Hiking Dangers and How to Prevent Them

Hiking can be an intimidating activity to pick up, especially if you’ve never hiked before. The idea of being in nature, farther away from society that you typically are, and much closer to wild animals you typically avoid, can make anyones heart rate increase. 

Hiking can be a dangerous activity, but if you’re aware of what makes it dangerous then you are much safer on the trail. Ensuring that you have prepared properly for your hike, know how to handle wildlife encounters, and have a safety plan can take a potentially dangerous activity like hiking and turn it into something entirely safe and fun for all to enjoy. 

We’ll be discussing the 7 top hiking dangers you may encounter, and how to prevent them before you ever hit the trail. That way, you’ll be prepared to make your next hiking trip a much safer and enjoyable adventure. 

bright yellow and black caution sign warning of the hiking danger falling overlooking a forested hill with water in the distance

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Is Hiking Dangerous?

The first question new hikers (or their loved ones) have is can hiking be dangerous? I mean, not everyone is up for attempting a dangerous activity. Some of us just want to stroll in the woods.

So, if you’re wondering can hiking be dangerous the answer to that is yes. It can be dangerous if  you haven’t properly prepared for hike and have no concept of what to do in an emergency situation. 

But, if you’ve properly planned your hike and know what to do if you encounter anything dangerous on the trail, then hiking isn’t dangerous. 

Let’s get into each of the 7 top hiking dangers so you’re prepared to handle each one next time you hit the trail. 

7 Hiking Dangers and How to Prevent Them

Hiking can be dangerous but it doesn’t have to be if you know how to prepare properly. If you’re aware of what could happen on a hike, and know what not to do, then it’s simple to prepare and prevent a dangerous situation while on the trail. 

1. Hiking Injuries

Hiking injuries are one of the biggest dangers of hiking. And, I’m not just talking about getting a scraped knee or a thorn caught in your leg while walking through brush. While uncomfortable, those aren’t super dangerous. 

No, the biggest hiker injury that is truly dangerous is a fall. This could be a slip that ends up in a severely twisted ankle, but it could also be a fall from a cliff when you were too close to the edge. 

How do you prevent a hiking injury? The simplest way is to not do risky things when you’re hiking. Overconfident people are the ones who think they can get closer to the edge than everyone else or do an icy hike without the proper gear. Don’t be this person. 

But even if you aren’t taking risks, sometimes accidents happen. And when they do it’s absolutely essential you have a first aid kit with you. Never leave home without it if you’ll be hiking. It doesn’t matter if you’re only doing a 0.5 mile easy trail – always, and I truly mean always, carry a first aid kit. 

A first aid kit will nearly always help you out while hiking and make it easier, and safer, to get back safely after an injury.  

2. Getting Lost While Hiking

Getting lost is never fun, but when you’re hiking in the woods with potentially spotty cell service, then it really can be dangerous. Luckily, there are a lot of tools and equipment to help us stay safe and oriented while on the trail. 

If you’re unfamiliar with a hike, then do some research on where you’ll be hiking first. You can use a service like AllTrails to help you find a trail and carry a digital map with you while hiking. Their pro subscription allows for downloadable maps for offline use straight from your cell phone. 

For those hiking locally, and in areas with decent service this may be all you need. But, if you have plans to hike in more remote areas without great service, then I’d recommend investing in something a bit more robust for navigation. 

A GPS Navigator may be exactly what you need in case you lose your way while hiking in very remote areas. It has access to downloadable maps, and with a subscription allows you to communicate with others in areas with no service.

If you will be hiking in these areas though, you may want to pick up some compass and map navigation skills. Sometimes the tried-and-true methods work better and more reliably than any new technology.

But, no matter what, if you’ll be hiking you need to be clear on where you are and how to find your way out if you become lost. 

Hiker in red shirt and blue backpack standing in desert holding his hands in his face due to hiking danger

3. Overestimating Your Hiking Abilities

I can’t tell you the number of times I am out on a trail with my full set of gear and I pass someone in flip flops carrying an iced coffee. No pack, no water, and definitely no safety items. It absolutely blows my mind that they feel so confident to go out into nature without even water or proper foot protection, much less a first aid kit. 

Now I’m sure that sometimes that’s worked out for them just fine. But each time they do that they’re putting themselves seriously at risk. Having the proper gear while hiking protects you from most things that could happen while on the trail. 

