Tips for Staying Safe While Hiking

Hiking lets you spend time in nature and benefits your body, mind, and spirit.

A study published in 2021 found that due to the COVID-19 pandemic, people had spent more time outdoors than before. During that time, the outdoors had become a prime place for dining, socializing, and celebrating. Some people started running or biking, and others picked up a jump rope or tennis racket. 

The hiking trails had also become popular for exercising while social distancing in the open air. In addition to the feel-good effect of being outside, hiking has many physical and mental health benefits. For example, hiking helps build strong muscles and improves heart health. At the same time, hitting the trails can lessen stress.

Hiking is not only about road-tripping to the big parks and canyons. There are plenty of lesser-traveled trails in most towns and cities. Whether you want to go on an all-day adventure or a two-mile urban hike with your family, the beauty of hiking is you can make whatever you want of it.

Before you head out on the trail, take note of some of the following hiking tips.


What To Bring

Essential items to always have on you while hiking include:

  • Hiking shoes
  • Navigation
  • Extra food and water
  • Extra clothes
  • A fire starter
  • A headlamp
  • A first-aid kit
  • A knife
  • Sun protection
  • Shelter (e.g., a waterproof tarp)

Prioritize food and water if that is a lot to pack for a hike that only lasts a few hours. Then, ensure you have a hard-copy map and compass to navigate and first-aid basics.


Fueling a hike requires strategic snack choices. Eat about 300–500 calories every hour. Take small bites and rest for 30 minutes every few hours to help your body easily digest the food.

Opt for a mix of carbs, fats, and protein. Carbs provide the body with quick-burning fuel. In contrast, the body metabolizes fats slowly for long-lasting energy. In the meantime, protein helps build and repair muscle. Think granola bars or apple slices with peanut butter, cheese and crackers, or trail mix with some jerky.


Ensure that you carry plenty of water. Staying hydrated helps you perform your best while hiking. You risk heat-related illness and dehydration if you do not drink enough water. Try drinking at least eight ounces of water every 15–20 minutes.

Map and Compass

You might not have service, or your battery might die if you plan on using your phone for navigation. Instead, print a trail map as a backup, and use the compass to orient your map.

First-Aid Basics

Mostly, hiking injuries are soft-tissue-related, like cuts and blisters. Pack Band-Aids and antibiotic cream to prevent infection.

What To Wear

Dress in layers so that you stay cool while hiking. That way, you can remove layers if you get hot. Weather can change on a dime in the wilderness. Pack clothing based on the nighttime temperature, even if you do not plan on being out after dark.

Ensure that your clothing can pull moisture from your skin. For example, cotton absorbs but retains moisture, leaving you wet and uncomfortable. Instead, opt for synthetics, which allow sweat to evaporate into the air. You may want to wear wool if it's cold or fleece if it's windy. 

Pay special attention to your footwear. Sturdy hiking shoes can help you easily navigate the trails and avoid injuries. Trail shoes suit easy-to-moderate trails, while sturdy hiking boots are good for hard trails. You may need a stiff midsole for rigorous hiking or climbing.

When To Hike

You can hike any time of the day, but you will want to plan your hikes based on the weather. For example, hike early in the morning to avoid extremely hot temperatures

At the same time, hiking in cold weather may be uncomfortable. Although, some experienced hikers may enjoy hiking in the snow. Ensure you plan and pack extra clothing and gear for the snow. You can check the weather to see if the trail will have snow.  

You will need extra essentials if you are hiking overnight, such as:

  • Supportive backpack
  • Tent
  • Sleeping bag
  • Stove and fuel
  • Food 
  • Equipment repair items

Where To Hike

To help you decide where to hike, some of the most popular hiking apps allow you to filter based on difficulty, length, elevation gain, and more. Those apps' benefits are that the people using them often write reviews of the trails. That gives you more insight into the conditions and how challenging the terrain might be.

To ensure that you will enjoy your hiking experience, be realistic about your fitness level. A steep or rocky trail will be harder on your body than a flat one.

Plan Ahead

While planning the length of your hike, keep in mind that you will likely walk slower than usual on a trail. For example, rocks and mud affect your speed. Add one hour of hiking time for every 1,000 feet of elevation gain.

One of the best things you can do to protect yourself—whether hiking with a group, a partner, or solo—is to tell someone where you are going. Make sure someone knows when you are hiking and when you expect to be back. In an emergency, that person will know what to tell the authorities.

