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Hiking Safety

Learn what to take hiking.

What to take hiking

Hiking is a great way to experience all the sights, sounds, and smells of the outdoors. Take a few precautions so you and your family can thoroughly enjoy the adventure.

  • Planning your trip—Plan your trip with a good topographical map or guide book. Know the terrain, elevation changes, and any crossroads you will encounter. Carry a current trail map with you and know how to read it.
  • Hike with a Companion—Remember there is safety in numbers. Group hikes are a great way to protect yourself from hiking dangers and they are more fun. It's safest to hike with at least one companion. If you plan to hike into a remote area, have a minimum of four people in your group. If someone is hurt, someone else can stay with the person who’s hurt while two others go for help.
  • Let someone back at camp or at home know where you are going and when you plan on returning—Leave a copy of your itinerary with a family member or friend. Include details like the make, year, and license plate of your car and when you plan to return. Also include emergency contact information for the ranger station or other agency that might be called on by a friend or family member to check on your welfare or reach you in case of an emergency. Know in advance the location of the nearest telephone, park office, or ranger station in case an emergency does occur on the trip.
  • Footwear—Wear properly fitting shoes with good ankle support. Slick leaves on trails have been known to cause fractured ankles. Never try to break in new shoes on a long hike. Take along extra socks (not cotton) to avoid blisters.
  • Walking sticks—Walking sticks provide added support and leverage, as well as an advance feel of terrain ahead. Everyone has their own preference for walking sticks. Some people hike with one; some people hike with two. Figure out what feels right for you.
  • Compass—Take along a good compass and know which direction you should be heading.
  • Clothing —Always wear appropriate clothing for trail and weather conditions. In changing weather conditions, dress in lightweight layers.
  • Wildlife —Be aware of possible encounters with wild animals and treat any encounters with extreme caution.
  • Emergency signaling devices—Pack emergency signaling devices and find out the location of the nearest ranger station or park office in case of an emergency. Be prepared to send distress signals (with a flashlight or using the sun’s rays with a shiny object such as a small mirror).
  • Drinking water—Take plenty of drinking water—a minimum of two quarts per person per day. Leave stream, river, and lake water for the park wildlife. Although it looks clean and refreshing, mountain stream water can make you ill. Water is heavy to carry, but thirst on the trail is a hazard. Take a tip from athletes: before your hike, drink some water so you’re well hydrated and energized. Never drink your total supply between refills. All water from the backcountry should be treated either by filtering or boiling. Expect backcountry water sources to be unavailable and have a contingency plan in that event.
  • Stay on trails—Cutting across switchbacks erodes the hillside and eventually destroys the trail. Plus, walking off-trail increases your chance of suffering an injury or getting lost.
  • Watch your footing—Think about your footing while traveling near cliffs. Trees and bushes can’t always be trusted to hold you. Stay on developed trails or dry, solid rock areas with good footing. Unless you are absolutely certain of its thickness, it’s best not to walk across ice.
  • Hiking with dogs—If pets are allowed where you will be hiking, be sure to keep pets on leashes in restricted areas. Bring water for your pets and make sure they have nametags. Watch for injuries to your dog’s footpads in rocky areas, on ice, or in extremely hot terrain.