Hiking safety tips for before, during and after your hike

Feet of a man hiking through a rough terrain

Preparing for unexpected circumstances during your hike — packing the right gear and preparing your body for the journey — can help reduce the chance that something goes wrong on the trail.

While a fun activity, hiking can be a strenuous and intense form of exercise. It’s important to prepare correctly in terms of what you wear, warming up and packing the right gear for every potential scenario. To reduce the risk of injury, follow these guidelines for an enjoyable, safe hiking experience.

Always leave a detailed plan with responsible adult who isn’t on the hike. Details such as the location/trail you are completing the hike, as well as the date/time you’re expected to return can make a difference in your safety and rescue, if something were to go wrong.

What to wear:

  • Backpack – Wear a well-fitted pack with a hip belt. The belt acts to shift the load from the shoulders to the hips, which has been shown to help reduce discomfort and potentially decrease the risk of lower back pain and injury.
  • Socks – Some evidence shows that technical socks are better for hiking. Technical socks typically have a better fit and are made of materials designed to wick away moisture, which helps reduce the risk of developing skin lesions such as blisters. Cotton socks aren’t recommended for hiking because they absorb moisture and are slow to dry.
  • Boots – While there’s little known evidence that one type of boot or shoe is better than the other, it’s recommended that hikers select a comfortable pair. If you recently purchased a new pair, begin the transition into them slowly over time, gradually increasing distance or mileage in the new boots to break them in.

Stretches and warming up for hiking

If you’ve suffered a prior injury or surgery, consulting with your medical team for specific warm-up stretches based on your condition can help prevent a flare-up on the trail. Another recommendation, especially before a more strenuous hike, is to go on a brief, 10-15 minute walk to get the blood flowing and engage your muscles prior to the technical aspects of the trail.

Other essential gear to pack for hiking:

  • cellphone
  • pocket knife
  • fire starter
  • first aid kit
  • headlamp or flashlight
  • whistle
  • compass
  • map
  • food/water
  • extra layers of clothing

The best way to reduce the risk of injury while hiking is…

Knowing when to turn back. Factors such as changes in weather, fatigue, unexpected trail conditions (such as a swollen stream) or running out of daylight are all instances where it would be safer to turn back than to proceed. Listen to your body and your surroundings and respond accordingly.

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