What do you need to know to stay safe while backpacking?

Before you hit the trails on a backpacking trip, there are a few things you need to know about safety. This includes how to stay safe on the trail, why to pack a first aid kit, how to stay safe when backpacking alone, how to keep kids and pets safe on backpacking trips, what precautions to take in different weather conditions, how wildlife can impact safety, why good hydration is important, and what common emergencies you might have to deal with.

How do backpackers stay safe on the trail?

The following list outlines the precautions you can take to stay safe when backpacking.

  • Bring the right gear.
  • Research your route.
  • Check the weather forecast.
  • Check trail conditions.
  • Take a first aid course.
  • Identify water sources on the route.
  • Pack a well-stocked first aid kit.
  • Learn wildlife safety.
  • Carry bear spray in bear country.
  • Create an emergency plan.

What are the most common backpacking accidents?

The most common backpacking accidents are getting lost, falling, trips, sprains, exhaustion, dehydration, rashes from poisonous plants, snake bites, insect bites, hypothermia, heatstroke, sprains, and getting caught in a thunderstorm.

How to prevent common backpacking accidents?

The list below summarizes how you can prevent the most common backpacking accidents.

  • Take a backpacking skills course
  • Carry and wear the right gear 
  • Plan carefully
  • Learn fundamental hiking skills like first aid, using trekking poles, and using a map and compass
  • Stick to the trail
  • Respect wildlife
  • Use common sense
  • Check the weather forecast in advance
  • Check avalanche forecasts
  • Don’t take any risks
  • Wear clothing with a high UPF rating
  • Treat hot spots before they become blisters
  • Don’t attempt to cross rivers in spate
  • Avoid canyons after and during rainfall

What safety tips are there for backpacking?

Our top backpacking safety tips are listed below.

  • Start Small – cut your teeth on shorter trails before tackling the biggies
  • Research Your Route
  • Choose the Right Trail (and Know Your Limits)
  • Use the Layering System
  • Avoid Cotton Clothing
  • Pack the Ten Essentials
  • Check the Forecast
  • Make a Plan
  • Share Your Plans With Someone at Home
  • Carry Spares of Essential Gear
  • Make an Early Start
  • Stretch!
  • While You Hike
  • Carry Bear Spray
  • Carry a whistle
  • Use Poles
  • Hydrate
  • Treat Wild Water
  • Face Upstream and Use Poles When Crossing a River
  • Staying Safe in the Sun
  • Stay on the Designated Trail
  • Stay Together 
  • Turn Back
  • Check for Ticks
  • Inspect Your Gear

What safety oversights are made by backpackers?

The main oversights and mistakes backpackers make are listed below.

  • Underestimating the difficulty of a trail
  • Failing to create a solid food plan
  • Neglecting to check trail conditions
  • Not carrying the Ten Essentials
  • Not giving yourself enough time
  • Not respecting wildlife
  • Trying to navigate without a map and compass
  • Ignoring the weather forecast
  • Neglecting to purify water from rivers and streams

What trail safety information to know before backpacking?

The list below outlines what safety info you should know before you set off on a backpacking trip.

  • The length of the hike.
  • Elevation gain.
  • The difficulty of the trail.
  • Trail conditions.
  • What wildlife you might encounter.
  • The weather forecast.
  • Where the trailhead is.
  • What type of terrain you’ll be hiking in.
  • Your average hiking speed.
  • Location of water sources along the trail.
  • Resupply points.

Does anyone know your planned backpacking route?

Before you go backpacking, it’s best to share your plans and itinerary with someone at home, letting them know when you’re leaving, where you’re parking, which trail you’re hiking, and when you expect to return. 

Do you have a backpacking first aid kit packed?

You should pack a first aid kit on every backpacking trip. Your kit should, at a bare minimum, contain antibacterial ointment, antihistamine, antiseptic wipes or cream, assorted band-aids, butterfly bandages, gauze pads, insect sting treatment, medical tape, moleskin (or other blister treatment), non-stick pads, pain-relief medication, safety pins, scissors, and tweezers.

Are you prepared for potential weather changes?

To ensure you are prepared for potential weather changes when backpacking, we recommend you take the precautions listed below.

  • Get the most recent forecast before setting off and wherever possible en route
  • Carry the ten essentials
  • Always pack rain gear
  • Make sure you have a ‘Plan B’ if you need to bail

Why do you need to warm up before backpacking?

