Hiking can be a great way to exercise, enjoy the outdoors, and spend quality time with family and friends. And the Charlotte area has no shortage of trails to explore for all levels of experience.
But it is important to take precautions while hiking to limit safety risks, especially if you are a less experienced hiker. From knowing your own limits, to having the right things with you and more, proper trail preparation and behavior can prevent injury, or worse, to yourself and others.
Follow these key tips to stay safe at the start of your hike:
Don’t walk alone
A solitary walk in the woods may seem like a great way to clear your mind, but it also comes with risks, especially if you’re new to hiking.
Having someone with you, preferably someone with more experience, means you have someone to help you through any challenges you encounter on the trail and to look after you if you get hurt. , explains outdoor supply store REI.
If you don’t have a friend or family member to go with, you can find outings and hiking groups you can go with via the “Experiences” tab of the store at rei.com/events. Other hiking groups in the area include the Charlotte Piedmont Hiking Club, Outdoor Afro Charlotte, Rogue Dames of North Carolina, and Hike for Beer.
Assess your fitness level
Biting off more than you can chew is never a good thing, especially in situations like hiking where it can lead to injury or other types of medical emergencies.
When choosing a trail, REI experts advise you to consider your own fitness level and choose a trail you can manage. This means considering the distance you’ll need to travel, the elevation gains and terrain you’ll need to manage, and how much you’ll be carrying while hiking.
Bring the right gear, but not too much gear
You don’t want to overload yourself on a hike, but there are some things you need to have with you on any expedition.
A map and compass can help you find your way around if you turn around and have no GPS reception.
You should base the amount of food and water you bring on the length of the hike, and you’ll want to have toilet paper and trash bags for longer hikes that don’t have public restrooms along the way.
You should also pack what you’ll need for any weather situation that may arise, advises camping company KOA. This means sun protection such as sunglasses and sunscreen, as well as rain gear.
Safety equipment is also important, KOA notes, including a flashlight, whistle, first aid kit and knife or multi-tool.
Share your plans with others
Even if you’re hiking with other people, it’s still important to make sure someone who isn’t on the trip knows exactly where and when you’re hiking in case of an emergency.
A family member or friend can alert the authorities to where you were supposed to be if something happens, and they can also contact you if you suddenly need to be reached on your hike.
“Leaving a note with your route plans inside your vehicle is a good way to let search and rescue people know your plan if they come looking for you,” adds REI.
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Learn trail etiquette
As in any public place, hikers are expected to observe common rules of courtesy to ensure everyone has a safe and enjoyable experience.
Like on the road, there are traditional “right of way” rules, says REI, including that “hikers going uphill have the right of way.”
You should also clean up after yourself, including any pets or children walking with you, and respect any wildlife you encounter.