How do you learn to “hike smart?” That is too say the hiker wisdom, trail sense, and insights about getting along in the natural world that were once routinely passed down from one generation to another.
The best way to learn to hike smart is to take a hike with an experienced hiker. I was fortunate to learn the craft of hiking from Boy Scout leaders, who took the boys of Troop 441 on trails throughout Southern California.
But these days fewer and fewer adults have outdoor skills and are able to impart them. Our disconnect from nature (Nature Deficit Disorder, as it’s sometimes called) and decline in outdoor skills is resulting in a reluctance by some to hit the trail and unnecessary problems for other who go hiking without a clue.
Most hiking accidents can be prevented. National Park Service studies of accidents that required the agency to launch a search and rescue operation determined that 99 percent of these accidents could be prevented by rudimentary outdoors knowledge, better preparations and the proper gear.
On trails everywhere around the world, hikers face a variety of challenges. Blisters happen. Mountain meadows are lovely, but they are often inhabited by swarms of mosquitoes. You can have fun in the sun, but too much sun on unprotected skin is no fun at all. And yes, sometimes it rains.
Even with the best of precautions, you can’t avoid hazards altogether on the trail, but you can learn how to minimize them and deal with them when they occur. Master the basics and you’ll be a confident (but not overly confident) hiker who stays safe in the woods, or wherever you hike.
Hiking on a trail is one of the safest activities you can pursue as long as you hike smart—that is to say, plan well, get the right gear, master certain outdoor recreation skills, obey human and natural laws, and use common sense.
If you’ve been hiking for a while, you probably know some—or many—ways to hike smart. Ultimately, when hikers learn to hike smarter, they can concentrate on the most rewarding parts of hiking: reaching wonderful places accessible only by trail, and reconnecting with friends and family in the great outdoors.