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Hiking Safety Tips to Enjoy the Great Outdoors

As the weather warms, it’s the perfect time of year to get outside and explore. While we encourage Oklahomans to get out and be active, it’s also important to stay safe.

Hiking is a fun and beautiful way to do low- to mid-intensity cardio. Other health benefits of hiking include lowering risk of heart disease, improving blood pressure, boosting bone density, building leg and core strength, improving balance, potential weight loss and improving mood — just to name a few.

If you’re not an experienced hiker but are thinking about trying a few Oklahoma hiking trails this year, we’ve compiled a few hiking tips to help you prepare for your first hike while staying safe and, most importantly, enjoying the great outdoors.

What to wear on a hiking trip

When it comes to hiking, appropriate apparel is key for both comfort and safety. Here are a few things you should wear on every hike, no matter the weather.

hiking boots

Boots

While some people prefer to wear tennis shoes while hiking, there are many benefits of investing in a good pair of hiking boots. Hiking boots are recommended because they provide traction. If you’re hiking in an area that is wet, slippery or steep, hiking boots will grip the ground and keep you from slipping. Hiking boots also provide support and stability to your feet and ankles, which prevents twists and sprains while walking on uneven terrain. Finally, boots will keep your feet dry when walking through shallow streams or mud.

Layers

Weather can change quickly, especially in Oklahoma. It’s important to wear layers that you can take off or put on as the weather changes. It’s recommended to wear a base layer for warm weather, a long-sleeved layer for chilly weather and a waterproof outer shell in case of rain. If you’re hiking in the colder months, you should wear a winter coat, gloves and a warm hat.

Long pants

Summers can get hot in Oklahoma, but it’s important to wear lightweight, long pants when hiking. This will protect your skin from ticks and poison ivy. Long pants will also protect you from scrapes and cuts caused by tall grass, branches or thorns. 

High socks

It’s important to pair the right sock with your hiking boots to provide dry protection and cushioning for your feet. If you’re wearing high ankle boots, make sure you wear high socks to avoid chaffing. Socks can also protect against ticks and scrapes. Make sure you look for fast-drying fabric, like merino wool, so your socks don’t get soggy or sweaty throughout your hike.

Sunscreen

No matter the season, sunscreen is a must for every hiker. Sun exposure can cause burns and other skin damage that may increase your risk of skin cancer. Always apply sunscreen to any exposed skin before you leave for a hike, even on cloudy or cool days. 

What to bring on a day hike

Backpack

A proper hiking backpack offers supportive straps around the shoulders and torso to prevent back pain caused by uneven distribution of weight. You don’t need a large pack. A small daypack can carry everything you need, without putting strain on your shoulders or back.

Water

Always bring water, flavored water or a sports drink on your hike, especially in the hot summer months. It’s recommended that you bring about one liter of water per two hours of hiking. So, if you plan to go on a four-hour hike, you should bring at least two liters of water. However, you should never carry more than four liters of water because the weight could strain your back. If you do plan to go on a long, all-day or multiple-day hike, look into water filtration options to ensure you have enough water to stay hydrated on the trail.

Light snacks

Hiking burns calories. Packing snacks will help keep your energy up throughout the hike. Also, if you’re hiking over lunch, you might want to bring a sandwich, jerky, nuts, dried fruit or another substantial snack. It’s better to be prepared than to become hungry or lightheaded in the middle of a hike.

First aid kit

Bring a basic first aid kit on every hike, just in case an emergency arises. Your first aid kit should include antibiotic ointment, Benadryl, ibuprofen, bandages and medical tape.

A buddy

Unless you are a seasoned hiker, it’s smart to use the buddy system. Hiking with a friend is more enjoyable and safe. If one of you gets injured, the other can seek help. A buddy can also help with navigation.

Map

If you are going to an unfamiliar or poorly marked trail, always bring a map. If you are unfamiliar with an area, it’s easy to take a wrong turn, lose the path or become lost. If you don’t have a map to guide you back to the right trail, you could find yourself lost after dark. A trail map can help you stay on the right path or guide you back to the trail if you do become lost.

Knife

Many hikers swear by hiking with a knife. Knives have multiple uses, like cutting wood, rope or food. Knives are typically not a great defense against large wild animals, but they may come in handy for smaller tasks.

Matches

Even on a day hike, matches can come in handy. If you get lost and must stay overnight, fall into cold water or get caught in a heavy rain, building a fire can help you stay warm and dry. You can buy waterproof matches or simply seal your matches in a waterproof container. 

What to do before you leave

Prior to leaving for your hike, you should plan out your route. How far will you be hiking and how long will it take you? This will determine your departure time and water supply. Make sure you have plenty of time to complete your hike during daylight hours. Be aware of any challenging terrain on the trail and any wild animals commonly found in the area.

Always check the weather forecast before you set out on a hike. This especially important in Oklahoma, as harsh weather can come on quickly. Pack protective layers for poor weather, but if the forecast calls for heavy rain, hail, lightning or storms, postpone your hike. You do not want to be out in the open during severe weather.

Before you leave, tell someone where you’re going and when you will be back. Plan to check in with that person when you are done with your hike. Even if you are hiking with a buddy, make sure you tell someone who will not be on the hike with you. If problems arise and you don’t make it home by nightfall, this person will know to seek help.

Things to avoid when hiking in Oklahoma

Avoid poison oak and poisons ivy when hiking — both are common in Oklahoma and can cause severe allergic rashes. Poison ivy and poison oak can both be identified by having three leaflets to each stem. Remember the saying, “Leaves of three, let them be!” Wearing high socks and long pants can also protect against these poisonous plants.

Oklahoma is home to three different venomous snake species that you should avoid while hiking: cottonmouths, copperheads and rattlesnakes. Walking on a clear trail can help you avoid accidentally coming in contact with a snake. Be sure to wear boots that cover your ankles if you’re walking in tall grass and always pay attention to where you are stepping.

Now that you have everything you need to stay safe on the trail, it’s time to get out there and have fun in the great outdoors. Oklahoma offers a wide variety of hiking trails to choose from, so grab your hiking buddy and enjoy!

 

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