Hike with Your Head

By: Horace Jurdon

The key to a fun and memorable hiking trip has nothing to do with the brand of boots you buy, the temperature of the air or what you've brought along in your pack. The first step to experiencing a really great outdoor trek is your ability to pick a safe trail. Elements of danger can be presented by nature, and by fellow hikers.

To pick a great trail, you need to know that hiking trails can vary greatly depending on where you're planning to travel. The differences between a serene vineyard stroll and a rugged rain forest trek are huge. This extreme variation is what draws backpackers to the world's trails, but for all the fun, adventure and excitement that hiking offers, trails can lead to dangerous situations. Most outdoor survival situations that occur annually are due to the hiker's lack of foresight and failure to prepare for potentially dangerous situations.

Being an experienced hiker doesn't mean that you're immune to the hazards of hiking. Beginners and seasoned trekkers alike face struggles that can quickly develop into dangerous predicaments. Natural hazards are only a small part of the problem. When hiking unknown terrain, or traveling far from home, the dangers you confront can come from the people you encounter.

You can recognize, avoid and overcome some common hiking safety risks by following these tips:

Don't Go it Alone

The dangers of hiking increase substantially when you travel alone. On the other hand, hiking with at least one partner can help you to avoid potentially disastrous situations, and can enable you to overcome them. Hiking by yourself is certainly an adrenaline rush and will bring an extreme element to your trek. Still, a friend means guaranteed help if you need it, and backup if you meet harassing individuals on the trail. Solace is no replacement for security if you run into unsavory individuals. Whether you run into the good, the bad or the ugly, it's always a good idea to have a friend in tow.

File an Itinerary

If you plan to take an unfamiliar trail, you must leave some information with your friends and family. Let them know where you will be hiking, and include the particular trail if possible. When registering with a park or camp office to use a trail, be sure to leave emergency contact information. You should also make note of the phone numbers for park rangers, local law enforcement and land managers.

Keep it Between Friends

Make your itinerary, but don't broadcast it. Don't discuss your trip plans with suspicious strangers, the bloke at the bar or even the good-looking young thing you met at the outdoors store. Even though you're traveling an uncharted course, you shouldn't follow along with the travel plans of unknown fellow hikers. If you're hiking alone, pretend that you're leading a group of hikers that have trailed behind. Again, tell your friends where you'll be, and report your itinerary when you register. These are precautionary measures that must be taken in the event that you run into trouble on the trail.

Don't Overdress

You have no idea who you'll meet on the trail, so don't bring any unwelcome attention to yourself. In other words, leave your Rolex watch and bankroll at home. Assume that you're leaving yourself vulnerable to the attentions of anyone you may meet along the trail.

Be Social and Sensible

Of course, not every stranger equals danger. You just need to use common sense and exercise caution when you meet a stranger or group of strangers. Avoid anyone acting strangely, openly hostile, provocative or drunk. Pay attention to details about their appearance, behavior and your location. Still, even though you shouldn't broadcast your itinerary to strangers, you don't necessarily need to be anti-social. You can make some solid and lasting relationships with fellow hikers.

Potential dangers lay along all of life's roads, whether it's a hike in the wilderness or a potential career change. Think about what may be waiting around the corner, and choose your path carefully.

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Columnist Horace Jurdon is a freelancer for a variety of popular web sites, on sports instruction and travel and leisure themes.

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