10 Hiking Hazards You Should Be Aware of


Hiking can be very exciting and rewarding, making memories for life; however, you should never forget that nature sometimes can be particularly cruel if you aren’t prepared to meet some challenges related to this activity and be caught off guard. There are always details and dangers you should know that are specific to the environment you are hiking in. So, make your research, plan carefully, get a pair of nice hiking shoes suitable for the environment you will be hiking in, and try to be as prepared as possible. Remember that underestimating nature and natural forces can not only be a costly mistake but your last one. Having said that, there are some hiking hazards you should be prepared for.

Hiking hazards on the trail

  1. Avalanche

While there will be times where you cannot help being in the midst of an avalanche, there are tools and forecasts that will help you to stay updated on the conditions for the day.

The best thing to do to avoid an avalanche disaster is to steer clear of any snow-covered mountains. However, if you happen to be in the path of a sudden oncoming avalanche, try to move uphill and to the side, in order to avoid the pile-up. You will not be able to outrun it, so don’t try. Just get to the side as quickly as you can to avoid the center, where the snow will be at its deepest. If you’re getting closed in on, drop your equipment and move fast. If there are trees around, try to grab onto one. Although not easy, this will possibly save your life if you can manage to scramble up into a branch quick enough.

If you’re getting buried, try to relax your body and your breathing to conserve energy and oxygen. The more you strain, the deeper you’ll sink. As soon as you’re under, dig a small pocket with your hand or a shovel and this will provide an extra oxygen for you to breathe while waiting for rescuers to find you.

  1. Blizzard or Snowstorm

Struggling on into the teeth of a blizzard when you don’t have to is foolish and risky. It even may be necessary to sit out bad weather for a day or more. A spare pair of gloves and socks to keep on your person is always good to have, along with some food. If you’re camping in the winter, for example, and your site starts to experience a heavy snowfall, you’ll want to make sure that you’ve got enough preserved food to hold you through a few days of rough weather.

Staying hydrated is perhaps the most important thing. A lack of proper hydration will significantly increase your chances of catching hypothermia and frostbite. The easiest way to get some drinkable water is by melting snow with a gas/oil stove like Primus. Once it’s melted, you can drink it without worry. If you’re stuck outside and completely alone during a blizzard, do your best to find some form of shelter.

  1. Falls

Many tourists have died while posing for pictures by scrambling around or just walking too close to a canyon rim. Backcountry hikers have slipped or fallen descending friable rock and talus. Stay focused, use common sense, extreme care, and good hiking shoes or don’t do it. Step back or turn around and stay safe.

Adventurer on a steep cliff

  1. Floods

Floods are most likely to occur in early spring when temperatures rise and snow melts. Most floods happen slowly, over a period of days, but when particular floods come on suddenly (the so-called "flash floods"), they can be fatal.

The first and most important thing to do is to try to get to higher ground. You won’t want to be in the path of the flood. Also, remember that this water isn’t drinkable because it consists of water, mud, clay, and other materials swept away by the flood.

If you need to cross flood waters, and you’re alone, find a pole or a long, sturdy stick to help you while crossing. If you get caught in rushing waters, try to grab a hold of a grounded structure, such as a tree. Being caught in the middle of a natural disaster is terrifying because it is completely uncontrollable. There is nothing to do but wait it out and try to stay alive during the worst of it.

  1. Flash floods

During flash floods, the water level increases almost instantly. If you hear an increasing roar of water, you will only have a few moments to get to high ground. So, do it immediately! That may be your only chance to survive and you should act as fast as possible to try to get out of the flash flood’s way. Remember the best way to survive a flash flood is just to not put yourself in that situation.

Flash floods are a natural force impossible to reckon with unless you’re standing on high ground out of harm’s way. Sudden and unpredictable, they continue to devastate everything in their paths with little warning, not just hikers, but the local people and their community, homes, farms, and livestock.

  1. River crossings

Unbridged rivers and streams can present major hazards. Water is more powerful than many people think, and hikers are drowned every year fording what may look like relatively placid streams. If you don’t think you can cross safely, don’t try. In the end, only experience can tell you whether it’s possible to cross. If you decide fording is feasible, study your crossing point carefully before plunging in. If the water is fast flowing and starts to boil up much above your knees, turn back - it could easily knock you over, and being swept down a boulder-littered stream is not good for your health.

Seasoned hikers commonly cross slow water without incident. But this is a serious, personal safety issue you should strongly consider before embarking on a rim-to-rim hike. Sometimes river crossings can be made as easy as swimming or paddling driftwood logs or small rafts at low water when river temperatures are sufficiently high. However, for example, mountain water is very cold, and you’ll often reach the far side feeling shivery. Remember that safety should be your top priority when you head out on the trail. Know that water can be dangerous so it is important to take your time at water crossings and be especially mindful of the environment.

River crossing

  1. Rockfalls

In most places, it’s a rare event, caused often by flash floods, winter storms or earthquakes. Stay out of the fall line and wild rumbling creek and debris flows. When hiking switchbacks or cross-country, make sure you stay out of the fall line of hikers and mules that can accidentally dislodge a rock from above.

  1. Sprains

Storms, erosion, and hikers are constantly changing the conditions of most trails and routes. Make sure your physical condition and trekking shoes can meet the demands of rugged terrain and sharp rocks and that they provide you with adequate cushioning and ankle support.

Should you sprain your ankle, you'd better follow the RICE procedure.

  1. Weather

Most outdoor hazards are caused by the weather. Wind, rain, snow, thunderstorms, freezing temperatures, thaws, and heat waves all introduce difficulties or dangers. For any given trip, knowing in general what weather to expect should be part of your trip planning. Get reliable weather report for your area before you leave. If you’re going to an unfamiliar area, checking weather patterns for some time in advance can give you an idea of what to expect. For a specific day, check the internet, radio, television, and newspaper forecasts if you can, although even the most detailed recent forecast can be wrong. Mountains are particularly notorious for creating their own weather while the weather has less impact on travel over low-level and below-timberline routes.

  1. Wildfires

Wildfires are highly dangerous and most of them are started by humans, though unintentionally. Dry grasses and trees, a gust of strong wind, and a heat source as small as a half-smoked cigarette or the dying embers of a campfire can cause huge fires. Even a bolt of lightning or heat from the sun can cause a wildfire.

Fires can move quickly, especially in windy, hot conditions. Always have an escape route planned in the event a fire starts near you. Finding hikes far from known fire locations is best to avoid any potential issues. However, if you turn out to be near a wildfire, you better know where the nearest water source is, and how far you are from it. The ideal form of protection would be to get in the water. Outrunning wildfires are very hard to do and you’ll spend all of your needed energy passing up on possible places to wait out the blaze. If you are on a mountain or a hillside, get to the back. You want the flames to travel over you, rather than toward you. Seek shelter under a cliff or a large rock. If possible, put a face mask (if you don’t have one, try to improvise by using a wet shirt or some other part of your clothing) so that the smoke does not choke you.

Construction worker in front of smoke wildfire

Photo by Matthew Henry


Choosing the right hiking shoes can help you avoid some of the hazards on the trail. Additionally, do your research carefully and know what to expect from the environment you will be hiking in. "Pray for the best; prepare for the worst" as the old saying goes. It is your preparedness and quick reaction that might make the difference between life and death when you need to handle an emergency situation. So, be prepared.

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