16 Safety tips for trekking, hiking and mountaineering

Safety Tips for Hiking Activities in Remote Areas

The World has a great natural diversity that contributes significantly to adventure tourism. Whether hiking, trekking, or camping, these activities bring people together and promote physical fitness and encourage everyone to enjoy nature.

However, it comes with physical demands and all hikers need to be aware and prepared for the dangers they may encounter and the Safety Tips listed here can help you.

This article is designed to show you Safety Tips through basic actions to take before and during activities in the field, whether it is a simple one-day hike or a large traverse that involves two or more days.

In this section we would like to help trekkers and hikers with Remote Area Safety Tips for staying safe on the trail!

The risks and dangers of hiking in remote areas

This article is based on information from the Arrive Live website, which frequently receives reports from emergency services about the need for evacuation of hiking trails. Although the site is from South Africa, the information gathered on safety tips for trekking and hiking can be applied anywhere.

But why would an evacuation be necessary and what are the most common emergencies?

  • Hikers getting lost.
  • Medical incidents, such as strokes, heart attacks, and illnesses.
  • Fatigue, hypothermia, dehydration, and heat exhaustion.
  • Injuries from slips and falls on the trail.
  • Injuries from animals, snakes, and insects on the trail.
  • Hikers trapped or injured by forces of nature, such as floods, fires, and lightning
  • Injuries caused by criminal attacks, assaults, and robberies.

Preparation and Planning

  • Safety begins long before the hiker sets out on the trail! With effective planning and research, many dangers can be avoided!
  • Hikers should be well informed about the trail and use their common sense and awareness of limitations.
  • Before heading out, plan and do some research on the trail.
  • Check regional hiking information about possible animal life, poisonous plants, local hunting areas / seasons, hiking alerts.
    Know the regulations and what is allowed on the trail! Do you need permits and are there opening and closing times on the trail?
  • Don’t attempt to hike if the trail is closed.
  • Equip yourself with route finding information such as maps, travel guides, or a GPS file of the route.
  • Check websites and online forums and communicate with other people who have been there and hiked the trail.
  • Don’t rely on GPS technology alone, especially with limited service and unreliable battery power, in the case of cell phones, don’t rely on just one navigation app, have at least 3 apps installed with the map of the area you want to hike, and of course make sure the tracklog has been marked by a trusted person who knows the place you hiked.
  • If you are not sure how to read the map, take the time to learn beforehand. Make copies for other people in your group.
  • Find information about sunrise, sunset and tide times (especially important when walking along the coast)
  • Ask others what the dangers are and what their advice would be for safety.
  • Choose the trail according to the group’s ability, aptitude, and experience.

Ask yourself:

  • How long is the route?
  • How challenging is the route?
  • What is your hiking experience? What is your pace?
  • How long does it take for the average hiker?
  • Is water available on the trail?
    Note that cell service is limited in many areas, including the mountains.
  • Investigate technology, such as apps and panic buttons that can work even when no cell signal is available.
  • Make an equipment list before you go out to make sure you have everything you need.
  • Tell someone exactly what your plans are, what time you are starting and what time you expect to finish. Give that person a map too!
  • If you drive to the trailhead, leave a message with your name, group size, route, expect return time, and contact person clearly visible in your car.
  • Don’t stray off the path, and make sure you save emergency numbers on at least two phones.
  • Stay on marked trails to reduce the chances of getting lost.
  • Avoid hiking at night unless you are experienced. The area where you are hiking may be home to a variety of wild animals that come out at night.
  • It is best to stick to times when you are likely to see other people, such as early in the morning or late in the afternoon.
  • To avoid getting stuck in the dark set for the return time.
  • Regardless of how much you hike, you should stick to your predetermined time to ensure that you finish hiking before the sun sets.
  • Plan to hike with at least one companion – avoid hiking alone.

