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Hiking Safety

Hiking Safety and Tips

With the weather warming up it’s time to start getting outdoors and experiencing nature in all its wonder. Overlanded has compiled a list of basic strategies and advice to help you make your way safely.

General Hiking Tips

  • We generally suggest that you wear hiking boots or approach shoes instead of tennis shoes. In rugged territory, proper footwear can really help prevent a twisted ankle or knee.
  • Break in new boots BEFORE hitting the trail. Take a walk around the neighborhood a few times before your hike.
  • Wear two pairs of socks to help prevent blisters.
  • Make sure you don’t lock your keys in your vehicle or lose them on the trail. Put them in a zippered pocket.
  • Carry along plenty of water bottles. Up to three quarts per person in hot weather.
  • Do not drink water directly from streams. Use a device designed specifically for water purification for hikers or boil the water to protect you from Giardia parasites. You can also use water purification tablets.
  • Be sure to have ample food supplies.
  • Check weather reports before traveling into the backcountry.
  • Bring a fully charged hiking GPS or a detailed map of the area you’re visiting.
  • Check with the local ranger office for special regulations.
  • Let someone know where you’re going and when you should be returning.

If You Get Lost

  • Stay put to save energy and so you will be easier to find.
  • Put on additional clothing to stay warm as needed.
  • Lighting a fire can cheer your spirits, keep you warm, and help rescuers locate you.
  • Pile grass, limbs, and brush around you to protect yourself from the wind.
  • Sit on your backpack to insulate you from the dampness or cold of the ground.
  • Remember to relax. Many people have survived several nights with only the items they had on them.
  • If a member of your party is overdue, notify the local sheriff’s office, or ranger office.
  • In case of injury, stop immediately and treat it accordingly.
  • If you must leave a person behind, leave them shelter, food, and a note describing their injury and where you have gone.

Drinking Water Safety

It is nearly impossible to carry enough water for long trips, or you may find yourself running out of water, even on daytrips, depending on the temperature and difficulty. There are a few easy ways to avoid complications with drinking water when traveling in the outdoors. All bodies of water should be considered unsafe to drink, mainly do to the presence of the Giardia parasite. Below are four steps you can take to be safe.

  • Boil stream water for at least 10 minutes before ingesting.
  • Instead of boiling, you can treat your water with iodine tablets.
  • Pack a portable water purification device. This allows you to draft water from a creek and filter out Giardia and other bacteria and parasites.
  • Keep your water bottles and canteens clean. Water left inside a container, if exposed to even a little light, can produce microbes. Sanitize with a mixture of water and baking soda or vinegar, allowing to soak for several minutes. This can be done at home before leaving on your trip.

Lightning Safety in the Outdoors

  • Avoid water.
  • Avoid high ground.
  • Avoid open spaces.
  • Avoid metal objects.
  • Unsafe places include underneath canopies, small picnic or rain shelters, or near trees.
  • Where possible, find shelter in a substantial building or in a fully enclosed metal vehicle such as a car, truck or a van with the windows completely shut.
  • If caught on the trail. Crouch down. Put feet together. Place hands over ears to minimize hearing damage from thunder.
  • Avoid proximity (minimum of 15 ft.) to other people.

First Aid Tips and Kits

Do you carry a first aid kit into the backcountry with you? There are many things that can happen in the outdoors from minor cuts and bruises, bites or stings, to more serious injuries like broken bones and head trauma. It always pays to be prepared, and the added weight of a first aid kit is fairly insignificant. We won’t attempt to teach you proper first aid, but we can offer you a few tips on this very important subject.

  • Always carry a first aid kit. There are several available specifically designed for day hikers and backpackers.
  • Consider taking a first aid course from your local Red Cross office.
  • If courses don’t fit your schedule, at least carry along a guide.
  • You can also check with your local book store for guides pertaining to first aid procedures.
  • Is your canine companion joining you on the hike? They make first aid kits for dogs too!

Bear Safety

Bear safety is quite an important topic. The population of Black Bears in the U.S. has risen significantly in the last few years. Of course, there is also the Grizzly Bear of the Northwest and Alaska. Below are a few suggestions. These are merely a few guidelines and do not guarantee your safety.

  • Try to keep your distance from bears if possible.
  • Make noise when hiking to avoid accidentally sneaking up on a bear.
  • If you see a bear at a distance, shouting will USUALLY scare it away.
  • If shouting does not scare it off, back away slowly. Do not turn your back to the bear. Turning and running can stimulate the bear’s natural hunting instincts.
  • Avoid cubs or coming between a mother and cubs.
  • When camping, use bear-resistant containers like a bear bag to store food away from your campsite. Do not store food in your tent.
  • Another alternative is to double pack your food into plastic sealable bags. A bear’s sense of smell is far greater than yours. Two bags will reduce food odors.
  • Do not approach an injured animal.
  • The National Park Service now recommends carrying pepper spray into the backcountry. This causes no permanent damage to the animal. This is generally for areas that contain Grizzlies and is often not considered necessary in other areas.
  • Lying face down with hands and fingers interlaced to protect your head and neck is preferred if attacked by a Grizzly.
  • Keep legs spread apart to help prevent being rolled over exposing your more vulnerable abdomen.
  • If the bear rolls you over, try to use the momentum to roll back over face down.
  • Wearing a pack, even when day hiking, can provide some buffer between you and the bear.
  • If attacked by a Black Bear you should fight back with everything you have. Their nature is TYPICALLY to run away. However, we advise using pepper spray once again.
  • You can carry along a few basic firecrackers that should frighten the animal when detonated. Remaining calm enough to access and light them will vary on an individual basis.
  • You can climb a tree to escape a Grizzly, but not a Black Bear. The Grizzly’s claws cannot support their weight. However, it would be wise to choose a very substantial tree, and you would need to climb high enough to avoid the Grizzly bear’s reach which can be up to 10 – 12 feet.
  • You can usually check with the area Ranger Station for current bear sightings, locations, and tips they may have.