Warming up before you set off each day will prepare your body for exertion and make it less susceptible to injury.

Why is packing first aid supplies important?

Packing first aid supplies will make you more self-sufficient, allowing you to treat any of the myriad small injuries you or your partners might sustain along the trail. 

What first aid supplies should you pack for backpacking?

Your backpacking first should contain antibacterial ointment, antihistamine, antiseptic wipes or cream, assorted band-aids, butterfly bandages, gauze pads, insect sting treatment, medical tape, moleskin (or other blister treatment), non-stick pads, pain-relief medication, safety pins, scissors, and tweezers.

How do you make a DIY backpacking first aid kit?

To make a DIY backpacking first aid kit, make a list of all the supplies you’ll need and estimate the quantity you’ll need for your group size and trip duration. Next, source your supplies, add any personal medication, and then store it all in a waterproof, rugged carry case.

Where should you store a backpacking first aid kit?

You should store your backpacking first aid kit where it won’t be damaged and will be easily accessible when needed. For most of us, this means in a zippered pocket under the lid or a side accessory pocket.

What first aid is needed most when backpacking?

The most common injuries and ailments backpackers will need to treat are listed below.

  • Blisters
  • Chafing
  • Scrapes and cuts
  • Sprains
  • Rashes
  • Insect stings
  • Dehydration
  • Sunburn
  • Hypothermia
  • Hyperthermia

Where can backpackers learn first aid online?

The organizations listed below offer online wilderness first aid training courses.

  • Survival Med
  • REI
  • AIM AdventureU
  • BASE Medical
  • Advance Wilderness Life Support (AWLS)
  • Longleaf Wilderness Medicine

Where can backpackers learn first aid in person?

Backpackers can learn first aid in person on courses run by REI, NOLS, BASE Medical, SOLO, and Wilderness Medical Associates.

What are common backpacking injuries?

The following is a list of the most common backpacking injuries and ailments.

  • Blisters
  • Chafing
  • Scrapes and cuts
  • Sprains
  • Rashes
  • Insect stings
  • Dehydration
  • Sunburn
  • Hypothermia
  • Hyperthermia
  • Rashes from poisonous plants

How do you treat common backpacking injuries?

Below, we’ve summarized how to treat the most common backpacking injuries.

  • Strains & Sprains. Reduce swelling with a cold compress or in a stream/river, and immobilize the joint.
  • Blisters. Treat hot spots immediately with duct tape, medical tape, or Moleskin. If the blister bubbles, puncture it with a sterilized needle, clean the area, apply antibiotic ointment, add an o-ring Moleskin, cover with tape.
  • Allergic Reactions. Wash the affected area ASAP and apply topical cortisone or antihistamine.
  • Nausea, Vomiting & Diarrhea. Rest and hydrate.
  • Cuts & Scrapes. Flush the wound with clean water, then apply gauze and a bandage. 
  • Burns. Soak the affected area in a stream or river or run cold water over it for fifteen minutes, then apply antibiotic cream and wrap it using a gauze bandage.
  • Dehydration. Stop hiking, rest in the shade, and rehydrate with water mixed with a pinch of salt or electrolytes.

How to stay safe backpacking on your own?

When backpacking alone, you need to take extra safety precautions, prepare thoroughly, and be able to take care of yourself. The tips below outline how to do so.

  • Learn to navigate
  • Get trained in first aid
  • Share your route with a friend at home
  • Create a plan and stick to it
  • Pack all of the ten essentials
  • Don’t bite off more than you can chew
  • Carry a phone or two-way messaging GPS
  • Trust your gut
  • Don’t take any risks

What are hazards of backpacking on your own?

When backpacking alone, you don’t have the luxury of a companion to help you out or seek help in the event of an accident. 

What safety precautions can solo backpackers take?

If you’re planning on backpacking alone, it’s best to take the precautions listed below.

  • Share your route itinerary with a friend
  • Carry some form of protection (pepper spray or bear spray)
  • Carry a phone or two-way messaging GPS
  • Trust your gut
  • Avoid taking any risks

What gear is useful for solo backpacker safety?

The most important piece of gear a solo backpacker can carry is a two-way messaging device, such as a satellite phone or GPS – in the event of an emergency, this will be your only way of seeking help in the absence of a trail buddy.