Numbers make the difference

  • Never hike alone – four or more is the ideal size for a hiking group.
  • There is always the risk of thieves out there and you don’t want to get caught in small groups.
  • Four people is also advisable because someone falls and is unable to walk, spreading the load between three is possible.
  • Invite the companion who knows the way or hire a guide.
  • Don’t try routes that you are not familiar with on your own or in a group.
  • Choose someone to be the group leader.
  • Find out and know the fitness levels and medical conditions of the group members.
  • The slowest person is the pace of the hike (never leave anyone behind – it is the group’s responsibility to get the slowest hikers to safety).
  • The group must stick together. Don’t split up and go in different directions.
  • If lost or forced to stop because of bad weather, stay together and stay in one place.
  • Instead, try to retrace your steps. Remember that going down is harder than going up. Find the nearest shelter from wind and rain.

Keep an eye on the weather

  • Keep an eye on weather forecasts and conditions while planning your hike.
  • Weather changes can occur quickly and turn a comfortable hike into an extremely challenging one.
  • This can cause the hike to take longer than expected or make the route no longer easy to follow.
  • Keep in mind that the weather can change very quickly with high altitude in the mountains.
  • Getting stuck in the mountains during a heavy storm can be dangerous, but using the weather forecast and packing the right gear will help avoid the unforeseen or help in a volatile situation.
  • It may be good advice to call the reserve or the park before you leave home.
  • Hiking trails may be closed in the event of hazardous weather.
  • If the weather conditions are not favorable, postpone the hike.
  • Adverse weather can contribute to hypothermia, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke.
  • Be aware that if the skies darken, the wind increases, or lightning occurs, it is likely that an electrical storm is approaching.
  • While on the trail, if the weather changes and becomes threatening, turn back or try to locate shelter as quickly as possible. Do not attempt to complete the trail.
  • If lost or forced to stop because of bad weather, stay together and stay in one place.
  • Find a shelter from the nearest rain and wind.

Hiking Equipment, Clothing and Safety

  • Always be prepared for severe weather, i.e. wear suitable weatherproof clothing, even on sunny (windy and rainy) days.
  • Wear a hat and sunscreen and possibly sunglasses.
  • In severe winter weather, wear a cap to prevent heat loss.
  • Synthetic fabrics absorb and disperse moisture, keep the skin dry, and help regulate body temperature in hot and cold climates. Avoid cotton fabrics, they retain moisture.
  • When hiking in cold weather, always dress in layers. You can always take off your clothes if it gets too hot.
  • Wear an outer layer of clothing that is water-resistant. This will prevent you from getting a cold.
  • Avoid unpleasant and unnecessary falls by buying hiking shoes with good ground grip and whenever possible, use hiking poles.
  • Shoes or boots that are waterproof, resistant and comfortable.
  • Avoid new shoes, soften them before going on the trail. Having to wear new shoes when hiking can cause foot pain and blisters at the end of the day.
  • Avoid borrowing hiking boots from someone else, as you will never know if they are in optimal condition for hiking.
  • Breathable socks, take extra pairs according to the number of days of the hike.
  • A watch or other timekeeping device.
  • Reliable navigation devices and if possible printed maps. (you should know how to use them).

Essential safety items to carry

  • A durable quality backpack to carry everything and leave your arms and hands free.
  • Don’t skimp on the essentials, but don’t buy more than you need. You will have to carry it all!
  • Prescription medication for ongoing medical conditions.
  • Cell phone with emergency numbers.
  • Consider carrying a power bank/battery.
  • Map, compass, flashlight/flashlight, knife with many different tools, matches in a waterproof container, and sunscreen.
  • First aid kit and insect repellent.
  • Spare batteries.
  • Food: Nutritious high-energy snacks like bananas, nuts, and dried fruit.
  • Raisins, cheese and chocolate are light, nutritious and provide energy.
  • Enough drinking water. Take 2 liters per person.
  • When harvesting water from nature, consider making it drinkable with a water filtration system or purification tablets.
    A whistle to scare animals or use as a signaling device.
  • Fire starter kit: combines in a waterproof container and cotton balls soaked in Vaseline.
  • Garbage bag to carry out littering or use as a shelter.
  • Emergency blanket.
  • Clothing
  • Personal hygiene items in smaller bottles.
  • Ziploc bags, ideal for storing clothes “vacuum packed