But having all the right gear isn’t the be-all-end-all of trail preparation. Choosing an appropriate trail is so important to being safe. Before heading out you need to look at the distance, elevation, and terrain. If you’re new to hiking, then you  probably don’t want to attempt a 35% grade incline to a mountain summit, or a trail fully covered in ice. 

Always start slow and build up to a new challenge. Each hike you can push yourself a little bit more, but overestimating your abilities can place you on the entirely wrong trail without the ability to return from it safely. 

4. Wildlife Encounters

The thought of a wildlife encounter while hiking makes most people a little nervous. Although they happen rarely, when they do it’s important to know the exact specifics of how you should act. 

The best way to prevent most wildlife encounters in the woods is to make noise. Now, I’m not talking about blasting music and interrupting the hike of everyone around you. But, if you’re hiking with a group and talking amongst yourselves then that level of noise will deter most animals. 

Solo hikers have it a bit more challenging, but talking or singing to yourself while hiking can help create enough noise to deter most wildlife from your area. 

But, should an encounter with an animal occur, preparing yourself to know how to handle such an encounter is incredibly important. Black bears should be handled differently from brown bears. Mountain lions have their own set of rules around encounters for protection. And, even insect prevention/bites should be considered as something to be aware of how to handle should they occur. 

Preparing yourself for a wildlife counter before they happen can take a dangerous situation and turn it into something you feel confident to prevent and protect against while hiking. 

5. Weather Exposure

Weather that is too hot or too cold without proper gear can be life threatening. Both hypothermia and heat exhaustion/shock are possibilities and extremely dangerous on a trail. So, no matter where you’re hiking being aware of the weather is crucial before hitting the trail. 

In order to prevent extreme weather exposure you should do two things before heading out. First, always check the weather so you know what to expect. Even something like an afternoon thunderstorm can place you in danger if you don’t know how to handle it. So, always check the weather and prepare your trip appropriately (even if that means canceling it). 

Second, if you will be heading out in the extreme hot or cold then make sure you’re carrying the appropriate safety gear in your pack. For extremely hot weather than means extra water as well as electrolyte tabs to use for replacing electrolytes lost by sweat. For cold weather this means dressing appropriately and bringing warmers or hot hands to help keep your body and extremities warm in an emergency. 

Weather exposure is one of the more common hiking dangers people experience, so being knowledgeable about how to prevent weather from becoming dangerous to you is crucial for every hike. 

6. Running Out of Water

Water, and having enough of it, is an essential for every hike. For shorter hikes this may mean packing an extra water bottle, or using an 2L water bladder in your pack. But, if you’ll be hiking for longer periods of time, and even overnight, then you’ll absolutely need a way to access and filter water while on the trail. 

My personal go-to device for this is the Sawyer Squeeze. It’s a squeeze filter that is so easy to use you can actually attach it on top of your water bottle and use it immediately. It’s an essential for longer hikes but I even bring it on shorter ones, in case of emergency. 

Running out of water on a hike is life threatening. A lack of  water combined with sweating on the trail will put you in a dangerous situation within hours. So, having a way to get clean water if you run out of what you packed in is essential. 

And, as a good practice, never start a trail without bringing water. 

7. Inability to Communicate with Others

If you’re on a trail and an emergency occurs, you’ll need to communicate with someone who isn’t on the trail with you. Whether that’s calling emergency services, or just letting someone know you’ll be back later than expected, how you’ll communicate in an emergency is extremely important. 

The danger around this though is NOT being able to communicate and only realizing that after an emergency has occurred. It’s not uncommon for cell service to be spotty or non-existent on the trails so a plan of how to communicate in those situations can be a matter of life-or-death. 

There are a few ways to go about setting an emergency communication plan, but they typically involve some combination of the following: 

  • A person off-trail who knows where you are and has a specific time set that if they do not hear from you they are calling emergency services
  • A GPS-communicator that does not rely on cell service and can message friends or call emergency services
  • A note left in your car in the trail parking lot with contact information and when you expect to return
  • A hiking partner who can hike to where there is cell service in an emergency 

Each hike may require using a different combination of these, but ensuring you have a communication plan before heading out can prevent being unable to communicate in a dangerous emergency. 

Hiking safely is all about preparedness. Hiking can be dangerous, but really only if you aren’t prepared for what to expect. Now that you’re aware of the 7 hiking dangers and how to prevent them, your hikes can be a safe, fun experience for all. 

If you want more hiking recommendations please check out our hiking tips page, or check out any of the articles below. 

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