Which one of the thousands of miles of great hiking trails throughout Utah is next on your bucket list? With more than 70 percent of Utah comprised of public land, it feels like there’s a national park, national forest or national recreation area at every turn.
Some of our state’s trails are great for heavy-duty backpacking excursions, but there are plenty of family-friendly, out-and-back or loop hikes suitable for all ages and fitness levels. Before you hit the dusty trail for a day of nature worship, be sure you know how difficult the trail is and follow these five safety rules.
1) Never hike alone
“There’s safety in numbers” is never truer than when you’re venturing out into the wilderness. You’re vulnerable to a host of unfortunate events and unforeseen conditions that put your health and safety at risk. If you don’t hike with at least one other person, be sure you have a clear plan, and let someone know exactly where you intend to hike and when they should expect your return.
2) Carry plenty of water
Whether it’s summer or winter, or you’re hiking in the desert or mountains, staying sufficiently hydrated is imperative. Experts advise that each person carry one liter of water for every two hours of hiking time. That’s one full gallon per person for a full day of hiking. You can ensure your safety by taking along a portable water filter, which can be your literal lifesaver should an accident or other delay cause you to deplete your supply of water. It’s a good idea to keep water purification tablets in your hiking pack as well. If you plan to use these tablets, make sure to read this guide from All About Water Filters to understand how you can use them safely.
3) Protect your ankles
You won’t have the luxury of being carried out if you turn your ankle on a remote trail. The American Hiking Society advises that trail shoes make appropriate footwear for a short day hike that doesn’t require you to carry a heavy pack or navigate rugged terrain. But when you’re tackling longer, more technical hikes and carrying a heavier load, you’ll want to invest in a pair of hiking boots for greater support.
The American Hiking Society recommends you find the proper comfort and fit by choosing a boot that:
- •Works well with the shape of your feet, allowing a bit more room at the toe than you may be accustomed to.
- •Locks your heel firmly into place and prevents it from moving up and down.
- •Holds your foot securely, not allowing it to twist or tip over.
- •Has a tread deeper than the average running shoe for good traction.
- •Feels good as soon as you put it on, preferably without the need for a lot of breaking-in.
Get used to your new footwear with short, one- or two-mile hikes, and then extend the distance as the comfort increases. You can even wear your boots around the house in case they do get uncomfortable since some stores accept returns provided the shoes have not been worn outdoors.
4) Dress in layers
The temperature and weather conditions can change in a heartbeat when you’re out on a trail. Knowing the best fabrics and dressing in layers prepares you for whatever Mother Nature throws at you. Choose athletic clothing made from synthetic fabrics such as nylon, polyester, spandex or Lycra. These physique-hugging materials offer ease of movement, and the moisture-wicking properties pull sweat away from your skin and allow it to evaporate.
For cool-weather hikes, opt for tightly woven fleece fabrics that offer great warmth and wind protection. Wool is another good choice. It’s soft on your skin, great at heat retention, and shares the moisture-wicking properties of synthetic materials without the odor sometimes found in synthetics. Avoid cotton: it retains water and won’t keep you to dry.
5) Carry a well-stocked daypack or backpack
Once you find the perfect pack that you can carry comfortably, fill it with these essentials:
- • Flashlight or headlamp. The National Park Service suggests you carry a headlamp on every hike, even short day hikes.
- • GPS with a map and compass as back up
- • Knife or multi-purpose tool
- • Extra food in the form of high-energy snacks to keep your energy up if you are out longer than expected
- • A fold-up poncho, extra socks and a hat for sudden rainstorms
- • Bug spray to ward off mosquitos and ticks
- • Sunscreen and sunglasses to prevent snow blindness and sunburn
- • Matches to start a campfire to prevent hypothermia
- • A whistle to signal for help if you get lost and for startling wild animals
For longer hikes, assembling a basic first aid kit that can handle common mishaps is a good idea.
Would you like to partner with a doctor who shares your passion for the great outdoors? When he’s not treating patients at North Orem Family Medicine, Dr. Abe Tomco is exploring the beautiful mountains of Utah with his wife and four children. Dr. Tomco is an avid rock, ice and mountain climber who thrives on backcountry adventure and challenging situations. Dr. Tomco loves sharing his passion for preventive medicine and the trails of Utah with children, adolescents and adults.
About the Author
As a physician, I love helping people through stressful times when they may be sick or hurt. It really helps people to have someone they can trust when making an important medical decision. I love teaching people about healthy lifestyles and showing them how they can prevent a future illness. I also enjoy the challenge and high stress levels of rural emergency medicine and wilderness medicine. The patient should receive all the information they need to be an equal partner in decision-making and feel empowered about caring for their body. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.