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Trail safety tips to follow
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Plan for temperature

  • Pay attention to weather forecasts. check forecasts by location and ZIP code on sites such as Weather.com, which offers hourly temperature predictions for the day and every three hours for the following day.
  • Don’t be overly ambitious. A hot day isn’t the best time to do a 10-miler with 2,000 feet of climbing. Scale expectations and save tough trails for another day.
  • Choose the right hike. If you live in an area with topographical variation, look for higher elevation trails. Hikes along the coasts or other large bodies of water, such as the Great Lakes, will be cooler.
  • Hike early in the day. Temperatures can easily be 20-25 degrees cooler in the morning than in the afternoon.
  • Avoid the most intense sun. Direct sun will increase heat-related stresses and the risk of sunburn. Try to find shaded trails and avoid hiking between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
  • Remember “The Three L’s:” Lightweight, loose-fitting, light-colored when it comes to choosing clothing.
  • Wear a lightweight, light-colored hat with a broad brim to keep the sun off your face and neck to stay cool.
  • Use and pack sunscreen. Exposed, sunburned skin will make it more difficult for your body to stay cool.

Stay hydrated

  • Begin to hydrate a couple of hours before hitting the trail.
  • Drink frequently. Instead of guzzling water at once, take smaller and more frequent drinks.
  • Cold water is best. Fill up your water bottle or hydration system with ice to keep water cool for as long as possible while you’re out.
  • Don’t drink beer. Alcohol , as well as caffeine-laden energy drinks, can speed up dehydration.
  • Replenish with electrolytes. Alternate water intake with consumption of fluids with electrolytes, such as sports drinks.
  • Eat snacks with salt. Salt in foods can help restore sodium levels in the bloodstream. Nuts, pretzels and trail mix are options.

Stay cool

  • Take breaks. Stop more frequently and for longer durations than on a cooler day.
  • Look for shade. Get out of the sun as much as you can, both on breaks and on the trail. Especially when the sun is lower in the sky, portions of the trail may be shaded by trees or slopes.

Stay safe

  • Avoid hiking alone because the “buddy system” is safer during any type of activity. If traveling with a group, never stray from it. If hiking alone, pick a well traveled trail.
  • Tell someone where you are going and when you will return. And check in with them when you get back.
  • Stay on marked trails. Making shortcuts and “bushwhacking” causes erosion and increases your chance of becoming lost. Pay attention to trail blazes (paint marks on trees) and landmarks. A double blaze indicates a change in trail direction or intersection, so be sure to follow the correct trail.
  • Never climb on waterfalls. A high number of injuries and deaths occur on waterfalls and slippery, wet rocks.
  • Always carry quality rain gear and turn back in bad weather. If you become wet or cold, it is important to get dry and warm as quickly as possible, avoiding hypothermia.
  • Dress in layers and avoid cotton. Many experienced hikers wear a lightweight shirt that wicks moisture, while carrying a fleece pullover and waterproof jacket in a daypack.
  • All hikers (especially children and older adults) should carry a whistle, which can be heard far away and takes less energy than yelling. Three short blasts is a sign of distress.
  • Carry plenty of drinking water and never assume stream water is safe to drink. Frequent hikers might consider buying a water filter or water purifying tablets at an outdoor supply store.
  • Don’t count on cellphones to work in the wilderness, but if they do, be able to give details about your location.
  • Don’t rely on a GPS to prevent you from getting lost. Batteries can die or the equipment can become damaged or lost.
  • Invest in good hiking socks and boots such as those found at sporting goods stores. Avoid blisters by carrying “moleskin” (available at drug stores) and applying it as soon as you feel a hot spot on your feet.
  • Wear bright colors. Don’t dress children in camouflage.

Hiking necessities

  • Water
  • First aid kit
  • Whistle
  • Small flashlight with extra batteries
  • Glowstick
  • Energy food
  • Brightly colored bandana
  • Trash bag (preferably a bright color, such as “pumpkin bags” sold in autumn). Poke a hole for your head and wear it as a poncho to stay warm and dry.
  • Aluminum foil. Strips can be tied into tree limbs to reflect searchlights. It can be molded into a bowl for water.

Guidelines for children

  • Attach a whistle to their clothing.
  • Talk to children about what to do if they become lost, no matter what the location (city or wilderness).
  • Teach children they won’t get into trouble for becoming lost.
  • Reassure children that people (and possibly dogs and helicopters) will look for them if they become lost. Do not hide from searchers; answer their calls.
  • Do not run. Instead, “hug a tree” and make a comfortable “nest.” This prevents wandering even farther.
  • Do not be afraid of animals or strange noises. If something is scary, blow the whistle.
  • Come up with a password a child will respond to if a stranger needs to pick them up. Searchers can use this password.          

If lost

  • Stay put.
  • Make shelter.
  • Stay warm and dry.
  • Be visible and heard.
  • If helicopters are searching overhead, seek an opening rather than thick tree cover. Lie down so you look bigger from the air.
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