Stick to trails that get a fair amount of foot traffic throughout the day if you are a solo hiker. That way, you will know someone will come by within 24 hours if you need assistance. 

Always be aware of your surroundings. People will sometimes use rocks or branches to block inaccessible trails. Those are easy to miss if you are not paying attention. Do not wander off the path for an Instagram photo opp. It's surprisingly easy to get turned around in a dense forest.

Check the forecast to avoid getting stuck in dangerous weather conditions. Avoid open spaces and ridgelines if you get caught in a thunderstorm. Then, head to a low elevation. 

Seek refuge among a crop of smaller trees in a forest. Spread out if you are in a group. Avoid all water (i.e., lakes, rivers, waterfalls) and anything that can conduct electricity, such as trekking poles or a metal-framed backpack. Instead, leave those items at least 100 feet away from you.

Pass along helpful information to less experienced people if you are a seasoned hiker, Danielle Williams, founder of Melanin Base Camp and Diversify Outdoors, told Health.

"Write trip reports and offer advice to keep the next hiker safe, whether it's warning about dangerous spring-stream crossings, poorly maintained trails, or where to park in order to avoid being towed," said Williams.

Making Hiking Inclusive

Nature is for all of us. Still, the outdoors has an inclusivity problem. Only about one in five park visitors is non-White, according to the National Park Service. 

Learn more about making hiking inclusive for the BIPOC, disabled, and LGBTQ+ communities in the outdoors, according to Williams.

How Certain Communities Are Underrepresented on Hiking Trails 

When promotional materials are only English-language or filled with smiling photos of mostly white families, it reinforces the perception that national and state parks are for white people only. 

In the United States, one in four adults lives with some form of disability, but parks don't have the infrastructure to physically accommodate [that]. They lack braille, audio features, guide ropes, or wheelchair-accessible trails. 

Additionally, outdoor spaces are often unaffordable for working-class Black and Latino families. It's not just the per-vehicle entrance fee. It's the time off work and the vehicle and fuel costs.

It's [also] important to realize that nature is political. Parks over-police their non-White patrons. Hiking trails and climbing routes have racially offensive names. Many parks were founded on Native land with ugly histories of broken treaties, land grabs, ethnic cleansing, and massacres.

What Needs To Be Done on a Management Level To Make Those Places Inclusive? 

Parks can start with infrastructure to attract new users or families of color. New users generally benefit from diverse staff.

[Other ways to increase inclusivity include] easy-to-moderate hikes, Spanish-language material, outdoor-seating areas, well-maintained and well-marked trails with a stroller and wheelchair-accessible grades, and public-education campaigns around safety.

What Can Hikers Everywhere Do To Help Make the Outdoors Inclusive? 

Stop automatically questioning the competence and credentials of people in the community who don't look like you. I've dealt with that over the past 10-plus years, and it creates a sense of un-belonging. 

Instead, try asking what types of outdoor activities people enjoyed when they were younger. Encourage inexperienced hikers by geotagging [identifying the location of photos you post on social media] and offering Native land acknowledgments. 

Hold your elected officials accountable for defunding parks. Call or email your congressional representatives.

Useful Apps and Resources

Stay safe and informed with the following apps and websites:

  • AllTrails: The pro version's Lifeline feature allows five safety contacts to track your real-time location against your planned route. Lifeline automatically sends them an alert with your last known coordinates if you are overdue for your scheduled finish time.
  • Cairn: Crowdsourced data on the app's maps, which you can download and use offline, show you where people have found cell coverage on a trail. Cell coverage is essential if you need to make an emergency call or check in.
  • PeakFinder: Use your phone's camera to identify more than 800,000 peaks. ParkFinder helps you know what you are looking at when you're hiking. The app works offline.
  • Seek by iNaturalist: Identify plants and animals with this children-friendly app using image-recognition technology. Read up on commonly recorded flora and fauna. The data uses millions of observations from iNaturalist, an initiative of the California Academy of Sciences and the National Geographic Society.
  •,,, These sources promote diversity and safety outdoors among the BIPOC, disabled, and LGBTQ+ communities. They offer a mix of programs, events, and ways to connect.

A Quick Review

Hiking is an excellent outdoor activity that has many physical and mental health benefits. Before you head to the trails, make sure that you take note of what to bring, like extra food and water, a map and compass, and first-aid basics. Plan, take note of the weather and ensure you stay safe on the trail.

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16 Sources uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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