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How to have a safe (and awesome) hiking trip in the Pacific Northwest

These eight tips will help keep you hiking all season long

As enthusiastic nature lovers in the Pacific Northwest, we look forward to days off, when we can head out on incredible adventures around the region. We call our friends, load up a car, and explore a new area, hoping to have another “best day of the year” out on the miles of trails around Western Washington. While 99.9 percent of us will hike out and back with no issues, accidents still happen—and the start of hiking season is a great time to remind everyone to stay safe and to be smart out in the wilds of the Evergreen State. Some careful planning can keep you hiking every weekend and sharing your pictures and stories—so keep these tips in mind before you hit the trails.

Plan ahead

Instagram is a great place to get inspired, but you’ll need more than a few pictures to learn about a hike. Whether it is the Washington Hikers and Climbers Facebook Page, The Outdoor Society, Washington Trails Association, or The Hiking Project by REI, you easily find ideas and descriptions for a trail that will bring you joy. Finding a trail that might work for your hike, however, is only half the planning.

Once you have found a trail, ask yourself, or people online, questions like: What are the most recent trail conditions, and is it safe for me? How much elevation gain does this hike have? Is the trail well-marked? Will I need a map? How long is the hike? What amenities, if any, can be found at the trailhead? Is it dog-friendly?

Searching for these answers will take some of the mystery from your upcoming hike, and will help you decide if it is indeed the right hike for your day.

Bring the essentials

This is one steadfast rule that the majority of hikers will skimp on: Do not overlook the 10 Essentials. Look at the trail, the usage, and the mileage before heading out. Obviously, on extremely short hikes, your list of essentials is going to be smaller. However, if you are hiking on a trail that has a higher potential for something to go wrong, be smart and bring all ten.

Every hiker should also carry food and water for any hike. A quick rule of thumb is that you should drink around one liter of water every two hours and consume at least 200 calories an hour, although take into account you might be on the trail longer than you planned.

Dress properly

Hiking should be a comfortable activity and your clothes should reflect that. Avoid jeans, cotton shirts, open-toed shoes, crocs, and restrictive clothing. If the terrain you’ll be hiking on has rocks, thin materials like yoga pants can get shredded quickly. REI suggests you wear comfortable, yet sturdy pants, sturdy shoes, a brimmed hat, and polyester, nylon, or merino wool.

A note on cotton: While it’s comfortable and breathable, it’s absorbent and isn’t moisture-wicking, so sweat and moisture will stay with you the rest of the hike. It’s uncomfortable at best and dangerous at worst.

Check the weather

Check the weather for the location where you will be hiking the days leading up to your hike and then double check the morning of your adventure. This will make all the difference in the world. Knowing what the temperature, the chance for rain, and wind speeds will be will help you decide what you’ll need to wear and bring to be successful on your trip.

A foggy day in the Olympics.
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Let someone know where you’re going

Always tell least two people where you are going and when you expect to return. Then stick to your plan and do not deviate from it, unless you have notified your two people on those changes. Once you are back in cell service, contact those people and let them know you are safe and back from the trip. If you aren’t back by the designated time, your contacts should get in touch with the authorities, who can start a search for you. This is honestly one of the simplest ways to stay safe and get rescued should you get stranded on a hike.

Follow the rules

Most hikes have rules posted at the trailhead. These are not suggestions. These rules are there for the safety of you and other hikers and should be taken seriously. All garbage should be packed out and if you have to use the bathroom, do so far from a water source and trail, dig a hole, and bury all biodegradable waste. On every hike, long or short, follow the Leave No Trace Principles and be courteous to your fellow hikers.

Know your abilities—and rest when you need to

You, more than anyone else, know what your body is capable of doing while hiking. The worst thing you can do is to push yourself too hard and get injured or stuck, unable to hike up or down. As soon as you feel out of your comfort zone, take a break, eat some protein, and drink some water/take a rest. If you still feel fatigued after a break of five or ten minutes, showing zero improvement of your health and well-being, call it a day. You are hiking for your enjoyment, so take your time and remember to appreciate the time spent outside.

Stay on the trail

You should always stick to the trail, not just for your safety, but for minimizing impact on the fragile landscapes we enjoy so much. Many injuries and needed rescues occur each day from hikers leaving the trail for a better picture or to make the trip more enjoyable. By staying on the trail, you are also keeping yourself in a well-known area, so if an accident were to occur, Search and Rescue can easily reach you and transport you to safety. Leaving the trail on a hike should only be done for two reasons: to use the bathroom or to avoid an aggressive animal.