How to keep children and pets safe when backpacking?

The best way to keep children and pets safe on a backpacking trip is to make sure they are visible at all times. We recommend dressing your kids in bright-colored clothing and giving them a safety whistle, and keeping your dogs on a leash. If you let your dog go off-leash, make sure they are wearing a high-vis vest.

What are hazards of backpacking with kids?

The most significant dangers to your kids when backpacking are your kids getting lost, poisonous plants, insects, or reptiles, fatigue, and allergic reactions.

What precautions can be taken for backpacking with kids?

To keep your kids safe while backpacking, we recommend you take the precautions listed below.

  • Establish ground rules
  • Educate them on animal safety
  • Teach them about the dangers of certain wild plants
  • Make sure they’re visible at all times
  • Give them an emergency whistle
  • Make sure they wear bright clothing
  • Ensure they have suitable clothing and gear

What are hazards of backpacking with dogs?

The list below includes the greatest dangers to your dogs when backpacking.

  • Wild animals
  • Poisonous plants
  • Prickly plants
  • Falls
  • Heatstroke
  • Ticks
  • Hunters

What precautions can be taken for backpacking with dogs?

To keep your dog safe when backpacking, take the precautions listed below.

  • Keep them leashed
  • Make sure you carry plenty of extra water
  • Bring a doggy first aid kit
  • Take breaks in the shade on hot days
  • Conduct thorough tick checks during and after your hike
  • Dress them in a blaze orange vest in hunting season

What precautions can be taken in various weather conditions?

The list below outlines safety precautions you can take in different weather conditions.

  • Snow and ice. Use crampons or microspikes and carry an ice axe. Use a map and compass – trail markings may be obscured or hidden.
  • After or during heavy rainfall. Wear high-cut boots and gaiters, and use trekking poles.
  • Strong winds. Avoid ridges and exposed ground, and use trekking poles for balance.
  • After landslides or rockfall. If the trail isn’t closed, seek and use a safe diversion that will steer you well clear of the affected area.
  • In a drought. Carry plenty of water and be prepared for sore feet from hiking on hard ground (blister pads and well-cushioned shoes are recommended).
  • In extreme heat. Wear UV-protective clothing and a sunhat, seek shade for rest stops, stay hydrated, and hike under tree cover wherever possible.

How can autumn create adverse trail conditions?

In fall, trail conditions can vary significantly from day to day. Depending on where you are in the world, you can expect everything from ice and snow to muddy or waterlogged trails to bone-dry trails and extreme heat. On long-distance thru-hikes, you’ll need to be prepared for almost every eventuality.

How can you prepare for fall conditions?

Owing to fall’s often unpredictable weather conditions (and potentially large temperature variations on any given day), you should be prepared for any eventuality. Pack plenty of warm clothing and rain gear, but don’t forget your sunhat and sunscreen.

What are hazards of backpacking in the snow?

Snow on the trails increases your risk of slipping and also makes progress much slower as more effort is required. Deeper snow can also make some portions of the trail impassable and poses an avalanche risk where the trail is exposed to steeper slopes (30–50 degrees).

How can you prepare for snowy conditions?

When backpacking in the snow, check avalanche forecasts and trail conditions before setting off, pack plenty of insulated clothing, wear three- or four-season boots, and bring an ice axe and crampons (or snowshoes). 

What are hazards of lightning when backpacking?

The greatest hazards of lightning when backpacking are a direct strike (if you are on high ground like a peak or ridge), or a ground current strike if you are on lower ground.

How can you prepare for lighting conditions?

To avoid lightning strokes when backpacking, take the precautions listed below.

  • Check the weather forecast
  • Carry a barometer
  • Set off early each day to avoid afternoon thunderstorms
  • Stay off of high ground in a thunderstorm
  • Don’t take shelter under isolated trees
  • If caught in a thunderstorm, crouch on the ground with your feet together and head between your knees

How can wildlife encounters impact backpacker safety?

Encounters with snakes, bears, moose, wolves, and even coyotes, skunks, and badgers all pose a safety risk when backpacking. An encounter could result in serious immediate injury or force you to abandon the trail for more hazardous terrain.

What species are hazardous to backpackers?