Fitness and Medical Conditions of Walkers

  • Different members of a group will have different physical abilities when it comes to hiking long distances.
  • Don’t underestimate the trail or mountain, ask about your physical condition in relation to the route you want to do.
    Stay alert and watch for negative body signals from group members.
  • Keep monitoring your health and that of your group members.
    Distance, environment, elevation, and weather are some factors that should be tolerable for the group.
  • Discuss with others on your trip how you are feeling. You don’t want to continue in a situation where you will overdo yourself or do something you can’t handle.
  • Walk at a comfortable pace, allowing for breaks and rest, but don’t make too many long stops on long walks, this will make your joints complain.
  • Remember that young and inexperienced hikers will have bigger problems with fatigue or dehydration, so a walking group may have to stop a hike entirely rather than a struggle to finish it.
  • Seek proper medical help for the hiker who has seriously injured himself on a trail, don’t do what you are not aware of.
  • Hikers who are sore should relax or massage their uncomfortable areas.

Safety While Walking

  • Plan your hike well and stick to the plan!
  • Follow the map along the permitted areas and pay attention to the warnings on the map.
  • Keep to direct routes on well-used paths. Follow the same path, or one you know well.
  • Don’t walk off the trail.
  • Watch for danger warnings and don’t take shortcuts or descend into unfamiliar canyons.
  • Trails are usually uneven, rocky, and can be dangerous, so make sure you’re paying attention, especially regarding how you put your feet down, you don’t want to twist your ankle!
  • Stay with your group, don’t split up and take different trails.
  • Be aware of your surroundings and landmarks.
  • Stay well hydrated.
  • Don’t take the risk of standing on the edge of waterfalls or abysses to take the “perfect” selfie.
  • Stay alert for poisonous animals and other dangers.
  • Turn off cell phones or switch to “airplane mode” to conserve battery life.
  • Don’t use your cell phone as a light source, which will drain your batteries. Use the flashlight that you have put in place.

Security against crime on the trail

  • Have the same common sense and safety precautions that you would anywhere else in the world.
  • At the trailhead or in the parking lot, hide valuables and lock your vehicle.
  • Don’t attract unwanted attention by openly displaying cash, cameras, or other valuables.
  • Don’t take valuables or substantial amounts of money with you.
  • Leave behind all valuable belongings such as your passport, expensive jewelry or cash.
  • You might consider carrying pepper spray as a means of protection.
  • When confronted by a criminal, do not resist. Instead, handing over your possessions as resistance may incite a robber to violence.
  • Program emergency numbers into your cell phone before your hike.

In case of a trail emergency when you get lost or stuck on the trail

  • When you get lost, don’t panic. If you tell someone where you are going and when you will return, a rescue team will look for you in the right place.
  • Stay where you are or move a short distance away to make room where you can be seen more easily.
  • If you don’t have cell service, move to a location near where you are visible to searchers on the ground or in the air. If you have something very colorful, wear it or place it in a visible location.
  • Never descend through unknown cliffs or slopes. Waterfalls, loose rocks, and hidden cliffs can be deadly.
  • Keep the group together.
  • If light and weather permit, retrace your steps until you reach a known route. Otherwise, make camp where you are until you are rescued.
  • Use shiny items to reveal your position to search teams. Blow a whistle to attract attention.
  • By day: mark SOS using rocks, sticks, logs, and vegetation. Create smoke with a small fire. If you hear or see an aircraft, make large movements to attract attention.
  • At night: create light with a controllable fire, flashlight, phone light, etc.
  • If you cannot continue due to injury or collapse, or if weather conditions become too severe – seek shelter, dress warmly, and stay in your sleeping bag when cold.
  • If trapped, seek shelter. It is important to get out of the wind, but don’t hide so well that it becomes impossible to find you.
  • If it looks like you will need to spend the night, clear an area of debris to build a fire to provide heat (in extreme cases), light, and comfort.
  • Using items from your backpack, build a shelter that will serve as a “cocoon” to keep you warm and protected from the weather. You can also use dead branches, conifer branches, and leave trash to insulate the shelter.

