11 Women's Hiking Safety Tips
Safety is a huge priority for all hikers no matter who you are, whether you’re a man or a woman, whether you’re hiking solo or with someone else, whether you’re on flat, grassy plains or among the towering mountains. Hiking safety should be a top priority for hikers and backpackers of all experience levels. Here are eleven tips on women’s hiking safety that should give you some peace of mind the next time you hit the trail.
Always tell someone where you’re going
This is the first and possibly most important tip when it comes to women's hiking safety, and yet even seasoned hikers sometimes don’t follow through with this rule. Always tell someone you trust where you’re going, whether it’s for long-distance backpacking trips or short day hikes on popular trails. People need to know where to look for you in the unfortunate event that you go missing. Even if you’re going with a partner or a group, make sure someone back in civilization knows where you’re going to be. And when you return, be sure to check in with your friends and family to assure them that they don’t need to send the cavalry.
But don’t post where you’re going on social media
A less obvious but still very important aspect of women's hiking safety. Don’t alert a world full of ill-intended predators where you’re going to be and when, especially if you’ll be alone. Wait until you’re back, and then post all about it. But don’t end up in a murder documentary possibly called Killed in the Woods.
Check the weather before you go
Weather can change on short notice. Weather patterns, especially in the mountains, can be unpredictable. If you find yourself caught in severe weather, seek shelter away from open areas. Try to stay clear of high peaks in the middle of the day and early afternoon. Summer thunderstorms catch many hikers out in the open. If you find yourself in a lightning storm, count the number of seconds between the light and the thunder. If it’s two seconds or less, you need to be worried.
Bring extra sunblock and water for hot sunny weather. Bring a jacket and rain gear in case it’s cold or rainy. And research ahead of time if there is a place to take shelter along your route in case you find yourself caught in severe weather.
Bring those extra things you probably won’t need
Listen to Simba’s uncle, and be prepared. Even if it’s going to be a short hike, it’s safer to be over prepared than underprepared. Bring extra gear, clothing, and resources even if you probably won’t need them. Here are some things that you should always have with you:
A pocket knife
Extra food and electrolytes
An extra pair of socks
Sunscreen and bug spray
Your phone. For more intense hikes, a satellite phone could be useful
A rain jacket and poncho
A first aid kit
Lighter or matches
A water filtration device. Not to be confused with a water flirtation device. Aquaman won’t be on your hike. Use something like a LifeStraw.
Be up-to-date with your doctor’s visits
Backpacking alone in the wilderness is not the place to have a medical emergency. Women's hiking safety begins long before we actually hit the trail. As we get older, our bodies start to change and sometimes betray us. You may have an underlying medical condition. If you experience any abnormal symptoms, talk to your doctor about it before venturing out on any big hiking trips where you'll be much more vulnerable to sickness and ailments. You may need medication or other treatment. The remote wilderness is not the place to have a ruptured ovarian cyst, so be conscientious of your body and make sure you won’t run into any icky problems out in the woods.
Trust your gut
Ninety-nine times out of one hundred, I trust other hikers. They’re usually like you and me, just out for a hike to experience the outdoors and get some exercise. Maybe they’re on their own soul-searching adventure. But that one time out of one-hundred, someone might have ulterior motives on a trail where a woman could be hiking alone. If you get a bad gut feeling about someone, to hell with politeness. It’s better to be rude than dead. You have no obligation to be nice, and if you get a bad feeling about someone, excuse yourself and seek help. Always be aware of whether someone is following you. If someone is following you and making you uneasy, stop and let them pass.
Don’t go alone if you don’t feel safe
Once again, trust your gut. If you don’t feel right about a trail or an area for any reason, it’s okay not to be brave. Find a hiking partner or even bring your dog or someone else’s dog for extra protection and peace of mind. Your wellbeing and hiking safety is more important than solitary soul searching, believe it or not.
Know how to read a map and compass
A map and compass is outdoor survival 101. If you are going with a partner, don’t trust that he knows what he’s doing. Men often emit confidence to cover up their inadequacies. They don’t always know what they’re doing, so don’t rely on someone else’s brain. Use your own. Know where you are and how to find your way again if you get lost. Get the most up-to-date map or download it onto your phone so you can use it without service.
Yes, women's hiking safety certainly concerns safety around animals. Here are some animals you may encounter. They are unlikely to cause problems, but you still need to be aware of the potential danger.
Bears: No, your period blood probably doesn’t attract bears. But if you are concerned, a menstrual cup is surely the way to go. Bear bells are another common bear safety tool, though they may or may not actually be effective. There are a lot of differing opinions about bear bells. The bear can probably smell you long before you see him, but if you are still worried, it will do no harm to jingle all the way.
There are different safety precautions for different species of bear. The general rule is: If it’s black, fight back. If it’s brown, lie down. If it’s white, good night. However, it makes a better silly rhyme than it does actual survival advice. If you plan to be in bear territory, make sure to check with the nearest park service about what precautions to take and what actions to take in the event of an unlikely bear encounter.
Mountain lions: These cool cats may also pose a small threat depending on where you plan to hike. Mountain lions, especially young juvenile males, could be dangerous to hikers who are smaller in stature. Attacks are very rare. Most likely they will stalk you and watch you out of curiosity. If you encounter one, make yourself look as big as possible and back away slowly. Don’t run, as this can incite their predatory instinct to hunt.
Large herbivores: Deer are generally harmless. Moose, elk, and bison should be observed from a safe distance, as they could charge if they feel threatened. These animals are potentially more dangerous than bears or mountain lions.
Snakes: Listen for the sound of rattlesnakes. If you hear it, stop and back away. I always wear high-top hiking boots, as most bites happen around the ankles. Never go hiking with your earbuds/headphones on. You need to be well aware of your surroundings and any potential threats that you may face.
Pepper spray is a girl's best friend
Maybe I’m paranoid, but I don’t leave home without some pepper spray (supermarket creepers beware). Aim for the forehead just above the eyes. Then run for help. I love to hike, but I’m also a nervous person. If you’ve got a crazy ex boyfriend, you might be a little nervous, too. Having pepper spray easily accessible makes me feel much safer.
Don’t ever panic. Whether you’re facing danger or might be lost, staying calm and thinking it through will be of your benefit. Some trails can be hard to follow. Stop and analyze where you are. What looks familiar? What doesn’t? Retrace your steps. If you’ve been on a trail with a lot of footprints and you suddenly don’t see shoe tracks anymore, retrace. If you encounter any kind of danger, remaining calm will give you a fighting chance.
By following these general guidelines on women’s hiking safety, you could save yourself a heap of trouble. Get out there, have fun, stay safe, and make good choices.