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- There have been many, many stories of people having horrific experiences while hiking this year.
- Insider spoke to Wesley Trimble, the Program Outreach and Communications Manager at the American Hiking Society and Ben Lawhon, the education director at Leave No Trace, who both offered suggestions and advice for hiking safely.
- They both stressed the importance of being prepared when hitting the trails.
- Both believe we’re hearing of more of these incidences because more people are hiking, thanks to social media.
- And, they want to be clear: bear attacks are not that common.
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Nature is beautiful, and also not be trifled with. Just take it from the man who took a wrong turn and got lost for nearly a week or, in a more extreme case, the composer who hoped to spend time with nature and got killed by a bear.
Insider spoke to experts to see what people should know before they go – and if getting mauled by a wild animal is really a common cause for concern (spoiler: it’s not!)
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Plan before you go
Wesley Trimble, the Program Outreach and Communications Manager at the American Hiking Society and Ben Lawhon, the education director at Leave No Trace, both offered suggestions and advice for hiking safely. It all boils down to planning.
In 2017, the National Parks Service reported 3,453 search and rescue incidents, 182 fatalities, and 1,500 injuries or illnesses in the great outdoors. This was actually a decrease from the previously recorded data, which counted 5,397 search and rescue missions in the 2015-2016 season.
While hiking mishaps may not be on the rise, it doesn’t hurt to do your research so you can avoid getting lost – or worse. Being prepared is key, both men agreed.
“Plan ahead and prepare,” Lawhon told Insider. “So that means doing the homework before you ever leave your house whether that’s an afternoon in your local park or a multi-day backpacking trip.”
Trimble suggested checking out the American Hiking Society’s 10 Essentials of Hiking. The list’s name is self-explanatory, sure, but it’s important read-before-you-go stuff.
Here’s what the AHS suggests.
- Appropriate footwear
- Map and compass/GPS
- Extra water and a way to purify it.
- Extra food.
- Rain gear and extra clothing.
- Safety items: fire, light, and a whistle.
- First aid kit.
- Knife or multi-purpose tool.
- Sunscreen and sunglasses.
In short, you can’t plan enough.
Don’t believe what you hear: Bear attacks are rare
No matter how much you prepare, you still expose yourself to certain risks when you hit the great outdoors. But bears and other animal attacks should be pretty low on hikers’ lists of concerns, both Trimble and Lawhon said.
Trimble said that stories of animal attacks may seem common, but they tend to be “more sensationalized” because they play into our “primal instincts.”
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Lawhon agrees that bear attacks are “definitely rare” and said that more common concerns are things that people might consider to be “mundane.” Often driving to the trail is the most dangerous part of a hike.
Generally, people often misjudge the trails they plan to take, which can lead to being out longer than you might expect and a subsequent domino effect of other problems, like running out of food, drinking water, or even becoming hypothermic if you don’t have the correct gear, Lawhon said.
“People in many cases will underestimate the time that outings can take,” Lawhon said. “So they’ll be up, for example, they look at a trail and they say, ‘Oh, it’s only six miles that’ll take us three hours.’ Well, that might take you six hours.”
Mainly, it comes down to common sense – or perhaps a lack thereof.
“Oftentimes will want to hike to the bottom of the Grand Canyon,” he continued. “Yes, that’s downhill all the way in, but it’s all uphill all the way out. Obviously, people don’t think through that and they don’t also think about the fact that it’s very, very hot bottom of the Grand Canyon in the summer. So [it’s] being realistic about the type of experience you want and then matching that experience with the trip itself.”
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Lawhon added that it’s probably wise to let someone know where you’re going, how long you expect the trip to take, and when you plan to be back. That way, if things don’t go as planned, someone will know to alert authorities, if need be.
Social media exposes beautiful spots – but also might encourage inexperienced and unprepared hikers
Ultimately, both Lawhon and Trimble say that there’s probably not an increase in hiking conundrums.
“Part of it is there are more people enjoying the outdoors. That’s clear numbers continue to rise,” Lawhon said. “Anytime you have more people out, you have more potential for people to get lost or injured or stranded or stuck outside overnight.
Trimble agreed. He said social media platforms, like Instagram, let people know about all the beautiful places out there in the world. But on the other side of that coin, it can lead to more people hiking without being adequately prepared because hiking, as he puts it, has a “low barrier to entry.”
Nature-focused Instagram accounts offer plenty of inspiration for wanna-be hikers. But be warned: You may see an irresistibly Instagrammable sunset, or cliff, or forest view, but not yet have the experience and skills to get to the spot safely.
“With greater exposure to these beautiful places more and more people want to get out and see these wonderful places,” he said. “But not all of them are prepared beforehand to make sure that they can be well-educated and be safe about being out on the trail.”
- Read more:
- Hikers survived for 5 days in the mountains of California by rationing food and using a special straw to purify water
- A 73-year-old hiker who was missing in the California mountains has been found alive after surviving for a week with no food
- An 80-year-old man was left behind on a hiking trail. Now family members could be charged for the cost of the search and rescue mission.
- 4 hikers were just rescued after being stranded on Mount Rainier for 4 days