Nothing compares to a summer hike. It feels good, and for those hiking in Vermont, there are so many beautiful views to take in. Even the most experienced of hikers must be careful though. The most common hiking-related injuries and fatalities are due to hypothermia and dehydration. Here’s how you can stay safe.
Prepare for Bad Conditions…Even if it’s a Perfect Day
If you’re out for a longer hike, be sure you’re prepared. Temperatures at the top of a mountain will often be much cooler and windier than where you started. Additionally, unexpected rain can add to the challenge of staying warm. Always hike with good raingear and warm layers of a material that continues to insulate you even when wet. This includes good old-fashioned wool, or many of the synthetic insulating layers available. Cotton will not keep you warm when wet!
Drink Safe Water
You may not encounter water on your hike, but if you do it should be filtered before drinking. Start out your hike with plenty of water, knowing that you will be losing moisture from sweating and will need a lot of replacement fluid, especially on hot days. Iodine tablets can purify water in a pinch (it won’t taste good, but it’s better than being dehydrated!). There are also many small lightweight portable water filters on the marker that can purify stream or lake/pond water.
Be Ready for Darkness
Start your hike earlier in the day. Be prepared for darkness in case you get lost or the hike takes longer than you expect. Bring a good headlamp, and if you’re going on a longer hike, consider a lightweight synthetic-filled sleeping bag (Again, something that has some insulating value when it gets wet; down loses its insulating quality when it’s wet).
Bring the Right Supplies
- A warming blanket ( or “spaceblanket”) can help keep you warm. They are lightweight and packaged tightly and can fit in a first aid kit.
- Some high protein foods (such as energy bars) are good to have along.
- Good supportive footwear with a good tread, so you’re less likely to fall/slip, and with good ankle support, so you’re less likely to injury your ankle if you do slip. Anticipate that wet, smooth and muddy surfaces can lead you to easily lose your footing.
Your Smartphone is not as Smart as You!
Don’t rely on your mobile device to take the place of good judgment. You may not have a cell signal when you need one. That said, there have been many stories of 911 being called from the backcountry when people needed rescue. Your cell phone needs to have a good charge, or a backup charger.
Keep in mind that it’s your responsibility to enter the backcountry safely. When you don’t, it puts those who come rescue you at risk.
When properly prepared, hiking can be a great healthy activity that can get you to beautiful mountaintops and crisp clear swimming holes and waterfalls. Here’s to a summer of safe, fun hiking adventures!
Daniel Weinstein, MD, is medical director for Urgent Care at the University of Vermont Medical Center.