Those of us old enough to quality for senior discounts live in a wonderful time. We expect to stay healthy into our seventies, eighties and even our nineties. We exercise and eat properly, and stay as active as we can.
We look for ways to enjoy the out of doors. Going on day hikes is one way to explore nature while avoiding the stress and dangers of more strenuous backpacking.
You may find that your local senior centers schedule regular outings such as day hikes in the summer months. These are usually carefully planned as to distance and difficulty. Leaders of the group will monitor the fitness of those desiring to attend.
You may have a hiking partner or a small group of outdoor enthusiasts who enjoy planning day hikes. That’s great. But there are many situations that can arise when out in nature and some of them can be dangerous—even life-threatening. So take a few minutes and read through the following list of safety precautions before embarking on a day hike in your area.
Avoid over-confidence/ Do Your Research
Before you go on a day hike, you should have studied the trail via a hiking book or hiking website. You’ll need to take along a map and know how far you plan to travel along the trails. If you’re planning on taking a loop, be sure you know where the important changes in direction take place. Don’t try a hike that climbs quickly unless you’ve either done it before or have done a similar hike before. Know your level of fitness and endurance. Will the hike take one hour or two? More?
Avoid Careless Errors
Carelessness can take many forms and some of them may put you in danger when out of doors. You need an accurate map. You should leave your travel itinerary with others so they will know where to look for you in case of an emergency. You should travel with adequate clothing, shoes, food and water. Never leave the trail and never separate from your partner or hiking group.
Use Common Sense
Check the weather forecasts before heading out on a hike and be ready to turn back should the weather become threatening. Be aware of any dangerous spots on the particular trail you will travel. Don’t carry more items than you’re comfortable with on day hikes—but be sure you have essentials such as food, water, and your survival kit.
Wear Proper Clothing
Sturdy shoes and layered clothing that doesn’t hold moisture are best for hiking. Synthetic fabrics are best as they don’t hold water which can cause chilling. Several layers of light synthetic articles of clothing are better than one bulky coat. Always carry extra layers. Be sure to have several pairs of thick, synthetic socks. A waterproof hat can double as protection against sun as well. A lightweight plastic raincoat can save the day.
Take Along a Survivor/Safety Kit
In addition to your map and a compass, a simple kit for a day hike will include sunscreen, band aids, a whistle, knife, matches and perhaps a small flashlight should you be delayed in your return. Moleskin for blisters and bug repellent are good additions.
Take Adequate Water
Water is essential, but weighs about two pounds per liter. It’s wise to drink a liter before setting out on your hike and then drink about a pint per hour. Usually two liters is enough to last through a day hike and then you should drink another liter when you complete the hike. If you have a water filter, your research will tell you if there are places along the trail to refill containers. If not, ration your water as you hike.
Be Aware of Weather-induced Illnesses
Both excess heat and cold can cause hardship when hiking. Most day hikes won’t be concerned with excess cold, but heat can cause uncomfortable and even dangerous sunburn, heat exhaustion and in extreme cases, heat stroke. Also if your hike involves a significant increase in elevation, you may need a period of hours before you begin hiking. Altitude illness can feel as bad as a case of the flu.
Know When to Turn Back
Hiking seems to bring out the mountain man and woman in us. We don’t want to give up and fail to complete the full distance. But there are times when it’s best to turn back and try another day. Any illness or injury may be a good reason to turn back. Also realizing you’ve begun a trail with too high a difficulty level is another reason. You may have underestimated the pace you can maintain on the trail and decide you should turn back earlier than planned. Any environmental hazard such as flooding, avalanche danger, high winds and the like should be taken into consideration.
Even seasoned out of doors men and women can make tragic mistakes if they break the cardinal safety rules of the out of doors. So do your homework, decide on a hiking partner or group, plan your perfect hiking day and then enjoy the healthy exercise and the profound beauty of the trail.