Is Hiking Dangerous?

Is Hiking Dangerous compared to other Sports?

Let’s face it, every pastime can be dangerous if you aren’t careful. But, Hiking, due to the extremely large number of rapidly changing factors involved can be a dangerous pastime for the unprepared.

In the following paragraphs we’ll highlight the main risks involved in hiking so that you can be better prepared for them, or better still, so that you can avoid them altogether.

What are the Risks of Hiking?

Is Hiking Dangerous - More Dangerous than Skydiving
Safer than Hiking Apparently

The risks of hiking cover as broad a spectrum of risks as we could possibly imagine. I’ll list a few so that you can begin to picture them, then we’ll have a look at some of the more common questions about hiking dangers and see how we can mitigate the risks.

The Risks of Hiking:

  • Mud Slides
  • Avalanches
  • Freezing Injuries
  • Drowning
  • Heat Exhaustion
  • Animal Attacks
  • Muggings
  • Breaking Bones
  • Tearing a Muscle
  • Getting Lost
  • Falls

The list is as depressing as it is long, but one thing jumps out at me when I read it. Everything on the list can be avoided with a bit of knowledge and preparation.

How Common are Hiking Deaths?

Is Hiking Dangerous - The Odds of Dying when Hiking

Well, it appears that Hiking Deaths are not very common at all, which is surely a good thing. The National Center (Centre) for Health Statistics in the USA state that the chances of the average person dying on a hike is in the region of 15,700 to 1, which are pretty good odds in my opinion. That is a 0.006% chance of dying on a hike if you prefer to see your own mortality risk in percentages.

Rather disappointingly, not many hikers in the report were killed by bears, wolves and snake bites. The most common causes of death were put down to:

  • Lack of Knowledge
  • Poor Judgement
  • Inexperience

Do you, like me, see a pattern forming here. Like, if you don’t want to die on your hike, get educated…

Novice Hiker Dangers

Is Hiking Dangerous - Novice Hiking Mistakes

Taking into account the reasons hikers die from above, then surely the group of hikers in the most danger are going to be the novices. Let’s take a look at the top novice hiker dangers next:

  • Being unprepared for the weather conditions
  • Not knowing how to deal with wildlife, snakes, bears, cows etc
  • Hiking on Terrain that is too difficult for Novices
  • Poor Equipment Choices or lack of Equipment
  • Overconfidence in their ability
  • Lack of Food and Water
  • Not taking a First Aid Kit
  • Poor Navigation Skills
  • Turning a Hike into a Climb without proper equipment or training
  • Running down hills
  • Falling off Rocks and Cliffs
  • Climbing Trees
  • River Crossings
  • Altitude Sickness

Really, I could go on and on, but these are some of the most common factors that put novice hikers in danger. Undergoing some form of training such as taking part on DofE Expeditions, joining a Hiking Club or the Ramblers will take care of the majority of the list above, a bit of common sense will take care of the rest.

The Dangers of Trusting your Smartphone – My Fail…

Is Hiking Dangerous - Don't Trust your Smartphone when Hiking

Oh dear, I have to admit it. I have fallen foul of trusting my smartphone in the past, even as the experienced hiker that I am.

The Maps on Smartphones contain very little information compared to a proper map. Maps such as Google Maps and Google Earth lack an awful lot of information and they seem to decide to choose to leave out some things that would be extremely useful. For a start, there are no contour lines on Google Maps, which is where, in my lapse of judgement and laziness, I went wrong.

We were running late and wanted to change our route on the fly to get back before dark, as we were doing a recce on our mountain bikes to speed things up, trying to find a hiking route for the expedition the next weekend.

Rather than stopping and taking off my my daypack to get my map out, I quickly whipped my phone out of my pocket, opened Google Maps and spotted a meandering river about 1 km west that headed down to the local town, there was a track showing next to it, so I decided we would do a little cross country to hit the track and follow it gently down following the river into town.

After all, you’d think meandering rivers would be flowing slowly down towards the sea along flat ground, wouldn’t you? OMG, how wrong could I be? The river itself did indeed meander slowly down the valley, but the track alongside it went up and down and up and down a multitude of unbelievably steep climbs, each one hundreds on feet tall over and over again. It was an absolutely torturous last leg of our recce, and I still get ribbed now by those guys who were with me for selecting it without checking my map.

If I had taken 2 minutes to whip out my map, with some ever so handy contour lines on it, I would have immediately seen that the track was totally unsuitable and we could have stuck to the route we were on. But, guess what? I learned from my mistake, which is what this post is all about, and it educated me to never trust my smartphone for any hiking decisions again.

Is Hiking Alone Dangerous?

The subject of whether hiking alone is dangerous or not is a totally polarising subject large groups of supporters on both sides who give concrete, sensible opinions for and against it. So I’m going to share my opinion and you can decide if you agree with me or not.

I believe that hiking alone is not dangerous, providing have the correct equipment, you are suitably prepared and trained and you are sensible about where you do it. if those simple rules are met, then you should have no trouble at all going out for a solo hike.

Which Season is most Dangerous to Hike in?

