or to wear yourself out quickly.

When I used to hike alone, I would always hike too fast. I wore myself out pretty quickly and even hurt myself at times because I was going too fast. That’s really not a good way to hike.

When I met my now fiancé, I started slowing down as she liked to “stop and smell the flowers” on our hikes.

Now I notice more things. I see interesting insects, mushrooms, rare flora, and even hidden hazards like camouflaged venomous snakes and ground bees. I’m not too worried about the snakes, but I don’t want to get stung by a bunch of bees.

Going 90 to nothing on the trail is a good way to have a negative interaction with a hazard that you don’t recognize in time to avoid.

Leave early enough to where you don’t need to speed hike, or choose a shorter hike if you can’t leave that early.

Try to slow down so that you can spot everything ahead of you.

I know some people want to speed hikes. You might be speed hiking or even trail running for exercise. That’s fine, but experienced hikers should do it. Don’t make speed hiking or trail running your first experience in the woods. Gradually work your way up to that.

You’ll stay safe while hiking and enjoy more of it if you slow down and take your time.


Watch Your Feet

The best advice anyone can give you to stay safe while hiking is to watch your feet or watch your next step.

You can avoid most hazards by doing this one simple thing.

Most deaths in hiking occur from falling. Falling can be avoided by watching where you step. Some people get bitten by venomous snakes or attacked by wild animals. That can be avoided by watching where you step. Tripping, twisting your ankle, slipping, and getting into deep water can all be avoided by watching where you step.

If you watch where you put your feet, you’ll likely have a safe and positive experience while recreating out in the woods.

There is a lot to see in the forest, prairies, and mountains. But most of your sight should be on where you are stepping next.

Your pathway contains many hazards, including drop-offs, roots, rocks, snakes, wild animals, rapid creeks, deep water, and even unprotected wells from homesites that once inhabited the area.

I’ve recorded over 100 open wells in the Shawnee National Forest alone. There isn’t enough money to fill them in if they want to. But it doesn’t matter because you can avoid falling into one by watching where you step.

Watching where you step is the responsible thing to do.

If you get hurt on the trail, you not only put yourself in danger but also others who are required to come to your aid and rescue you. Keep everyone out of danger by simply watching where you step.

Enjoy your hike by watching where you put your feet.


Hiking Etiquette

There is a big need for hiking etiquette.

Hiking etiquette enables you and other hikers to enjoy a safe and positive adventure on the trail. The unofficial rules of hiking will protect the trails for generations to come. It is our responsibility to use common-sense hiking etiquette while we’re out enjoying nature.

Some of the most common unofficial hiking rules include:

  1. Always Leave No Trace and leave the trail better than you found it.
  2. Everyone should always share the trail.
  3. Mountain bikers yield to everyone. Hikers yield to equestrians.
  4. Stay on designated trails.
  5. Don’t disrupt nature for other hikers in any way.
  6. Think about others before you start your hike.
  7. Always put safety first.
  8. Know when to stop and turn around.

Being a great hiker is an easy thing to do if you put safety first and always consider other people who will want to use the trail.

Hiking etiquette will ensure that you can stay safe while hiking, no matter what trail you choose to hike on.


I Hope You Stay Safe While Hiking

Thank you for checking out my article about staying safe while hiking. I hope you have enjoyed it and that it has helped you be a safer hiker. Please share it with your hiking friends to help them be safer while they adventure.

If you’d like to support me in providing this article for free, I welcome one-time donations. You can also become a Patreon Supporter and support me monthly.

Be sure to subscribe to my free monthly newsletter for more hiking tips, resources, and information.

And until next time, I’ll see you on the trail!

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Thanks again for checking out another one of my articles and until next time, I’ll see you on the trail!

Shawn Gossman

Shawn Gossman

Founder, Hiking with Shawn

Howdy folks! My name is Shawn Gossman and I founded Hiking with Shawn. I’m an avid hiker, cyclist and outdoorsman here in the Shawnee National Forest. I was born and raised in Southern Illinois and never want to leave. Click here to learn more about Shawn Gossman

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