Bug Safety

The outdoors and little pesky critters often go hand in hand, but there are a few easy steps that may help avoid complications with these creatures around your campsite.

  • Avoid sitting on rotten logs or kicking stumps. Spiders like cool, dark, damp places. Bees and ants both will make homes in old logs.
  • When camping, check the area closely for signs of activity. Not all bees nest in trees, several species do nest in the ground.
  • Keep food sealed. Ants can find food very easily, and bees can be attracted to certain foods and sugary soft drinks. Yellow Jackets have been known to enter open soda cans.
  • If you are allergic to bites and stings, take along the proper medication. Even if you don’t think you are allergic, you might want to carry along an antihistamine.
  • Bee stings can be treated with ice if no other treatment is available to reduce pain and swelling. Monitor the victim for further complications.

Snake Precautions

Snakes are common throughout North America and most of the world. A few tips below may help you avoid being bitten, but will not guarantee your safety.

  • Snakes, like bees and spiders, typically hide in dark areas under logs or rock piles. However, they can be found sunning themselves on rocks or limbs hanging over water.
  • Avoid turning logs over. If for some reason you must, roll the log towards you to keep it between yourself and a potential hazard.
  • Avoid reaching into cracks and crevices of rock formations.
  • Brush piles are also a favorite hangout.
  • Keep your eyes on the trail as much as possible. Spotting a snake before it senses you can be very advantageous.
  • If you find yourself in close proximity to a snake, move away very slowly. Sudden movements could cause it to strike. The general rule of thumb is that a snake can strike out as far as half its body length. It’s best not to test this assumption.

If you are bitten

  • Calm the victim and wash the bite if possible.
  • Keep the wounded extremity inactive and below the level of the heart.
  • Transport the victim to the hospital immediately.
  • Tourniquets are not recommended, use only as a last resort for a venomous bite inflicted far from transportation or in the event of uncontrollable bleeding. Tourniquets may result in amputation.
  • Non-venomous bites also need attention and close observation. A trip to a medical facility is recommended.

A good lightweight, waterproof first aid guide can be purchased. It includes info about treating bites, stings, and snake bites.

Water Crossing Safety

Incidents around streams and waterfalls are a major cause of injuries to people in the outdoors, with several deaths occurring yearly. There are a few simple steps that can help you safely cross streams where there is no foot bridge.

  • Rocks in and near streams and waterfalls can be very slippery. A thin coat of algae can be almost invisible.
  • When crossing a small stream, look for dry rocks sticking out of the water. Otherwise, use extreme caution when stepping on wet rocks. It doesn’t hurt to crouch down a bit to lower your center of gravity.
  • For crossing larger streams, face upriver. If you have a partner, interlock arms and move across together.
  • Try to use small steps, and slide your feet along as much as possible. Move your lead foot towards the bank you are headed for, then bring the other foot over to it, but do not cross one foot in front of the other. This temporarily leaves you standing on one foot. If you attempt to take full steps, you could lose your balance and fall. A strong current can sweep you off your feet quickly.
  • Even a dry rock can be slippery if your boots are wet; or have mud on the bottom of your shoes.


Hypothermia is the cooling of the body’s core temperature below 96 degrees F. This condition is often life-threatening, and can even happen on relatively warm days. Let’s say, for instance, you head out for a day hike on a 70 degree F day. You throw on a pair of shorts and later in the day you’re caught in a rainstorm. Now that you’re soaked and the afternoon wears on towards darkness, the temperature falls, and there is a nice breeze blowing. You could potentially be in trouble. Another possibility is that you could take a spill into a very cold stream.

Both of these scenarios would be compounded by hiking in even cooler weather. Imagine if it were a 40 degree F day, and you find yourself soaked with no dry clothes. Below are a few tips that may help prevent hypothermia.

  • Check the weather before you head out. Pay close attention to see if there are cold fronts or other storm systems approaching.
  • If there is a chance of precipitation in your area, pack a lightweight rain jacket. Preferably one with a hood.
  • If there are numerous stream crossings to be made, consider packing some extra clothes, even if nothing more than a dry pair of pants. A wet pair of pants can chill your lower extremities.
  • On cool to cold days, wear a hat, and carry some gloves. You may not need gloves while you’re moving, but you may find them handy when taking a break.
  • Carry along “hot hands,” sometimes known as toastie toes. These can be used in your boots also.

Warning Signs Of Hypothermia

  • Increased or uncontrollable shivering
  • Stiffness in the fingers, or soreness of the hands
  • Soreness in the feet
  • Fatigue and weakness

What To Do

  • If you find yourself soaked on a day hike without extra dry clothes, consult your map for the quickest way back to your vehicle. Be sure to use a trail, this is no time to get lost. When experiencing the initial signs, light activity can help warm you. Keep moving without over-exerting yourself.
  • If you’re planning to spend a night or two in the outdoors, you probably have some extra clothes handy. It’s probably best to change immediately, possibly set up camp, and start a fire. If fires aren’t allowed in the area, your backpacking stove can make a good substitute.

Signs and Symptoms Of Hypothermia

  • If you or someone in your group experiences these symptoms seek medical attention immediately.
  • Shivering stops
  • Semi-conscious or complete loss of consciousness
  • Muscle stiffness
  • Confusion or irrational thinking
  • Breathing and heart rate slow
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