Whether it’s your first or hundredth hike, it is always a good time for a refresher on how to safely hit the trail, preparing for whatever the elements throw at you.
What does it mean to hike safely? Be prepared with a plan and a backup plan, communicate your itinerary to a buddy, use resources, know where to go, and choose the proper equipment, like quality hiking boots, layers and a first-aid kit.
Washington hikers are spoiled with resources and organizations that support the outdoors, including The Mountaineers, which leads hikes for all experience levels and has a gear library with low-cost rentals for everything from boots to hiking poles and tents.
The Mountaineers, REI, Gearhouse — there are countless places to get the right equipment around Seattle. With safety in mind, here are tips from outdoors experts for planning and taking safe hikes this summer.
Make a plan, rely on resources
Preparing for a hike starts long before the trailhead. Sometimes being safe means starting small.
Ananth Maniam is a hiking and scrambling trip leader for The Mountaineers who has summited more than 100 peaks around Washington state. In addition to utilizing groups like The Mountaineers to build a hiking community, he recommends finding routes with AllTrails, a hike finder app and website, as well as Meetup.com and Facebook hiking groups.
When Maniam started hiking, he relied on buses to get to trailheads, proving you can access the wilderness via public transportation. “If you aren’t ready for something big, you can go to a city park like Discovery Park,” Maniam said.
One of the best places to start when planning a hike is checking out Washington Trails Association. At wta.org, you will find resources for choosing a hike through the Hike Finder Map, up-to-date trail conditions via Trip Reports, and much more helpful hiking advice. The WTA Trailblazer app is handy, with maps, links to a weather forecast at each trailhead and more.
WTA hiking content manager Anna Roth recommends checking out trip reports “first and foremost.” Make a solid plan for the hike you want to tackle, but have a Plan B and C in case the trail is too busy or if you find yourself underprepared for the conditions.
This summer, if you are heading into the Cascades, be prepared for more snow than normal. “There is a lot of snow in the mountains still,” Roth said. “This is the time of year when conditions can be surprisingly different in the mountains compared to the city.”
Getting the right gear
Even with a perfectly planned hike, you must know how to be safe and prepared for an abundance of variables when outdoors.
Maniam plans conservatively and starts early, especially when going to a new area, to avoid being caught in the dark or feeling pressured to get the hike done quickly. “Leave a plan with someone else,” he said. “Don’t just say you’re going on a hike, tell them where you are going.”
He recommends downloading area maps, bringing a personal locator beacon in case a rescue needs to be called, having plenty of electrolytes and water, and carrying bear spray or bug spray if necessary.
And, yes, you need the 10 Essentials, tools that satisfy 10 vital survival needs: navigation, sun protection, insulation, illumination, first-aid, fire, repair kit, nutrition, hydration, emergency shelter.
Through The Mountaineers, hikers can utilize a low-cost rental gear library for equipment that’s ready for the trails. Essential summer hiking equipment available includes trekking poles, first-aid kits, water bottles, day packs and more.
Thousands of hikers annually walk sections of the Pacific Crest Trail, a 2,650-mile trail that starts at the Mexican border and ends at the Canadian border in Washington. With 512 miles of the PCT in Washington, there are countless opportunities to get on this trail. It seems daunting, but the point remains: Each year, expert hikers complete the entire journey safely.
Kristine Kleedehn took five months to walk the PCT in 2012, becoming an expert at carrying the right gear and hiking safely in any condition.
“My clothing system changed depending on the location, but I always had an insulated jacket and a rain shell jacket and rain pants,” Kleedehn said of her hiking threads while in Washington. “Always be prepared for rain, because if you’re dry, it’s a lot easier to survive being cold and avoid hypothermia.”
In case of emergency
For more apprehensive hikers, going in a group is the safest bet. “Stay together as much as possible when you’re going to new terrain,” Maniam said.
Others feel completely safe on their own. As a solo female hiker on the PCT, Kleedehn never felt scared. “The more you do it, the more comfortable you will become,” she said. But relying on the buddy system is always a good bet.
A key to safe hiking is to know your abilities and not push the envelope too far. Maniam is a big believer in having a bailout option, meaning you don’t have to commit to one hike or one trail at all costs. “Never be afraid to turn around if the conditions don’t seem right and listen to your intuition,” Kleedehn echoed.
If you do find yourself in an emergency situation on the trail, know what to do. Many hikes are within cellphone reception, so calling 911 is the default, but if you don’t have cell reception, a personal locator beacon (such as a SPOT device) becomes invaluable. This gives you the ability to hit a button and have a search and rescue team come for help.
Amid the dog days of summer, there’s not a better time to hit the dusty trail. With ample local resources explaining where to hike, and how to do so safely, it is easy to find a summer hike for any ability. From the shores of the Washington coast to the Cascade Range and beyond, the Evergreen State has countless gems waiting to be explored. Just make sure you do so safely.