Hiking is generally a safe activity. But there are some risks that you should be aware of to stay safe and comfortable.
Crime and theft
In most of the world there is very low probability of encountering crime while hiking. Cities and urban centres tend to have a higher crime rate than sparsely populated and rural areas. It simply doesn’t make much sense for criminals to stake out hiking trails to rob hikers.
Theft can occur around campsites on busy trails. Keep your valuables on your person. Some sleeping bags have pockets – if yours doesn’t, just put them in a stuff sack and cover with some clothing. It’s highly unlikely that someone will try to open your tent at night and try to steal something.
If you are on a public beach and want to go swimming, one trick is to put your valuables in a stuff sack and discreetly bury them in the sand. Make sure you will find them later!
In some poorer areas of the world hikers can experience theft or harassment. Consult your embassy or ministry of foreign affairs to learn more about local conditions and previous incidents.
In case someone tries to rob you and you are not trained to deal with violence, give up your belongings – it’s simply not worth risking injury or worse.
Wild animals and animals
Animal attacks do occur. Bears can be extremely dangerous but also watchdogs in rural areas.
General advice is to back off calmly when you encounter a potentially dangerous animal. When attacked by a dog, try to stay on your feet.
When down, try to stay on your stomach and protect neck from injury with hands.
It’s a lot more likely you will be bitten by a tick than a bear. A tick bite can be very dangerous. Please read our separate post about dealing with insects like mosquitos and ticks.
Snakes attack when they feel threatened. Mostly they want to get as far away from you as possible and you should let them do that.
Learn about snakes in the area before you visit it.
When bitten seek medical attention immediately. Stay as still as possible and don’t try to suck the venom out of the wound, cut yourself or do any other crazy things you might have seen in the movies.
Getting lost is a problem with hikers. First, try to avoid it. Have a map and compass and a device (phone) with GPS and full battery. Follow your progress on the map and always know where you are. If you are unsure, stop and figure it out. Go back if necessary. Stay found to avoid getting lost.
Someone needs to know where you are going and when you are due back. If something happens and you can’t communicate, they can call for help.
If you are lost and can’t figure out where you are, you have two options.
First, call the emergency services. There is no shame in calling for help when you need it. Have a charged phone with you to call for help.
Second, try to find your way by following a compass heading in the direction you think you should be going, to a nearby natural feature, such as a river. In any case, don’t panic, don’t run, don’t waste energy and don’t wander around aimlessly wasting precious energy.
Injury is a serious problem. Learn about basic first aid – dealing with blisters, cuts and injuries. Major injuries can be life threatening when you are alone with no one to help you. If you’re hiking with someone, both should know basic first aid.
Stay safe, avoid taking risks.
If you are hurt you have to make an assessment if you can get out or need help. If you need help, call the emergency services.
Hiking can take you to some pretty amazing beaches but take care while swimming because often there is no life guard on duty on a wild beach.
Stay near the shore and swim parallel to the shore line not away from it.
Stay in shallow water, where you can stand firmly on your feet.
Don’t jump into water in unknown places, especially if you can’t see what’s below. Even from piers etc. The only safe environment for jumping in to water is a pool where you know the depth and see there is nothing and no one under the water.
Jumping in is also dangerous if the water is very cold and the weather is hot – it can lead to cardiac problems. Slip in calmly.
Drowning is also a risk when crossing rivers. If the riverbed is rocky or slipperu, make sure you’re wearing something on your feet to protect them from cuts and slipping.
Test the depth of the water with your trekking pole before setting your foot down.
Open straps on your backpack so you can easily slip out of it if you fall. Otherwise your backpack can drag you under or prevent you from getting up.
Sometimes you have to go quite a bit upstream or downstream to find a good spot for crossing. That’s a lot better than risking drowning.
Take it slow and turn back if you feel uneasy – find a better spot.
Kidnapping and abduction
In some areas of the world, hikers face the risk of kidnapping or abduction. Avoid conflict areas and check travel warnings and news stories for more exotic locations. If you really must go to these areas, then consult embassy and or foreign ministry for advice and do your research about local traditions and culture to avoid provoking any conflicts unknowingly.
Car break in or theft
When you leave your car to go hiking in a remote area, it can be targeted by criminals – either for theft or vandalism.
To lessen the chance of that happening don’t leave anything at all out in the open in the car. Even if you have tanned windows, put everything away either in the glove department or the trunk or under the seat.