Traveling is a great way to unwind, get some exercise and reconnect with nature. It's healthy and satisfying but it also comes with risks, some more obvious than others.
The level of danger depends on the location and duration of the hike. Hikes of several days (usually referred to as backpacking) and deep within mountains are more dangerous than a three-hour trail in a nature reserve. Thorough planning and packing will help you avoid most of the things that can go wrong on a hiking trip. Proper preparation will also ensure that you are better able to cope should the unavoidable happen.
Dehydration is fairly common among inexperienced hikers. Few people realize just how quickly one becomes dehydrated. Just by sitting at your desk all day and drinking nothing but your morning and afternoon cuppa java can leave you dehydrated. According to medical experts, by the time you feel thirsty you are already in the first stages of dehydration.
If you can become dehydrated during an ordinary day at work, imagine what can happen over several hours of walking in the sun. Experienced hikers recommend that you take at least two liters of water with you. If you're going backpacking, you'll also need to take some water purifying tablets so you can use natural water sources.
Hypothermia is often associated with extreme winter weather and many casual hikers dismiss it as something that happens on only the highest peaks. The truth is, it does not take extreme cold to induce hypothermia (-1 ° C is sufficient), it takes a drop in your core body temperature and this can be caused by a number of factors.
If you're in the mountains, nights can be cold and the higher you go the colder it gets. Often hikers do not notice how cold it is until they stop and rest for the night and even then they might be tempted to leave off the jerseys while they cool down. The danger here is that they will get too cold too quickly and might not be able to warm themselves up again. Wet clothes are also a problem because water conducts heat away from the body. Add some wind and the danger starts mounting.
According to Tom Raley, the key to avoiding hypothermia is to dress in layers and remain dry. Layers can be added and removed as desired and are easily bound around the body or stored. Proper rain gear is essential; an improvised rain coat made out of a rubbish bag will not do. Fatigue, dehydration, hunger and alcohol can also exacerbate the problem.
Being hypothermic is often dismissed as being very cold, but there are a few symptoms that are dead giveaways: mental confusion, blue extremities, amnesia and, perversely, a desire to strip naked. Should any of your companions show any of these signs it's vital that you act quickly. Get them dry, wrap in them a sleeping bag and have them slowly sip a warm drink. Monitor the situation carefully; you may need to make an emergency call.
Most hiking mishaps occur because people walk off the trail or get lost. Assume that the people who laid out the trail knew what they were doing and stick to it. If you're breaking new ground, or are following a seldom used trail that is overgrown, take a map and a compass with you. The compass is in case your GPS conks out. Because, let's face it, these days only purists do not take their GPS when hiking.
Two of the most common hiking injuries are blisters and twisted ankles. Proper footwear will take of both. Hikers need proper hiking boots with proper ankle and foot support. Boots need to be comfortable and you'll need to wear them in before you go off on a 5-day hike in the Malutis. Soles need to be sturdy and slip-resistant; this will help steady your feet and, unless you do not look where you're going, it will minimize the chances of a sprain.
You will also need good, thick socks. Many hikers recommend that you actually wear two pairs of socks to ensure you do not get blisters. The inner sock does not have to be as thick as the outer one though, so you and your feet can breathe easily.
Everything else is common sense (which is sadly not as common as one would expect):
• Keep an eye on approaching weather systems. Most weather reports contain three-day forecasts. These are not set in stone but are a good guide as to what you can expect. If it looks like a storm is coming, do not go.
• Do not go hiking alone, if you can help it. Groups of three or four are ideal.
• Always tell someone where you'll be and how long you expect to be gone; someone needs to raise the alarm if you go missing.
• Always take a first-aid kit with you.
• Always take a torch and spare batteries.
• Always wear sunscreen.
• Always wear a watch so you can keep track of time.
Now get packing and happy hiking.