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I am a Denver-based writer, travel lover, and author of The Drive North and Destination Paranormal. I have several other books in the works, including fiction.

My Five Rules of Hiking

The view from the Devil's Head Fire Lookout

The view from the Devil’s Head Fire Lookout

Are there rules to hiking? Don’t you just throw on a pack with some water and munchies and hit the trail? Well, yeah, that’s certainly one way of doing it. And for most hikes that’s okay. But there are a few other things to keep in mind before heading out the door. And after hearing of a hiker who fell yesterday at the Devil’s Head Fire Lookout while hiking alone, I’m certainly reminded of some of my rules while Anna and I continue our Summer of Hiking:

Rule 1: Bring A Buddy

This isn’t always possible. Heck, sometimes you don’t even want to do it, since you just need to get away from everyone for a few hours. But if you’re going away – even if it’s just for an afternoon – be sure to let someone know where you’re going and when you’ll be back. If you don’t, and you get hurt on a seldom-used trail, things can go south fast. The best option, though, is to have a friend. It’s that whole safety in numbers rationale. It’s tried, tested, and true. So use it, and if for some reason you can’t or don’t want to, then be sure plenty of people know where you are and when you’ll be back should something happen.

Rule 2: Pack Appropriately

Water and snackies are all good for the hike, but what else should you pack? It can turn out to be really important should something happen. What can happen? Well, anything really. For instance, on the smaller scale, what if you have to poo in the woods? It’s always good to have some TP along, then, right? After all, it’d really suck if you had a scratchy bum if you forgot another rule: Leaves of three, let it be!

In terms of something bigger, what if you should fall and break something or get a cut? Then it’s good to have a first aid kit, some aspirin or ibuprofen for the pain, as well as some towels. So think ahead to where you’re going, especially if it’s relatively remote. Be sure you have enough supplies to help should you get hurt. And that includes water and food. After all, it’d be a really unhappy time if you were stranded for a while with nothing to eat or drink. So bring extra, regardless of how little you want to carry it; better to have it and not need it than to want it and not have it.

A wee bit chilly 14,000 feet up on Mt. Evans

A wee bit chilly 14,000 feet up on Mt. Evans

Rule 3: Dress Appropriately

Along the same lines of packing appropriately, dress appropriately. I know it seems like a fairly simple concept – shorts, shirt, jacket, shoes – but it’s one that is overlooked far too often. So don’t wear sneakers on a difficult or technical hike. They’re not made for that. And don’t wear shorts if you’re climbing a 14er during the shoulder seasons; getting snowed on and shivering your way to the top will suck and can even be life-threatening, particularly if you get hurt and have to wait for rescuers to arrive. What it boils down to is knowing where you’re going, what kind of weather conditions to expect, and what to pack as a result. It’s just a matter of being smart about it, thinking and planning ahead, and then preparing for it.

Rule 4: Know Your Pace

Think about the tortoise and the hare story minus the race. After all, it’s better to go slow and keep going than it is to race and stop your way to the top. This is because it can be hard on your heart during a steep climb to keep stopping and restarting your way to the top. Sure, there are reasons and times to stop, sit back and relax, but if you’re huffing and puffing and stopping to catch your breath, then slow it down. No one says you have to run. Heck, no one says you even have to go at your normal walking pace. So take it slow and go at a comfortable rate, but keep going. You’ll feel better if you do.

Rule 5: Know Your Limits

Without a doubt, this is the most important rule of them all. If you don’t adhere to it, emergency teams can likely be responding to carry you off the trail. So, simply put, don’t climb a 14,000 foot peak if you don’t think you can do it. Don’t go on trails that rattlesnakes frequent if you don’t know how to respond. The same goes for bears, mountain lions, or any other wildlife. Know what you’re getting into. Know your limits. And don’t do anything you’re not completely comfortable with doing. “Thinking” you can do something is a far cry from “knowing” you can do it. And thinking you can will likely put your safety at risk. So be safe. Know your limits. Don’t try to exceed them, because you’ll only put the lives of others in danger who have to come rescue you.

Hiking through Utah's Flaming Gorge

Hiking through Utah’s Flaming Gorge

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2 Comments on “My Five Rules of Hiking”

  1. Traveling Ted (@travelingted) June 14, 2014 at 10:26 am #

    Number 3 is often overlooked as you say. There have been numerous hikers that have died on Mount Washington in Maine. What often happens is it is 70 degrees in the valley and they venture up the 6,000 foot mountain in a t-shirt. They get to the top and a storm rolls in and it is like 20-30 degrees on top. They actually have a sign with a list of all the people who have died.

    • Jason's Travels June 14, 2014 at 9:12 pm #

      I was just back atop Mt. Evans last weekend, the same spot where that picture above number three was taken. Once again I was in shorts and a t-shirt, since we drove to the top instead of hiked. This time I opted not to go the last few hundred feet to the summit, instead just enjoying the view from where I was at and then getting back in the car when the wind picked up.

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