The reasons people hike are varied, but often include fitness, an appreciation for nature, spirituality, or just for recreation. Here are some tips that will help make for a better and safer hike.
Risks - For those new to hiking, it's important to be aware of any risks for a hike being planned. Being aware of these risks should play a part in what is selected for equipment to take on the hike. Some of the most common hazards that hikers encounter, include injuries, illness, inclement weather, forest fires, disorientation, sunburn, dehydration, frostbite or hypothermia. There are risks from nature, as well. A wise hiker will take steps to minimize his or her risks, whether they are the small things like poison ivy and mosquitoes, or potentially more serious things like tick diseases, snakebites, or attacks from wild animals. According to forest service officials and seasoned hikers in this area, such encounters with snakes or aggressive animals are quite rare. But, one should be alert, nevertheless.
Equipment - There is a large variety of equipment that hikers select from in planning outings that will last for at least several hours, or longer. These things would include, but not be limited to: water, backpack or supply pack, compass, good trail map, sunscreen, insect repellent, lip balm, light rain gear, a super lightweight space blanket, extra clothing if it is cold out, a hat, sunglasses, first aid kit, and food. Other kinds of gear that are favorites would include cameras, GPS equipment, a radio for weather updates, and cell phones. Some hikers that go into areas where there are mountain lions, coyotes, or other unfriendly animals, will sometimes carry pepper spray or air horns. Those planning an overnight hike will need to pack in all the overnight gear of their choosing.
Foot Care - Blisters are a common problem for hikers. It's far better to avoid blisters, than to have to deal with them after the fact. Good, sturdy, but comfortable footwear is a must. One must understand that a sweaty foot is more prone to blisters. Hikers approach this in several ways. One method that works well for many is to generously coat the toes, and balls of the feet if necessary, with Vaseline. Others prefer specially designed socks that wick moisture away from the feet. Some like foot powders to keep their feet dry. Some hikers do several changes of socks on long hikes. A serious hiker will find what works best for him or her, and stick with that.
Hiking Ethics - Most hikers are conscientious and considerate. There are some common standards of ethics practiced by good hikers. These things would include: making sure to obtain permission to hike on private property; respecting the solitude and peacefulness of the surroundings by not shouting, or playing music loudly, or setting off fireworks (also a great fire hazard and usually illegal); being courteous to other hikers, including giving uphill hikers the right-of-way on trails; not snapping tree branches back on hikers following; not defacing rocks, trees, signs, etc.; stopping to assist another hiker in need; and being careful to protect the environment. Please be aware of occasional horseback riders on these trails. Horses can sometimes spook easily, so please give right-of-way to horse traffic.
Dogs on the trails, especially loose dogs cause problems every year. Nearly every dog owner assumes their dog would never attack hikers, yet it happens many times on trails around the nation every year. Dog owners who allow this to happen usually can’t be reasoned with, so your only defense is carrying pepper spray or some other form of repellent or deterrent to protect yourself or your children.
Fire Dangers - Historically, fire has been the greatest risk hikers and mountain bikers have posed to the environment. Often, there is no really good reason hikers need to make fires, since there is such a wide variety of foods that preserve well and do not need to be cooked before consumption. But, for those who must make a fire, it is important to double all efforts to make sure not even a spark or ember remains of the fire. Smokers need to apply the same effort to make sure everything is totally extinguished. Shooting off fireworks in forest areas is irresponsible and reckless and can lead to very steep fines and even jail time.
Protecting the Environment - Hikers can minimize the impact of hiking to the ecology, by making sure they pack out all trash; not polluting streams, lakes, or springs; staying on trails - especially when the ground is very sensitive after precipitation; not disturbing the wildlife; and following any other special precautions posted by landowners or government agencies.
Finding Your Pace - Those who make hiking a regular event in their lives, soon learn they have a certain pace that they are most comfortable with. Hiking in groups can often be fun. But, if there are many varying paces, the hike can become a logistical nightmare, and even dangerous, if it leads to stragglers getting lost or left behind for some reason. Group hikes should be organized so that all hikers can be accounted for at all times. Having a designated leader and a “whip” at the end of the line usually works well. If this arrangement is not possible, it is better to just hike only with those whose pace is compatible to yours.
Getting Lost - For hikers planning on hiking into remote areas, it is especially important to have one or more partners with you - especially if you are going off-trail. Bringing a first-aid kit and plenty of water is a wise choice. While a cell phone may be of some help, one should not assume it will be a sure solution for getting help if lost or injured. If injured, one is not always conscious to make a call. And, even if an injured hiker is conscious, cell phones are notorious for not working in remote areas, due to interference from steep hillsides or canyon walls. GPS units, normally quite helpful, are also subject to failure, whether it is dead batteries, damage from being dropped or lost along the way. Carrying a small compass is always a good idea. Bringing a good map of the area you are hiking through adds to integrity of your planning.
Off-trail hiking (or “bushwhacking”) is not advisable for novice hikers, or those who do not know how to read maps, or anyone with physical limitations or weaknesses. The further from a road or trail, the greater is the chance of getting lost. This can be further compounded by thick forests, nightfall and inclement weather. One of the most important things to do while hiking is to take mental notes of your surroundings, so that you can find your way back if you get off-trail or if your trail just fades out. Remember, while walking back the way you came, the perspective will be different. Some hikers use digital cameras to take a series of photos of landmarks, so they can follow those landmarks back in reverse order. However, dead batteries or a lost camera can ruin even that.
If you must hike solo, it is very important to make a written route plan, including an expected return time. The plan should be left with someone very dependable who will check for a safe return. A hiker may also be able to advise the local sheriff's office of any solo trip plans, along with their expected return time and contact information. Another option, relatively new and free, is for a hiker to register their outing with TrailNote.com. If the hiker does not return by the registered time, authorities will know where to search in a timely manner. By doing this, the chances are greatly increased of actually rescuing a missing hiker. If you do find yourself lost, it is usually better to stay where you are at and make a safe and dry shelter that will be visible to rescuers.
For more details on how to avoid getting lost, click on this link: HikeSafe.com
Rock Climbing - Much of the butte and canyon rock composition in the Panhandle region is a mixture of sandstone, siltstone, a type of a chalky limestone, and volcanic ash. In some places the composition has been cemented together fairly well by nature. However in most places it is rather soft or crumbly. Also, if using trees for anchors, the root systems are often very horizontal, as evidenced by all those you will see blown over. Technical climbers will find few if any places for reliable anchors. Rock scrambling is generally the best that can be done on Nebraska summits and canyons.
More About Hiking - If you would like to study more about hiking or hiking resources, please visit our Resources Page for links to other hiking websites. Tread & Soul, our sister site for the Black Hills - Badlands Area also covers hiking safety and hikers tips.