Is Hiking Dangerous - Winter Hiking

Statistics show that in the western world, the safest seasons to hike in are Spring, Summer and Autumn (Fall). Therefore, by a process of elimination, the most dangerous season to hike in must be Winter.

So why is winter such a dangerous time to hike? Here is a list of some of the major risks of hiking in the Winter:

  • Rapidly changing weather conditions
  • Extreme Cold
  • Slip Injuries
  • Cold Weather Injuries (Frost Bite, Hypothermia)
  • Dehydration
  • Blizzards
  • Flash Floods
  • High Winds
  • Heavy Rainfall
  • Getting Disorientated and Lost

Is Night Hiking Dangerous?

Is Hiking Dangerous - Night Hiking

Night Hiking is more dangerous than Day Hiking, fact. However, night hiking can be made safer by knowledge, training and preparation. There is that pattern again.

What makes Night Hiking more Dangerous than Day Hiking?

  • Limited field of vision (you can’t see the hazards until it’s too late)
  • Nocturnal Animals such as Bears, Wolves and Snakes in the USA
  • Getting Lost (It’s far harder to navigate at night)
  • Torch Failing (Poor quality equipment)
  • Walking into things like sharp branches
  • Walking off things like Cliffs
  • Walking into things like Lakes, Bogs and Rivers
  • Difficulty in judging distance for routes
  • It’s colder at night
  • Hunters might mistake you for their prey

Is it Dangerous to go Hiking in Extreme Heat?

Is Hiking Dangerous - Extreme Heat Hiking

Hiking in extreme heat can be more dangerous than hiking in temperate conditions, but it can also be very rewarding if you are prepared for it. Following these simple rules should help you hike in the heat with safety:

  • Start your hike early before it gets too hot
  • Cover your head (wear a hat)
  • Stay Hydrated (carry lots of water)
  • Keep your body salts up
  • Rest when you need to (find shade)
  • Take spare kit to change into
  • Know the signs of heat stroke
  • Pick suitable terrain within your abilities

Is Barefoot Hiking Dangerous?

Is Hiking Dangerous - Barefoot Hiking

Did you even know there was such a thing a Barefoot Hiking? I didn’t until recently, and to be honest, I was baffled by it. On a few occasions I’ve been resting my feet during a hike by taking off my boots and socks. If I’ve had to walk even a few step to get something from my backpack and stepped on a pebble or a piece of grit, the pain is unbearable.

This got me wondering how on earth someone can go trundling through the undergrowth without anything on their feet. The answer appears to be, practice. The more you walk in bare feet, the easier it gets, apparently.

Check out this video of the Barefoot Sisters hiking in the rain, very cool:

After reading up on barefoot hiking, I was also surprised to learn that it is actually good for you. There are numerous benefits associated with barefoot hiking, such as:

  • Improved balance
  • Improved coordination
  • Better overall body and spatial awareness
  • Improved posture
  • It relieves plantar fasciitis
  • It strengthens the foot muscles

However, like all things to do with hiking Barefoot Hiking has it’s con’s too:

  • The Pace is slower
  • More likely to get foot injuries like cuts
  • Slipping through lack of grip
  • Splinters
  • Stubbing your toe
  • Thorns, and prickles
  • Insect bites and stings
  • Risk of infections from small cuts
  • Lack of ankle support provided by boots

Is it Dangerous for Women to Hike Alone?

Many women who hike alone do it to get a sense of self-sufficiency. It makes them feel confident about their own abilities to handle challenges without anyone else’s support. However, being a woman and hitting the trails without the required forethought, preparation and safety measures could put you at severe risk.

The fact that women who hike alone don’t feel safe on the trails is a sad reflection of our society, but unfortunately, that’s how it is for the foreseeable future, so it’s probably better that we manage our hikes safely. To that end, here are some helpful safety tips so that female hikers stay safe.

  • Choose Popular Trails over Remote ones
  • Research Trails prior to hiking them
  • Carry appropriate equipment
  • Avoid wearing headphones
  • Trust your instincts
  • Be Confident and Stay Determined

Source: How do Female Hikers Stay Safe…

Is Wearing Headphones on a Hike Dangerous?

Women who Hike alone should not wear headphones

Many people, including myself enjoy wearing headphones when they are out hiking. However, wearing headphones can bring with it additional dangers for hikers.

When you are wearing your headphones, one of your senses, your hearing, is severely impaired. There is the possibility that you could put yourself in danger by not hearing a hazard such as a horse, a mountain biker, e-bike, trail runner or even a bear approaching from behind you.

Also if your headphones have a cord, there is the possibility of the cord getting snagged on a branch of a tree or passing cyclist.

Although the risk of danger is pretty low associated with wearing headphones when hiking, they are still worth mentioning.

So, How Can I Hike Safely?

Looking at the paragraphs above as to what can and does make Hiking Dangerous, it appears to me that there are a few ways we can mitigate or remove the risks involved with hiking quite simply.

  • Get Educated and use your Knowledge of the Outdoors
  • Be Prepared and take the correct equipment
  • Use good Judgement and Common Sense when it is called for
  • And last but not least, gain some real world experience of the Outdoors.