How to avoid the dangers of hiking
There are always risks and dangers when it comes to hiking, even though it’s one of the most popular outdoors activities worldwide. It’s a fantastic way for us to enjoy the great outdoors while also getting those steps in. I’m a big fan of hiking. No matter where I am in the world, I will always try to find a nature trail to go hiking on.
What’s great about hiking is there are so many variables in the type of hike a person could do. Flat, paved trails. Rocky and uneven trails. Some with a great reward of stunning views, and others that just take you through a modest park for example. There are countless ways to enjoy a hike and that’s why it’s such a great activity. You’ll never get two hikes exactly the same!
If you’re wanting to become more involved in hiking as a hobby or you have some trails peaking your interest, then read on to learn about some of the dangers of hiking and how to prevent them. It’s always worth being prepared!
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Is hiking dangerous?
If I had to answer that question I’d say it depends. There are so many variables so there is no one set answer. Hiking on a flat, short trail probably doesn’t have many dangers compared to a difficult multi-day hike in a flood zone.
Hiking itself might not be deemed overly dangerous, but the surroundings or environment in which you hike certainly could be. You also are not going to experience the same risks when hiking in the UK vs hiking in a desert or on mountainous terrain in the Rockies.
But what I’d like to do is try to break down the different scenarios where hiking can become dangerous. Hopefully, this list can help you prepare so you can avoid each of these dangers during your own hiking trips.
You could get lost
Unfortunately our brains are not implanted with automatic GPS so there is always the chance you can get lost. Especially if you are hiking in areas that you are not familiar with.
If you’re hiking along an easy-to-follow trail that has clearly been walked by many other people, you might be ok but in certain environments, there are dangers present. If you’re backpacking & enjoying some untouched land with no clear trail markings, then you’ll probably have to figure out a way to stay on course.
Solutions: If you always have your phone with you, I’d recommend my readers to use the freemium AllTrails app! You can follow along the trail using the built-in GPS while you have service on the free plan. Plus, you can also download the maps for offline use on a paid plan.
If you would prefer not to use your phone or are worried about battery usage, there is always the option for a traditional paper map. Just be aware that some small nature trails are not always listed in the same way they are on an app these days. This is dependent on the map though.
You could end up getting injured
When you partake in any form of physical activity, you always have to be aware of potential injuries. Considering hiking can sometimes take you across rocky terrain and uneven ground, there is always the risk of rolling an ankle or falling over.
When hiking, injuries can vary greatly along with the dangers too. So, something as small as tripping over a rock or tree root could land you with cuts and scrapes and covered in dirt. Yet you could land yourself in even more trouble if you fall quite far down a cliff or rock face. This could cause you to end up with anything from concussion, broken bones and fractures, if not worse.
Solutions: Always pay attention to your surroundings and watch the ground where you step. Not only will this help you to step over any potential hazards but will help you avoid tripping over things too. If you happen to be walking at a high altitude or near any steep drops, it is always recommended to stay as far from the edge as possible and don’t get distracted.
Pro tip: Always take some form of first aid kit with you. Make sure this includes antiseptic wipes to avoid dirt getting in a wound, as well as plasters and pain medication. You never know when you might need them.
Run out of food or water
Ok, so this only becomes a problem if you’re hiking for a prolonged length of time like more than 8 hours or multiple days. If you’re only hiking 2 hours round-trip you’re probably not going to run into this issue too much.
If you are hiking a lot and you run out of food or water, this can lead to fatigue and exhaustion since you’re burning off more energy than you are consuming. This can make it harder to maintain the energy levels to complete lengthy and difficult hiking trails.
Solution: If you do a little bit of research while planning your hike you can normally make an educated estimate on how much to take with you. This will help lower your chance of running out if you are staying on schedule. Also, if you can make sure you have a good, filling and healthy meal before starting your hike you’ll have a large energy boost where you won’t need to eat for at least a few hours.
Remember not to eat or drink everything at once and maintain discipline so you can ration it all amongst your group. This will help to prevent anyone from becoming hungry or thirsty.
Pro tip: When you do eat, choose foods that are healthy to boost your energy. Granola bars, nuts and fruit are good choices. Try to avoid sugary foods or anything salty as this can make you feel sluggish.
Hiking dangers relating to the sun
You could get Sunburnt
It’s no surprise that spending all day in the sun can lead to sunburn if you are not careful. Sunburn can be acquired in varying degrees but it’s still worth trying to avoid it altogether. Sunburn can cause inflammation and tightness of the skin, dehydration, overheating and pain. If you still have a lot of hiking to complete after becoming burned then you could be extremely uncomfortable for the remainder of your trip if not worse. Not to mention the long term effects it has too.
