Valuable Tips on Hiking by Expert National Park Rangers

Valuable Tips on Hiking by Expert National Park Rangers

Hiking 2024-01-15

In the United States alone, there are over 400 unique national park sites, offering plenty of picturesque trails to explore and mountains to conquer. The key to enjoying each adventure and making it a truly unforgettable experience lies in proper preparation. To ensure you're fully equipped and ready to embark on your hiking journey this season, we reached out to park rangers who shared their invaluable advice. Whether you're a seasoned hiker or a newbie, here are the park rangers' top hiking tips for an incredible and safe outdoor experience. Let's get to the point!

Smart hiking tips: let's master your safety together!

1. Don't depend on technology

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These days, it has become common to rely on your phone or tablet for navigation. However, when you're on a hike, this dependence poses a risk. "If you're using maps on your phone or another device, it's a good idea to take screenshots beforehand. This way, you'll still have access to them even if you lose signal," advises Kathleen Sandt, a Public Affairs Specialist and experienced Park Ranger at Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area. Taking screenshots ensures that you can refer to your map throughout the entire hike. But for added security, it's advisable to go old school and either print out a map or obtain one from the park's visitor center. Doing so eliminates the stress of your device running out of battery and losing your map along with it.

2. Bring a portable charger with you

If you decide to skip using a physical map or if you simply want to capture as many photos as possible during your hike, remember to bring a portable charger. Sandt advises, "Ensure that your device is fully charged and bring a spare charger since taking numerous beautiful pictures along the way may drain your battery." It would be even better to find a portable charger that comes with a built-in flashlight if you intend to stay out after dark.

3. Ensure you have an ample supply of water

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It cannot be emphasized enough how important it's to ensure that you have the proper amount of water with you. Hikers are at a high risk of heat stroke and dehydration, particularly when temperatures are high. According to Sally Hurlbert, a management specialist and park ranger at Shenandoah National Park, it's recommended to carry plenty of water for yourself and your dog if you have one. You may be surprised at how much water you consume on a hot and humid day. It's advisable to carry one quart of water per hour in hot weather. Although it may be inconvenient to carry more than you think you need, it's still recommended to bring the recommended amount of water.

4. Always check before moving forward

The best way to prevent encounters with snakes and other dangers is to stay alert. "Avoid placing your hands or feet in areas where you cannot see them, particularly when hiking in snake-infested areas. For example, refrain from stepping over a rock if you cannot see what lies on the other side. Instead, step up, take a look, and then step down," advises Sandt. "In the park where I work, timber rattlesnakes are quite common on certain trails during specific times of the year. While they are generally not aggressive, they, like many humans, dislike being startled and may strike if surprised." Therefore, it's advisable to proceed with caution while hiking, particularly in snake-prone regions.

5. Provide everyone with a map

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Although it's important for hiking groups to stick together, it's wise for each individual to have the necessary information to ensure their safe return. Sandt suggests that members of the group either take a photo of the map or carry their own copy during the hike. This precaution minimizes the potential risks if individuals become separated or if the map gets misplaced.

6. Dress in multiple layers

While hiking, the temperature can vary greatly depending on the altitude and level of physical exertion. In order to remain comfortable throughout your journey, Hurlbert emphasizes the need to dress in layers and bring a rain jacket. It's advisable to check the weather forecast beforehand and be prepared for unexpected changes, as sudden storms can occur without warning. It's always better to bring a rain jacket even on a sunny day, rather than risk facing a storm without one.

7. Familiarize yourself with the proper procedure for encountering a bear

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While it's unlikely that you will encounter a bear during your beautiful hike, it's best to be prepared in case you do. According to Hurlbert, if you happen to come across a bear on the trail, your first step should be to assess the distance between you and the bear. If you're within 150 feet, it's advised to slowly back away until you create a distance of 150 feet between yourself and the bear. It's important not to turn your back to the bear or run away. Additionally, speaking to the bear will let it know of your presence. On the other hand, if you're further than 150 feet away, you can simply stop and enjoy observing the bear. Regardless of the situation, it's important to stay calm and maintain a distance of 150 feet from this magnificent creature.

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