Safe hiking practices

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Recent events made me rethink my hiking practices. Safety always was a concern for me, but I realized that still not everything was in place. For instance, what would happen if I was hiking on my own and something happened to me? Would others be able to find me quickly enough? So I started looking for tools that specifically address this issue. But that for later, first what are my normal practices.

What to take with you?

I always take a belt pouch with me with what I consider essentials for hiking:

  • First of all sufficient water. I know my needs, so for a normal hike I take a bottle with 0.75 liters (cold) water. When I go for a long hike or a very challenging hike I take a larger bottle of 1 liter water. If needed I take a different pouch that enables me to take 2 bottles of water or I take a backpack with me that can hold more than enough water. It is always a compromise between how light I want to hike and how much water I think I need during the hike. A good option is also to put another bottle of water in your car so you can replenish at the end of your hike.
    I like cold water so I fill my bottle with water (about half full) and then put it in the freezer till the next hike. 
  • A small EHBO-kit. This should at least contain:
    • some band aid for small injuries
    • tweezers to remove splinters
    • some gauze pads and tape for larger injuries
    • alcohol pads to disinfect
    • some antihistamine in case you get an allergic reaction from a plant or bee sting.
    • some paracetamol tablets (optional)
    • of course any medicine that you normally need during the time that you are hiking.
  • Some duct tape; I use this to tape a shoe sole that gets loose during the hike. I wound some duct tape around a small medicine bottle so that it takes not much space.
  • A (head) light in case it gets dark or you have to enter a dark cave
  • Pruning shears if you expect some plant obstruction on your path (this I have not always with me)
  • A smart phone with GPS
  • One or more small bites to give you extra energy if needed
  • Extra shoe lace in case the one in use breaks (optional)

During the hike

  • If possible, don't hike alone (a rule that I frequently ignore during the Covid-19 pandemic);
    when hiking in a group during the Covid-19 pandemic, always keep a safe distance 
  • Know you limits! Don't go on a hike that exceeds your abilities. Be extra careful when you encounter steep slopes up or down during the hike. 
  • Let the people at home or a contact person know where you will be hiking and when you expect to be back home
  • Check the weather forecast so that you don't encounter unforeseen conditions during the hike
  • Take a rest when you are tired
  • Drink sufficient water during the hike
  • Eat a snack when you feel the need
  • And, most importantly, enjoy your hike

In case of an emergency

Hiking is not a dangerous activity but there can always something unforeseen happen during the hike. You can trip and get injured so that further hiking is not possible without assistance. You can get disoriented so that you don't know how to get back. You can get unwell or even unconscious. Without help you are in immediate danger. Be always aware of this but also don't be overly cautious because then you will never again go on a hike. All these things can also happen when walking in the streets but in that case help is more readily available. 

When you hike with one or more other people you can rely on them to assist you in solving the problem. In case you walk alone you have to rely on yourself. In both cases your exact location is of importance to direct rescuers if needed. It is this last aspect that made me look at tools to can provide help in this situation.

Your phone is the most important tool in such a case. As long as you are conscious you can call for help. But when unconscious your phone is of no help unless an automated tool is active. 

I always use a tracking app on my phone. I use Locus Map Pro. Unfortunately this app is only available for Android based phones and not for iPhone. If you have an iPhone you should search for an app with a similar function for your phone.
I use Locus Map Pro to guide me during my hike based on tracks that I have recorded previously or that I have imported from other hikers. So this tracking app is always active during the hike. It is this app that also provides me with the option of "live tracking". A feature that I never used but that could be a life saver. When activated (and I have set it to start automatically when I start the tracking app) it sends every 15 seconds (or a self chosen other interval) your exact location to a website. You have the option to post it publicly, so that everyone can see where you are, or in a private group (only people that know the passcode can see where you are). I have chosen to post publicly. During a recent hike I tested this function and my wife at home was able to constantly see where I was. If something happens the last location stays active for as long as the phone works. So, if I do not arrive at the expected time after the hike my wife / contact person can check if I am still moving or that I am stuck somewhere. If I don't respond to a call then for sure something serious has happened and the rescue-organizations should be warned. Because of the live tracking function my exact location is known, so rescuers know where to find me.
This solution requires that you have an active Internet connection during the hike. The advantage is that no further interaction from your side is needed to show your exact location. So this also works if you are unconscious. 

What3words
A second tool does not need Internet but relies on SMS. It is based on "What 3 words". The whole world is divided in 9 x 9 feet squares, each with a unique combination of three words attached. The app What3words is able to retrieve these 3 words based on your current GPS position. You can give these three words to the rescue organization or contact person during a call or you can send these from the app via SMS. The receiver of the SMS can click on the link in the SMS to know exactly where you are.
The only disadvantage of this tool is that you have to act yourself, so this does not work when you are unconscious or unable to use your phone.

With one or both tools in place on your phone you have an extra safety measure in place in case something happens during the hike and you need external help. Check out these tools or tools with similar functionality and start using them for your own safety.

Useful tips received from others

After publication of this article and sharing it on my FB-page I received a number of very useful other apps with similar functionality to share your real time location:

  1. Whatsapp live location sharing. Whatsapp has a function to share your actual location during a period determined by you (max 8 hours) to people determined by you. This function requires an active Internet connection during the hike and also works if you are unconscious or unable to use your phone.  
    Click on this link to get more information how to activate this functionality.
  2. Google maps location sharing. Google Maps has functionality to share your actual location during a period determined by you to people determined by you. This function requires an active Internet connection and also works if you are unconscious. 
    Click on this link for more information how to activate this functionality.