Solution: Always carry a high-SPF sunscreen with you and regularly reapply to your skin. This way you can help to protect your skin from harmful UV rays even if there is no shade along the walking trail. Another way to prevent sunburn is to wear loose-fitting, long-sleeved clothing. This will prevent the UV rays from reaching the skin in the first place!
Did you know: In New Zealand, they have a slogan for applying sunscreen? “Slip, slap, slop!”
Check out these popular New Zealand hikes:
You might get Heatstroke
If you’ve never had a heat stroke then count yourself lucky. It’s caused when your body overheats and is struggling to cool itself down after prolonged physical activity in warm climates. The typical side effects include having a headache, dizziness and confusion as well as feeling nauseous and having cramps.
If you are hiking in extremely hot weather or are physically overdoing it, you can get what’s called heat exhaustion too. This is not pleasant and you will feel pretty terrible until you can cool yourself down and take a rest.
Solution: Drink plenty of cold fluids. Keep your water intake. In some instances, wearing a sun hat or baseball cap can help slow down the chance of getting heat stroke as it blocks the direct sun from hitting your head. Plus, another way to minimise your chance of overheating is to hike outside of the peak sun hours. In the UK the hottest part of the day is midday, whereas, in Canada, it’s normally between 3 pm-4 pm in summer.
Do some research on where you are hiking and make sure it’s safe to hike before dawn or after dusk if you are in a hot destination. or plan to take a lot of breaks.
You could become dehydrated
Dehydration is one of the most common dangers of hiking, yet is often only associated with hot climates. Now, although it is true that it is more likely to happen in that condition, you can become dehydrated in other cases too. Simply walking a lot and being physically active without drinking enough fluids can cause low-grade dehydration.
Then if you consider extremely hot climates and very difficult multi-day hikes, you could end up with a more severe case of dehydration.
Solution: I would always recommend taking some rehydration packs like dioralyte which you can purchase from pharmacies and most supermarkets. They are small sachets of powder that you mix with your water to help give you electrolytes and rehydrate you.
It is always highly advised to take more water than you will need. If you are limited on space or plan on finding water sources while on your hike if you are out in nature, consider using a filtering product to help guarantee yourself clean water. I highly recommend the LifeStraw brand as they have straws and bottles you can use that clean the water before you drink it.
ALWAYS REMEMBER TO TAKE ENOUGH WATER WITH YOU!
You could get frostbite
So this is generally a concern if you’re in extreme temperatures and possibly at a high altitude. Frostbite affects your extremities. Think fingers, toes, nose and ears. Some common side effects include numbness, and throbbing pain and in extreme cases you can actually lose them altogether.
Solution: Since hiking in cold weather can cause frostbite you really should wear layers but especially think about bringing gloves, spare socks and a hat. This way you can keep your hands, feet and ears warm which means you’re less likely to get frostbitten!
You could become hypothermic
Another problem you could face when hiking in cold weather is the chance of getting hypothermia. This is one of the dangers when your body temperature gets too cold and can happen when hiking outside in cold climates. It can make a person really unwell and it can take a while to warm them back up again.
Solution: Wrap up warm and always bring layers. This is the #1 rule whether you’re hiking somewhere with a mild or extreme winter temperature to bring layers. This is because you can layer up easily when it is cold and it is easy to take those layers off when you are warm. Packing multiple light layers can often be better than one large and heavy layer when backpacking.
Harmed by another person
Let’s be honest, if you’re hiking with another person there is always the chance they do something reckless and you get stuck in the middle. There is also the (unlikely) chance that you get injured by another person purposely.
Solution: Always make sure you hike with people that you trust to remote places. Don’t hike with someone you have just met unless you’re hiking on a popular trail surrounded by many other outdoor enthusiasts. Always be alert. Plus, if they are doing something reckless, try to stay out of the way so you don’t get harmed by association.
you may run into dangerous wildlife
Bears & big cats
Luckily in the UK, we don’t really have any dangerous animals. However, after spending a lot of time in the Rocky mountains I have learned to be cautious of bears and mountain lions. Considering bears are on almost every continent in the northern hemisphere it means you should always be careful when hiking in the wilderness.
Solution: Always research your destination. If you know you are travelling to a place with bear risk like the USA or Canada, then always practice bear safety. The same goes for big cats, there are certain things the locals know you should and shouldn’t do in order to keep them safe in their home environment. If you’re a tourist or new to these places, utilise online and local resources to make sure you keep yourself safe.
