Nature trails offer the chance to enjoy and explore the world around us. While we’ve always been aware of the physical benefits of getting outside, there are many mental benefits, too. Nature provides an escape from the hustle and bustle of our daily lives, not to mention screen consumption.
When it's time to explore, remember you are entering animal territory, and it’s important to be prepared for what you could encounter.
Whether you are a hiking novice or consider yourself a professional, this list of tips will help you get the most out of your time outdoors and ensure you have a safer experience.
When planning your hike, it’s important to plan your route ahead of time. Look at a map of the area or use an app, like AllTrails, to see which trails are available and where they go. Using an app can have advantages, such as tracking your location with your phone’s GPS. In case you accidentally stray, this makes it easy to find your way back to the trail.
In addition to planning your path ahead of time, you should tell someone about your outing. Whether it’s a friend or family member, make sure someone knows where you are going and what trails you plan to take. This is especially important if you are going on a solo hike or if you will be in remote areas without many people around. If you get lost or hurt, having someone know where you are could help save your life.
Pack Energy-Rich Food and Water
It’s safe to assume that you’ve thought of bringing a water bottle with you on your outdoor adventure to keep you hydrated and snacks to keep you energized. A good rule of thumb is to bring a half-liter of water for every hour you plan to spend hiking. For a tougher hike or warmer temperatures, you may need to bring a little more. For snacks, it’s important to bring nutrient-dense foods that offer more energy for less space. Trail mix, dried fruit and protein bars are good choices.
It may seem like a good idea to bring caffeine to keep your energy levels high. While a caffeinated beverage is a quick fix when your body begins to tire, it will eventually leave you feeling more exhausted, which could impact your safety. Stick with the snacks that will keep you energized for longer.
Leave No Trace
When you head outdoors, you ask wildlife to share their home with you. Treat their home with respect just like you would at a friend’s house. Always bring some sort of trash sack with you to properly dispose of your trash and anything else you see along the way that should be picked up. You should also stay on the designated trail. The paths are there for a reason and help make sure you do not disrupt the habitats around you. This way everyone can experience the same wonders of nature.
Be Alert for Wildlife
While you enjoy the outdoors, you always want to make sure you are aware of disease-carrying bugs, poisonous snakes and potentially dangerous animals like bears and mountain lions. While bug bites can range from annoying to painful, others like tick and mosquito bites can cause illness. Insect repellent is a must-have for keeping the bugs away while you’re outdoors.
It could also be a good idea to wear snake-proof boots or carry a hiking pole if you are in an area that might have dangerous snakes. Snakes are more active during the warmer months, so they are easier to avoid in the cooler months. They also tend to hide under leaves, dirt, and other debris. Stick to your path and keep an eye on the ground ahead. If you do encounter one, wait for it to move along to prevent a bite. Of course, it’s always best to avoid them altogether.
This may be surprising, but larger animals like bears and mountain lions want to avoid you as much as you want to avoid them. Simply making noise is an easy way to keep them away. If they hear you coming, it's likely they will stay away. Consider carrying a bear horn or attaching bells to your backpack to discourage larger animals from approaching. Another way to keep them away is by keeping your food sealed. Bears can smell food from far away, and their hunger can suppress their instinct to avoid human interaction. While it’s best to keep your distance, if you do happen to stumble upon a large animal, it is always a good idea to carry bear spray with you. Bears can charge at a moment’s notice, and they can travel up to 15+ meters in just one second. The best bear sprays can provide a protective cloud of pepper spray up to 30 feet, which will keep you well out of harm's way. Bear spray temporarily can disorient the animal, allowing time to help make a safe escape.
Stay Aware of Your Surroundings
Even if you consider yourself an expert, hiking on your own is never without risks. You should always be aware of your surroundings and be cautious of suspicious activity or people. It’s always best to hike with a friend or choose an area where plenty of people are around.
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