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5 Hiking Skills you MUST Know

By Jessica Marie



We have all seen the pictures on Pinterest and Instagram of those beautiful campsites and breathtaking views and think, I wish I was there. It’s an intoxicating visual as we imagine what it must feel like to stand where they are. Imagining the views all around us, the wind on our face, the sun on our skin, clouds speeding by above. But before we get there we need to know how to stay safe. Any trip that has the potential for beauty also has the potential for danger. We can choose to go on any hike we want. But it is important to do some research in advance to make sure we come back with stories of the sights we saw and not of how we almost died. Without further ado, here are the 5 hiking skills you must know before you hit the trails.

First Aid Skills

You never know what may be waiting around the next switchback. It is best to be prepared and know basic first aid skills than to become injured or have a party member injured and be unsure of what to do. You can’t call 911 and have an ambulance ride up to your door. You could be hours or days from help. Search and rescue may have to hike to your location which will take time. Life and death can truly be in your hands, you can’t count on passersby to save you. Look for a hiking club in your area and see what classes they offer. They often hold hiking, map reading, and first aid courses. Call your local fire department, hospital, park ranger, or fish and game department to see if they teach any first aid classes. Make sure you take basic first aid before you hit your first trail. Then, keep those skills sharp with hiking specific first aid courses and other types of classes to keep the information fresh in your mind.

How to Read a Map & Compass

This may sound silly in the era of cell phones and GPS’, but when you are hiking you can easily end up someplace you didn’t intend. These are also electronic devices, they can run out of battery, get wet, lose signal, and otherwise fail. Putting you and your party members lives in the hands of a single device is unwise. Up-to-date maps do exist and you can find them on your local trails, national parks, and other wilderness areas. Reading a map and compass is a skill that will take some time to learn, but they can save your life. Seek out a local hiking club, library, outdoor supply store, museum, or park ranger to find out about classes. I have taken hiking related classes from all of these locations.

Emergency Camping

You may not intend to stay the night, but anything can happen in the wilderness. Do not ever leave for a hike with nothing but a bottle of water and a granola bar. Traveling light looks cool but can spell doom if disaster strikes. You will need your 10 essentials for every hike, no matter how straightforward or easy. Make sure you have a way to start a fire, signal for help, emergency shelter and blankets, water purifier, and layers. It won’t be the most comfortable night you ever spent camping, but it will keep you alive.

Tell People Where You Are

If you ever watched the movie 127 Hours you already know this one by heart. You need to tell people exactly where you are going, when you are leaving, and when you intend to come back. Once you tell people where you are going, stick to it. This will save you from becoming lost or turned around, and will put search and rescue (SAR) in the right place if you don’t come back. If you stray from your plans, people will be looking for you, but they’ll be in the wrong place. If you find a new spot that you really want to explore, plot it on your map as a future hiking destination. I have even heard some hikers leaving a boot-print and photo of what they are wearing in their cars. This is for SAR so they can look for those tracks and know what colors to be looking for in association with you.

Listen to the Weather

Everyone (hopefully) listens to the weather before they head off on a hike, and packs their backpacks accordingly. But, you also need to stay aware of the weather while you are actively hiking. The weathermen are not always right, and they are often giving weather for towns and not the wilderness areas you may be venturing into. When you pause for water and snack breaks look around at the sky. What do the clouds look like, do you hear wind, thunder, or other signals that may be dangerous? I know how disappointing it is to only get halfway through a hike and having to turn back due to weather. But it is far safer to turn back and beat the storm, than trying to press on. You could become lost or injured in a storm. Turn back and try again another day.

Those are the 5 hiking skills you must know before you hit the trails. There is so much more to know, but abiding by these will keep you substantially safer. These skills will also guide you in the right direction. These skills will get you into contact with the right people and resources so you know where to look for information and classes for the future. Follow these 5 rules to the letter and you will be a safer hiker. Stay safe and happy hiking!

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