A search dog team hot-loads into a National Guard Blackhawk. Photo David Pope Storming the white water on the Merced. NPS photo.

Hiking Safety

How to stay stay safe, on and off the trail: advice from Ranger John Dill
[Risk Factors]     [Prevention]     [If You Get Lost]     [Keeping Perspective]


Any of these factors may put you behind schedule, out after dark, etc. or bring you to a halt altogether.

On the Trail

While you are on a designated trail physical injury or mishap may come as a result of these factors:

Hikers on the John Muir Trail near Donohue 
	Pass. Photo by David Pope.

Losing the trail

Losing the trail can easily occur, even with the experienced hiker. Contributing factors include:

Any of these factors may put you behind schedule, out after dark, etc. or bring you to a halt altogether.

Off the trail

Hiking off trail can be adventurous and fun if you are familiar with and comfortable using a compass and map. Experienced cross-country hikers (even map and compass instructors) are known to get lost when conditions aren't ideal. The following factors should be considered before veering off of the designated trail:

So, expect trouble, but don't expect a rescue. Be responsible for yourself by going prepared. In addition to learning to recognize the pitfalls above, a little gear and planning is in order.

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How to avoid becoming lost or injured.

Before you leave:

What to take - basic items per person (even for a short hike); don't let someone else carry your stuff:


How not to get lost

Know the common pitfalls mentioned above. Watch for examples on the hike. Show these to your kids. Get into the habit of checking behind you periodically, to recognize your backtrail. Learn to watch for the first hint of disorientation.

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How to get found

If you can not get out on your own

If a member of your party is missing

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The vast majority of hikers never get into trouble and we're not advocating that you carry a 50-lb pack every time you go out in your backyard. Agencies like ours may have a warped perspective because we only meet the unfortunate minority. But in their cases, just a few pieces of gear and/or lessons learned might have made a big difference.

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