Tips for Safe Hiking in Alberta
Wednesday, June 1, 2016
For most outdoor lovers, hiking is a passion. The drive to get out in the wilderness, breathe in fresh air and be one with nature is irresistible. If you’re a budding hiker, it’s a good idea to choose shorter trails (two to three hours) to get a true sense of what’s involved, and work your way up to longer day trips, and – if you’re hooked - overnight hiking adventures.
Before you slip into your hiking boots however, there are some safety tips to keep in mind. As hiking usually takes place in more remote areas, there is the potential for someone to get hurt or lost, or for an encounter with a wild animal. These safety tips will help you be more prepared for anything that may happen on your hike:
1. Check the forecast before heading out
Before you set out, be sure to check the weather report for the area of your hike. Rainy days mean muddy trails where you can easily slip and fall. If you’re on a trail that ascends dramatically, you may encounter colder weather and even snow. It’s best to know this in advance.
2. Bring the right gear
Having proper equipment can make all the difference should the weather change suddenly or someone gets hurt. Buy a quality backpack, and fill it with these items:
- Lots of water to avoid dehydration (The water in streams and lakes may look tempting, but they carry Giardia Lamblia protozoans making the water unsafe for drinking. Don’t risk it.)
- Energy food like dried figs, dates, apricots, oranges, raisins, nuts, granola bars, or pre-packaged camping meals
- Extra clothing including pants, gloves, hat, windbreaker, warm jacket, pants, rain wear, long and short sleeve shirts, and cotton or wool socks
- A First Aid Kit with antiseptic, bandages, burn ointment, chap stick, foot (blister) pads/powder, and gauze compresses
- Compass, GPS, waterproof matches, survival blanket, flashlight/extra batteries, area maps, paper/pencil, insect repellent, pocket knife, sunglasses, toilet paper (in plastic packets) and wet towels
- Signal launchers or a mirror to signal for help
- You should also have a pair of excellent hiking boots. Make sure you have taken the time to introduce your feet to your new boots well before your hike. You want to make sure they are very, very comfortable.
- A hiking pole or walking stick is handy for balance, especially when walking through steams or around rocks. Walking sticks are also great for people who suffer from knee or leg injuries.
- The sun is stronger than ever, which is why you also need good sunscreen and a sun hat to protect you from harmful ultra-violet rays.
3. Watch for wildlife
Regardless of where you are hiking in Canada, there is always the potential to come across wildlife such as bears, moose, deer, mountain goats, sheep, cougars and mountain lions. As exciting as this sounds, animals can react violently if disturbed or approached – particularly if they have babies with them.
Stay vigilant, and if you see any wildlife, appreciate it quietly from afar. And never, ever feed the animals. If you see an animal carcass, walk quietly and quickly away from it. Other predators may be nearby.
Consider carrying bear spray or pepper spray with you if you are headed into a heavily populated wildlife area. (Some national parks will insist that you carry an animal repellent spray. Check their websites or consult with a park ranger.)
4. Let someone know where you’re going
Make sure you let a friend or family member know where you are going, and when you expect to return. Only they will know if you are missing or not, and can alert the authorities.
5. Know your limitations
An average hiker travels 3-4 kilometres an hour. If the trail is steep, you can add another hour for every 300 metres of elevation gain. If you’re packing a lot of equipment, have small children in tow, or encounter bad weather, your travel speed will be affected. Give yourself plenty of time to get there and back, safely.
6. If you get lost….
Stay calm. Look for shelter and ration your supplies. Don’t try to find your way back unless it is absolutely necessary. This may hinder any search efforts that are underway.
When you’re equipped with the right gear and smart hiking know-how, you can surrender to your sense of adventure and take in our beautiful country one glorious trail at a time.
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