September 21, 2022 — Swept up in the desire to stay healthy and armed with plenty of time in retirement, millions of baby boomers are enjoying hiking as a fun pastime. Unfortunately, sometimes things go wrong. According to hikersdaily.com, almost 5,000 hikers are injured every year, with most of those coming from slips and falls, with the ankle most often affected. There are an estimated 15,000 rescue operations in an average year on public lands. The most tricky of those are helicopter rescues, which typically cost around $12,000.
We would like to make sure one of these mishaps doesn’t happen to you. And to make your hike more fun, we are including some great tips from our friend Tom Cretella, one of the most experienced hikers we know. These are his tips.
Top 10 Mistakes You Don’t Want to Make Hiking
Not enough water. Running out of water is never a pleasant experience. I always carry at least 2 liters of water for a day hike. Hint, Don’t wait till you are thirty to drink; then it’s too late to fight off dehydration. Try to drink often during the hike. Good hydration keeps your muscles from cramping and your reflexes sharp. Tip: Water is heavy so I carry an extra liter of Water and stash it about 1/2 way to my destination, and retrieve on the way back. It can be a life saver.
Failure to plan for weather. Always check the forecast 24 hours before you hike. Check for temperature changes, wind, heavy rain, and thunder. Higher summits create their own weather, sometimes much colder with higher winds than expected. My advice is to hike in light clothes, but carry heavier clothes including a wind jacket wool cap and gloves in your pack. Rain gear is always in my pack.
No compass or GPS. I navigate with an APP called AllTrails. It tracks my movements, tells me where I am, and how far I have to go. It keeps me on the trail via GPS. That said, the problem is running out of power on your phone so you need to at least be familiar with how to use a compass. If you are a new hiker, check a compass direction frequently while you hike and get a feel for the direction your traveling. Don’t wait to be lost to figure how it works or how to read a map. Most trails are well marked and easy to follow, but it’s better to be safe. Even when hiking with a group I leave notice and carry SPOT just in case.
Hiking alone. When I hike alone I make sure to notify family or a friend where I am going and what route I will be taking. I also leave my itinerary in my car at the trailhead in case I do not return in a timely manner. When hiking alone I find some extra security by carrying a device called SPOT. It’s an emergency device that connects to a emergency satellite for help anywhere in the world.
Making it worse if you get lost. Sometimes in the mountains with foggy weather or rain you can get off trail or lose your way.
First, retrace your steps until you find a recognizable landmark or sign.
Second, if you are still lost, keep calm. Most lost hikers are not far from their intended route. So start by walking for 5 minutes in one direction and back if no luck. Then walk 5 minutes in another direction, eventually making a circle. If you are still lost repeat going 10 minutes in each direction and so forth. Cell service in the mountains is spotty, but if you make contact stay in one place until they find you.
Not knowing your limitations. Some people say: “What the mind can conceive the body can achieve “. Often times this gets you in trouble. Start with shorter hikes and work your way up to longer hikes. Hiking 5 or 6 hours can drain your energy quickly. Going up a mountain can be a aerobic challenge but going down is harder than you think.
Not turning back in time. There are many reasons for turning back including bad weather, injuries, or running out of daylight before you can get to your next destination. Hiking 1 mile an hour might seem impossibly slow for those who treadmill at 3 or 4 mph, but on rough terrain that’s all you can do safely.
Basic precautions against predators. In my 60+ years of hiking I have seen one moose, a number of squirrels and chipmunks, some birds and that’s about it. Bear scat every now and again. Most animals smell or hear you coming down the trail well before you get there. I do carry a loud whistle. I don’t carry bear spray but it is a consideration. If you are camping overnight, never eat or leave food in your tent. Suspend food from a tree or in a bear-proof container.
Not bringing hiking poles. Hiking poles are my best friend. They provide a handrail to pull myself up and keep me balanced on the way down. I always try to have three points of contact when I step. This definitely prevents or minimizes those slip and falls or twisted ankles that plague older hikers. Knowing how to use the poles without get tangled requires some practice. If you are a skier planting a pole is familiar. If not, practice planting your pole well in advance of your step and walk toward it alternating with each pole plant. When going down plant your pole next to where you want to put your foot and walk to it.
The wrong footwear. A sturdy shoe is essential. The rougher the terrain the more support and protection you need. Your hiking shoe should have a roomy toe box to accommodate a good hiking sock and liner. I always wear a liner under a heavier sock to prevent hot spots on my feet. I also carrier mole skin to treat any blisters or hot spots that may occur.
Thanks Tom, these are great tips that could only come from an experienced hiker like yourself! Hiking is great fun and good for you, but you do need to take basic precautions to stay safe.
About Tom Cretella:
Tom Cretella, CLU, is an insurance broker with almost 50 years of experience, and also a lifetime hiker and outdoorsperspon. He has climbed all 48 of New Hampshire’s mountains over 4,000′, many of them in winter. We will be updating his 2019 article on Frequently-asked questions about Medicare and Medicare Advantage in the next few weeks.
Comments? Have you taken up hiking in your retirement. Please share your tips, concerns, and experiences in the Comments section below.