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The onset of the summer season means more time outdoors. One increasingly popular activity and a great way to get exercise and enjoy nature is to go hiking, whether up a mountain, through the woods or along a trail. For many, this is just about the perfect weekend activity.

“Going for a hike is a great way to get away from the stress of everyday life, get some exercise and commune with nature,” said Dr. Anthony Wylie, a family medicine physician at Geisinger-Mt. Pleasant in Scranton. “However, hikers need to remember that there is potential danger when you’re out in the wild.”

Here are a few safety tips to keep in mind before you head to your nearest trail.

Before you hit the trail

  • Go with another person, and stay together at all times. 
  • Know that possible reception issues could prevent you from being able to use your cellphone to call for assistance, or even to use its GPS features. 
  • Let at least one other person know when and where you plan on hiking, and give them a phone number to call in the event you’re not back in a reasonable amount of time. Depending on where you’re hiking, that number could be either local law enforcement’s or a park ranger’s office. 
  • Know the difficulty level of the trail you want to hike. These ratings can vary by trail, but generally use some variation of easy, moderate and difficult based on factors such as overall trail condition, trail width, steepness, changes in elevation and whether there are any natural barriers to cross. 
  • Learn about any toxic plants, snakes and insects you might encounter on the trail you want to hike. Make sure you have a first aid plan. 
  • Take steps to prevent dehydration. “Drinking water before you start your hike is also an important first step to preventing dehydration,” said Dr. Wylie.   

On the trail

  • Stay hydrated. Drink small amounts of water regularly. If it’s hot and you’re sweating a lot, however, then you also need to replace the salts your body is losing. “Trail mix is one good option for replenishing salt,” said Dr. Wylie. “You can also drink sports drinks. However, if you want to avoid the sugar in most sport drinks, plain water with a little salt added can help too.” 
  • Don’t cross any streams barefoot, and consider how fast and deep it is before attempting to cross. 
  • In the event of lightning, your best option is indoor shelter. If that’s not possible, then make sure to leave any metal objects you’re carrying at least 100 feet away from you and avoid tall trees. 
  • For overnight hikes, keep your campfires small, or avoid using them at all. Pay attention to the level of fire danger. 

And in order to hike in the most eco-friendly way:

  • Dispose of any garbage properly. You can also leave a “negative trace” on the environment by disposing of any trash that isn’t yours along the way. 
  • Avoid moving rocks, picking plants or disturbing the natural landscape in any way.

You should always carry an emergency kit when hiking. It should include:

  • A basic first-aid kit 
  • Water 
  • A whistle to blow in case you get lost (three blows of a whistle is a call of distress) 
  • A trash bag or poncho in case of rain, a small flashlight, food (meat jerkies, dried fruit, energy bars and granola bars are a few of the best choices) 
  • A compass

In the event you get lost

As long as you took the time to prepare your emergency kit, you should be able to stay safe until search parties track you down if you abide by these tips:

  • Stay calm. “It’s easy to say and not always easy to do, but avoiding panic is vitally important in difficult situations such as being lost in the woods,” said Dr. Wylie. “Panic makes a difficult situation worse.”
  • Try to remember any landmarks that can lead you back to the trail, but stay put if you can’t think of any, especially if it’s dark or you’re feeling physically exhausted. 
  • If you’re out of water, don’t assume that water you find in the outdoors is safe to drink, even if it’s clear. If you’re lost, you may not be in a position to boil water, so consider taking iodine tablets, chlorine drops or a portable filter. 
  • Lie down so you’ll look bigger from the air. Make sure you’re in a clearing that isn’t obstructed by tree branches. You’ll also conserve energy this way.
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