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AAA World Article

Day-Hiking Safety Essentials

The measures taken to ensure a safe hike in an unfamiliar area.

By MeLinda Schnyder

AAA World Article

Palo Duro Canyon State Park,
Photo by MeLinda Schnyder

Last May, I hiked the nearly five-and-a-half-mile Lighthouse Trail in Palo Duro Canyon State Park in Canyon, Texas. While rewarding,
my solo hike was also exhausting due to sweltering temperatures above 100 degrees Fahrenheit in the middle of the day—and trail surfaces as hot as 130 degrees—as well as a lack of shade. In fact, during my stay in the area, there were at least two emergency evacuations inside the park and a heat-related death on the same trail I hiked.

Here are the measures I took to ensure a safe hike in an unfamiliar area—and a few other things I could have done, according to Jeff Davis, assistant superintendent for the park.

 Palo Duro Canyon State Park
Palo Duro Canyon State Park Lighthouse Trail view point
Photo by MeLinda Schnyder

Know the area. Research the specific area online or via guidebook in advance, and then stop at park headquarters upon arrival for up-to-the-minute information.

Know your ability. Be realistic about your fitness ability and comfort level based on the weather, elevation and conditions where you’re hiking. Remember, your pace will be slower with elevation or when carrying a pack.

Watch the weather. Learn what to expect of the climate where you’re hiking, and schedule the time of year as well as the time of day accordingly. Palo Duro officials, for example, often recommend getting an early start in the summer so that you’re off the hiking trails before 11 a.m. when the temperatures begin to soar. Watching the daily forecast once you’re in the area is important, too, says Davis.

Sip plenty of water. Take enough water for the length of your hike, or let the amount of water you have determine how long you walk. Sipping regularly is crucial, Davis says, because it helps you regulate how much water you have left. Typically, people get in trouble when they chug water all at once and then have none left for the return hike.

Wear sun protection. Always use sunscreen, sunglasses, a hat with a wide brim and protective clothing. A lightweight, synthetic long-sleeve shirt and long pants not only protect you from the sun but also can keep you cooler in the heat.

Share your plans. If you’re hiking alone or going off-trail, let someone know where you are going and how long you plan to be gone.

Bring a day pack; it can save your life. Even if you’re planning to hike for just a few hours, you should be prepared to survive for a few nights, just in case. That means packing your day pack with food, a first-aid kit and other emergency items. For what to carry in a day pack, Davis encourages hikers to consult recreation company REI’s Ten Essentials list, which includes navigation, a headlamp, sun protection, first aid, a knife, materials for a fire, shelter, extra food and water, and extra clothes.


This article originally appeared in the May/June 2019 edition of AAA World.

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