15 Hiking Safety Guidelines to Follow

As a responsible hiker, it’s important to be aware of the potential dangers and take precautions to minimize the risk.

I’ll provide tips on how to stay safe while hiking, from planning your hike to dealing with emergencies.

Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced hiker, these tips will help you stay safe on your next hike.

1. Tell someone where you are going

Whether you are an avid outdoors person who hikes and camps for weeks on end or takes a leisurely walk around the block once a week, it is important to tell someone where you are going.

This is important for two reasons:

  • If something happens to you, someone will know where to look for you.
  • Second, in an emergency, responders will know where to look for you.

You can also tell a ranger or other park official about your planned hike, just in case something happens while you are out.

For your safety and the safety of those who may need to find you, make sure to leave a note with your planned route and expected return time.

And don’t forget to stick to that plan!

2. Bring at least one friend or a family member

Anyone who has spent any time hiking knows that it’s always best to hike with at least one friend or family member.

The more people in your group, the safer you’ll be.

There will be more sets of eyes and ears to watch for danger, but there is also strength in numbers should something happen.

Try joining a hiking group or club if you can’t find someone to hike with. Many organized groups throughout the country offer hikes for all levels and abilities.

Sometimes, due to work obligations or other commitments, people have to hike alone.

While there are definitely dangers inherent in hiking solo, hikers can take a few precautions to minimize the risk of becoming lost, injured, or worse.

Here are a few tips for safe solo hiking.

  • Make sure to leave a note with your planned route and expected return time.
  • Tell someone where you are going and when you expect to be back.
  • Carry a whistle or other signaling device in case of emergency.
  • Carry a map and compass (or GPS), and know how to use them.

3. Don’t walk off-trail

It’s easy to wander off the trail while hiking, but it’s important not to do so.

Walking off-trail can damage fragile ecosystems and disturb wildlife.

If you happen to wander off the trail, try to find your way back as quickly as possible.

Otherwise, you may end up getting lost in the wilderness.

Remember to always stay on the trails when hiking and enjoy nature at its best!

Also, stay aware of your surroundings.

This goes hand-in-hand with staying on the trail.

It’s important to be aware of your surroundings, whether you are on a busy city street or deep in the wilderness.

This means being aware of potential dangers, such as cliffs, drop-offs, and animals.

It also means being aware of your surroundings to don’t wander off the trail.

4. Be courteous and observe trail etiquette

It’s important to remember that other hikers share the trail, so observe some basic trail etiquette to ensure everyone has an enjoyable experience.

Here are a few tips:

  • Respect other hikers’ space – give people plenty of room when passing, and don’t stop abruptly or make noise close to others.
  • Going uphill? It’s up to you whether you let other hikers walking down pass. Hikers going up have priority!
  • Watch your step – always be aware of where you are stepping, especially when it’s wet or icy.
  • Stay quiet – speaking loudly can disturb the peace and disrupt wildlife.
  • Pack it in, pack it out – leave no trace of your visit behind.
  • Keep your dog on a leash – unleashed dogs can scare or bother other hikers and wildlife.

5. Prepare for the weather

Before you head out on that hike, check the weather.

The forecast may say it will be a sunny day, but don’t let that fool you – there can still be storms in the mountains.

Being prepared for any weather is essential for a safe and fun hike.

Here are some tips to help you do just that!

  • Dress in layers. This will allow you to adjust your clothing as the temperature changes throughout the day.
  • Bring a rain jacket and/or umbrella, even if it doesn’t seem like it will rain.
  • Wear hiking boots or shoes that are appropriate for the terrain.

Tip: In my other post, I explain what you should wear when hiking. Just follow the link.

6. Take plenty of drinking water

Summertime is a great time for hiking. The weather is usually cooperative, and there are so many beautiful trails to explore.

However, it’s important to remember to take plenty of drinking water with you, especially if you’re going on a long hike.

Dehydration can set in quickly during hot weather, so staying hydrated on your hike is essential.

Have plenty of water and snacks packed in your backpack before you set out!

You should also bring a water filter or purification tablets if you run out of water or come across a stream or other body of water.

7. Pack the hiking essentials

Regardless of the length of your hike, it is always important to pack the 10 essentials.

These items can help you stay safe and comfortable on the trail.

Here are some tips for packing the essentials for your next hike.

  • Always pack a map and compass, even if you are hiking a familiar trail. A map can help you keep track of your location, while a compass can help you find your way back to the trailhead if you get lost. 
  • It is also important to pack plenty of food and water, especially if you are going on a long hike. Pack enough food and water to last throughout the hike, plus a little extra if you get lost or stuck overnight.
  • A first-aid kit is essential for any hike. Pack supplies for blisters, snake bites, and other potential injuries.
  • Pack a flashlight or headlamp and extra batteries if you have to hike out after dark.
  • Pack a whistle, a mirror, and a signaling device to help signal for help if you get lost or injured.
  • If you get wet or cold on the trail, always pack an emergency blanket and extra clothes.

