Fall Hiking: How to Stay Safe this Season

Hiking season is here! As the trees change color and you start turning the heating in your homes up, many of us are heading out into the woods and mountains for intrepid hikes and camping adventures. And yet, how many of us do it safely? It’s fair to say that most of those who put on their boots and grab a backpack don’t really know if they’re doing things safely, let alone why it’s important to know if they are! Luckily, we’re here to help. In this post, then, we cover all things hiking – from bags, to shoes, to water… we’ve got it all. So, stay tuned!

Let’s start with a few basics. How many of you reading this have watched 27 Hours? Yup, I cringe too. Hiking is an incredibly popular activity, but it can also be very, very dangerous. Because most hikers actually head out on their own, the risk of getting lost or injured is high. In order to mitigate this, it’s always a good idea to know exactly where you’re going: research ahead of time, get maps ready, and always give the directions to someone else for safe keeping. It’s vital that someone knows where you’re going, how long you’ll be gone for, and how to contact you in case of an emergency. Not only will this give your loved ones peace of mind, but it will allow you to make the most of your hike without a nagging sense of worry lurking behind you.

Next up is, of course, hydration. How many times in your life have you heard that you ought to drink more water? Well, this is another one of those times. Staying hydrated is an essential part of any hiking routine, as being outdoors in the sun de-hydrates you at a much faster rate than you realize. In fact, as you sweat you not only lose fluid, but you also lose important electrolytes. What’s that, I hear you ask? Well, salt, sugar, and vitamins, in short. A loss of fluid and electrolytes will eventually mean muscle weakness, fatigue, and a higher potential for injury. So, it’s imperative that you not only gulp that H20, but that you also ensure you’ve got a snack to replenish your lost energy sources. In this way, you can enjoy your walk without the risk of dehydration, exhaustion, or injury.

In so far as hiking is all about the path, it’s also about the shoe! Yes, that’s right – the hiking boot makes the hiker. Ankle, foot, and knee injuries are extremely prevalent amongst hikers, and this is primarily because the majority of them do not wear the right shoe for the level of activity they do. Make sure that the shoe you wear offers you the correct support and comfort – they need to be aligned with your tread, terrain, and speed. If in doubt, ask a physical therapist for advice and recommendations related to your specific routine and body.

Let’s not forget about the backpack. In general, the hiker’s backpack is their pride and joy – it contains all of his/her supplies and is his/her constant companion on the trail. No draw-string backpacks, please! So, it is no wonder that the quality and type of backpack you use is absolutely essential. The main thing to be aware of is that not all hiking backpacks are made equal: be sure to check for proper back and shoulder support. In addition, make sure that the weight in the back is evenly distributed. All too often injury occurs because the weight of the backpack leans more to one side, thereby causing muscle compensation and ultimately injuries to the back and knees. Don’t let this happen to you! Once again, if you’re unsure about which backpack is right for you, simply ask a professional, hands-on physical therapist for advice and help tailored specifically to your body and gait.

Once you have your shoes, backpack, water, and map ready to go, you need to think about what you’re packing! Hiking is 50% preparation and 50% hike. Make sure you have packed all the essentials. These include a small first aid kit, flashlight, warm clothing, water, rations of food, etc. Make sure you take matches or a lighter with you – there is nothing worse than not being able to make a fire when you’re cold or wet! Be sure of the seasons: pack according to the weather, and make sure you have the appropriate clothing needed – keep in mind the temperature gets colder as you get higher in elevation. If you’re have an epi-pen, or if you take medication, make sure these are packed before you head off.

Hiking is one of the most exhilaration forms of exercise, as it not only strengthens your body and mind, but it also fuels your sense of adventure and independence. That having been said, hiking can pose many risks, and, as this post has shown, it is important to mitigate them in so far as possible. If you’re thinking that it may be a bit daunting to tackle this list, don’t fear. Why not contact a professional, hands-on physical therapist for advice? He/she will be able to give you tailored exercises to strengthen your back, neck, and legs in preparation for your trek, will help you become strong and supple, and will give you invaluable advice about the type of gear and shoes you ought to use. In addition, if you’re currently suffering from an injury which prevents you from getting out there, a physical therapist will be able to treat the root cause of the problem, thereby giving you a pain free life… filled with hikes! As a bonus, physical therapy will help you avoid injury by teaching you proper technique and posture. Sounds good, huh? So, what are you waiting for?

Take advantage of the beautiful weather this fall and get your hiking boots on – the proper ones, of course. It’s time to get your blood pumping in the great outdoors – do it safely with the help of physical therapy!

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