What to do if you are with someone who is injured while hiking in the mountains

Answer to the scene

  • In case of injury, try to stay calm and take the time to assess the situation.
  • Don’t immediately go out and report an accident.
  • Fifteen minutes or more spent observing reactions and making the person comfortable is time well spent.
  • Check to the best of your ability exactly what the injuries are and attend to them whenever possible.
  • Approach the patient if it is safe to do so.
    Apply first aid.

Check the responsiveness, then ABC:

  • Check the airway
  • Check Respiration
  • Check Circulation and stop any bleeding.
  • If there is any possibility of spinal cord injury (especially to the neck), do not move the person unless it is necessary to do so for safety reasons.
  • Protect the victim from further injury.
  • Ensure that the rest of the group is safe.

Seeking medical assistance

  • Seek medical assistance elsewhere if you have no signal at the scene of the emergency to call for help.
  • Leave someone with the patient if possible. It is imperative that someone stay with him or her until rescuers arrive.
  • If there is no one to stay behind, make sure the injured person has shelter and supplies before leaving to seek help.
  • Send two people for help and let the third stay with the injured person. If possible, mark the position on a map and send it with those seeking help.
  • Don’t run if it’s not safe: you won’t get help if you don’t reach a contact!
  • Those seeking assistance should identify landmarks so that they can describe the exact location of the accident or to guide a rescue team to the scene.
  • Accidents should be reported to the nearest emergency services, the police station, or the competent authority responsible for the area in which the accident occurred.

Information to provide to the emergency services

When requesting emergency medical assistance, you must provide

  • Your cell phone numbers.
  • Where you are.
  • Full names and age of the victim.
  • Where the accident occurred.
  • What happened. Events leading up to the injury.
  • The nature and severity of the injuries.
  • Details of the rest of the group.
  • Stay on the phone. The mountain/remote area rescue leader will contact you for more details. If necessary, send another person to help.
  • Remain available for questioning by the rescue leader so that you can give full details of the accident.

Sharing the Trail in a Safe and Responsible Way

  • Always share the trail with kindness and consideration to other users.
  • During breaks, step off the trail so that others can pass.
  • Let wildlife live naturally, and do not seek confrontation.
  • Shouting is more effective than a bell, whistle, or horn.
  • Do not feed, touch, or harm any of the animals or birds.
  • Snakes are shy creatures If you come across a snake, give it a good distance and leave it.
  • Do not try to corner snakes. Take a walking stick or piece of wood and use swatting if this is necessary, and only as a last resort.

Respecting the Environment

  • Leave nature in the condition you find it and allow others to enjoy it too!
  • Stick to paths and walk in single file to avoid soil erosion.
  • Leave trail accommodations in good condition, preferably better than when you found them.
  • Have only memories in photos and in memory, leave only footprints and do not damage or destroy our natural heritage.
  • Don’t interfere with plants or animals or damage rocks.
  • Take all the garbage home with you. Don’t pollute rivers and streams with soap, shampoo or any chemicals.
  • Take a small shovel and bury your waste, always at least 15cm deep and at least 50 meters from trails and water sources). The use of shit-tube or K-Gator is recommended in places of great visitation as the mountains of Mantiqueira.
  • Never light fires, unless emergency conditions signal rescue, even then do it with caution.
  • Never dispose of cigarette butts – they cause fires and are unpleasant.
  • When walking, urinate at least 50 meters from trails and water sources.

After the walk

  • On your return tell who is expecting you to be back.
  • Be helpful in sharing information with other hikers!