Check out these hikes in the Rocky Mountains in Canmore, Canada but be careful:
- EEOR Hike in Alberta – The East End of Rundle
- Grassi Lakes Hike in Canmore: The popular trail
- Quarry Lake walking trail in the Canmore Rockies
- How to walk the Bow River Loop trail in Canmore
Snakes are the first risk people think of when you say “venomous” but what about spiders, and scorpions among others? When hiking, you might step on a nest or disturb a creature in its home by mistake. This creates the risk of being bitten or attacked if these animals think you are a threat.
Solution: Make sure you can tell the difference between a venomous snake vs a non-venomous one and make sure you know what types of animals you might come across along the trail. Research really is key and it cannot be stressed enough.
If you know what’s in the general area you can be proactive in trying to avoid them. For example, if you think a snake might be nearby, it’s often advised to stomp your feet as the vibration on the ground will warn them of your presence before you frighten them.
Insect & Critter bites
Unless you’re in Iceland, there is always a risk of mosquitos. That means there is always at least a small risk of being bitten by them. Plus there are other bugs and insects that could bite you during your hikes which can cause itchiness, tenderness and other irritations.
Some bugs to be aware of are: Mosquitos, Leeches & Ticks
Solutions: If you are hiking in the dark or near any plains of water, I would recommend using bug spray. This will help keep most bugs away from you due to the chemicals. It can also help if you wear light-coloured & baggy clothing during your hike as this makes it harder for the bugs to bite your skin.
nature & weather issues
Mudslides or avalanches
Mudslides and avalanches are of similar nature since they both affect the ground beneath your feet. If you are hiking in a region with a lot of rainfall then you run the risk of getting caught out if the mud and ground slip away from under you. If you happen to be hiking during the winter in the Rocky Mountains or on a ski hill, for example, the same thing could happen but instead with the snow. Both can be fatal in extreme cases.
Solution: Pay attention to the government notices about these high-risk areas. If there are advisories in place, listen to them. If there has been a lot of rain in a region prone to mudslides then consider going somewhere else until the area dries up.
Make sure you always have a charged phone to hand or a satellite phone if you’re out of network range. This way, if you are stuck in a bad situation it is much easier to get help to your location.
Rockfalls can actually happen anywhere there is a cliff face so this can be a real danger of hiking if you’re not careful. If you happen to go hiking through an area with high cliffs and rock faces, you need to watch out for things falling from above. If you were to get hit by something you could end up with a concussion or something even worse.
Solutions: If the area you are hiking in has a reputation or signs warning about rock falls then you could always take a helmet. Generally speaking, rock climbers will wear helmets in these regions to protect themselves from falling rocks as well as other forms of injury. If you are unable to take a helmet then it is advised to always use caution and stay away from the immediate edge of a rockface.. Give yourself as much distance as possible while staying safe.
Considering so many places are below sea level it’s actually quite easy to get stuck by rising water. If you are hiking in an area near water, whether a lake, river or flowing stream there is the potential for the water level to increase.
Solution: Always be aware. If the water looks a little higher than it was a few minutes ago that is not a sign to ignore it. Water can rise quickly and take you by surprise so it is always worth paying attention. If you are in an area prone to floods then check the weather forecast to make sure it remains dry during your hike. If you do happen to get stuck in a flood plain, always head up off the ground as quickly and safely as possible.
One hike I had to deal with a rising tide (not so much flooding though) was the Cathedral Cove hike in New Zealand. If you don’t time it right, you could get stuck on the wrong beach due to the high tide. So be aware!
Plants & greenery
In the UK we don’t have many dangerous plants except stinging nettles that can cause skin irritation. However, there are plenty of plant species that could cause you to harm if not prepared. Some other examples include poison ivy, mushrooms and fungi and certain tree saps. The list is endless around the world and some will just cause mild discomfort, while others could cause intense pain or fatalities.
Solution: Never eat wild mushrooms or fungi as these can be extremely toxic. Plus, try to avoid walking through shrubbery and bushes without covering your bare skin since you don’t know what plants could irritate and harm you. When hiking, it can be hard to avoid plant life and its dangers but you can at least prevent their reaction by covering up.
Need some Instagram captions for your next nature walk? Check out these hiking captions!
Final thoughts on the dangers of hiking
Hiking is an extremely enjoyable activity for people of all ages, regardless of the dangers. It can be dangerous if you are exploring certain environments, but it doesn’t have to put you off.
By doing some research before you depart and staying aware of your surroundings you can certainly enjoy long exciting hikes without anything going wrong. Hiking is my favourite thing to do and I am always looking for fun hikes in the next country to explore!
Do you have a favourite hike?