Tip: In my other blog article, I show you what equipment should not be missing when hiking. Click on the link to access the overview.

8. Wear proper hiking boots and socks

When you go hiking, one of the most important things you can do to make sure you have a safe and enjoyable experience is to wear proper boots and socks.

This will make your hike more comfortable, but it will also help protect your feet from injury.

Here are some tips on choosing the right hiking boots and socks for you.

  • Hiking boots should be sturdy and supportive, with a good grip on the soles. They should also be waterproof, if possible.
  • Socks are just as important as boots and should be made from a moisture-wicking material. Cotton socks are not recommended, as they can cause blisters.

Tip: Read through my complete guide on finding the right shoes for hiking.

9. Protect yourself from the sun

Did you know that the American Cancer Society reports that skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States?

And according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, melanoma – the deadliest kind of skin cancer – is increasing faster than any other type of cancer.

You can protect yourself from the sun by following some simple guidelines:

  • Wearing sunscreen, hats, and sunglasses
  • Avoiding direct sunlight during peak hours (10 a.m. to 4 p.m.)
  • Check your skin regularly for any changes.

Tip: More tips for your safety while hiking, you can read in the following article at the link.

10. Never feed or touch wildlife

When you’re out in nature, it’s important to remember that you’re sharing it with wild animals.

These animals lived there long before humans arrived, and they’ll continue to live there long after we’re gone.

It’s crucial to respect their space and observe them from a distance.

Feeding or touching wildlife can harm them and is illegal in many places.

So please, always remember: Never feed or touch wildlife

11. Know where you are stepping

You need to be able to navigate through difficult terrain and stay safe while out in the wilderness.

One of the most important things you can do is learn how to read a map to always know where you are and where you’re going.

Another key element of hiking safety is knowing how to use a compass.

With these tools, you’ll be able to hike with confidence, knowing that you’re always heading in the right direction

Tip: If you have difficulties with orientation while hiking, you should read my other article on this topic.

12. Ticks

Ticks are parasites that feed on the blood of mammals, birds, and reptiles. They are most commonly found in wooded areas and tall grass.

Ticks can cause Lyme disease, a serious illness that can be fatal.

Hikers should take precautions to protect themselves from ticks when outdoors.

  • Wear long pants and a long-sleeved shirt, tuck your pants into your socks, and use insect repellent.
  • If you find a tick on your skin, remove it with tweezers and dispose of it in rubbing alcohol or soap and water.

States such as Pennsylvania are seeing an increase in Lyme disease cases due to the spread of ticks.

Protect yourself against this serious illness by taking the necessary precautions while hiking outdoors

13. Go for a small trial hike before taking on a major one

Everyone has their own way of preparing for a hike.

Some people like to go on trial hikes first to test the waters and make sure that they’re physically and mentally prepared for their planned hike.

Other people just go for it without any practice hikes.

Whichever way you choose to prepare, make sure you’re realistic about what you can handle.

Don’t try to hike a difficult trail if you’re not in good shape – it could lead to disaster.

Start with an easy hike, and work your way up to the more challenging ones.

That’s the best way to ensure a safe and enjoyable hiking experience

14. Poison Oak

You know all too well the dangers of poison oak.

This insidious plant can make even the most experienced hikers sick with its potent oil, which is why it’s important to be able to identify it before it causes any harm.

Poison oak is most commonly found in California, but it can also be found in other parts of the country.

The plant’s leaves are typically red in the spring and green in the summer.

Be on the lookout for this plant, and if you happen to come into contact with it, wash the affected area with soap and water as soon as possible.

Poison oak can cause a nasty rash, so it’s best to avoid it altogether.

15. Be ready to turn back

Have you ever been on a hike that was more difficult than you anticipated?

If so, you know how frustrating it can be when you’re not prepared for the challenge.

Know your limits, and be prepared to turn back if you’re not feeling well or if the conditions are too dangerous.

Hiking can be strenuous, and it’s important to be aware of your own limitations.

If you feel sick, dizzy, or lightheaded, it’s time to turn back.

If it starts to rain or snow, don’t try to hike through bad weather.

It’s always better to be safe than sorry.

Happy hiking!

Photo of author
Hi, I'm Dave. I'm an avid outdoors and sports enthusiast who loves to share my passion with others. I publish the experiences I've gained over the years on Outdoormeta to give beginners helpful tips and bring people closer to the outdoors.

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