The following is a list of wildlife that backpackers need to be particularly wary of.

  • Snakes
  • Bears
  • Mountain lions
  • Moose
  • Wolves
  • Raccoons, skunks, foxes, coyotes, and bats (all can carry rabies)
  • Ticks
  • Spiders
  • Ticks
  • Scorpions

How can backpackers observe wildlife without disturbing it?

The list below outlines how to observe wildlife without disturbing it when backpacking.

  • Stay a safe distance – around 25 yards for most animals but 100 years for predators like wolves and bears or larger threats like moose
  • Don’t feed them! Never feed wild animals, no matter how cute they might be
  • Keep your dog leashed
  • Use binoculars and watch from a distance
  • Use zoom lenses for photos instead of getting up close
  • Keep quiet

How to stay safe if you encounter a bear backpacking?

If you encounter a bear while backpacking, don’t run, group together, make lots of noise, avoid eye contact, and slowly back away. If the bear continues to approach or act aggressively, then use your bear spray and fight back if necessary.

What safety gear to carry in case of a bear encounter?

The most important thing to carry when backpacking in bear country is common sense. The next most important thing is bear spray. When used correctly, bear spray will deter a charging or aggressively behaving bear and give you time to get to safety.

How to stay safe if you encounter a mountain lion backpacking?

If you meet a mountain lion on the trail when backpacking, back away slowly, make yourself appear big, maintain eye contact, make a lot of noise, throw rocks, and use bear spray and fight back if necessary.

What safety gear to carry in case of a mountain lion encounter?

Some gear you can carry to help in the event of a mountain lion encounter includes trekking poles, bear spray, an air horn, and a straight-blade knife.

How to stay safe if you encounter a snake backpacking?

If you see a snake on the trail while backpacking, stop, back away very slowly, give it a wide berth when passing, and warn other backpackers on the trail.

What safety gear to carry in case of a snake encounter?

The following is a list of gear that can mitigate the risk of a snake bite for backpackers.

  • Snake gaiters
  • High-cut hiking boots
  • Trekking poles
  • Snake bite kit
  • A high-power headlamp for hiking in the dark

Why is good hydration important when backpacking?

Staying dehydrated when backpacking is vital because dehydration can make you confused and disoriented, which could cause you to get lost or wander near perilous ground. If you continue hiking while dehydrated, you may suffer from heatstroke, muscle cramps, and even kidney failure.

How to ensure you are well-hydrated when backpacking?

When on the trail, you should try to drink a minimum of one cup of water per hour, but this may vary depending on the level of exertion, temperature, altitude, and your personal absorption rates.

What dehydration symptoms to look out for when backpacking?

The main symptoms of dehydration are listed below.

  • Dark-colored urine
  • Thirst
  • Dizziness
  • Lightheadedness
  • Fatigue
  • Dry mouth or tongue
  • Confusion
  • Disorientation

What water purification methods are there when backpacking?

To purify water taken from wild sources like rivers, streams, and lakes, you can use water purification tablets, a UV sterilization pen, or a variety of water filters.

What is the best way to purify water when backpacking?

Gravity filters are the best choice for large groups of backpackers as they let you process/treat large quantities of water. For personal use, we recommend a mini pump filter or purification tablets.

What are common emergencies when out backpacking?

The most common backpacking emergencies are listed below.

  • Allergic reactions
  • Fractures
  • Sprains
  • Hypothermia
  • Hyperthermia
  • Heatstroke
  • Blisters
  • Wildlife encounters
  • Getting lost
  • Benightment
  • Extreme weather

How to make an emergency preparedness plan?

The list below summarizes everything a backpacking emergency preparedness plan should include.

  • How you will contact rescue services in an emergency
  • Where you’ll find cell service
  • A way to charge your cell phone or satellite messaging device
  • An escape route from your trail
  • A list of potential shelters on your route

What to do in a backpacking emergency?

In an emergency situation while backpacking, assess the situation, treat any injuries immediately, create an evacuation plan, and contact mountain rescue or the emergency services.

What essential first aid skills should backpackers know?

The following is a list of first aid skills every backpacker should know.

  • Checking vital signs.
  • Cleaning and sanitizing wounds.
  • Treating blisters.
  • Treating burns.
  • Removing tick bites.
  • CPR.
  • Using a tourniquet.
  • Making a splint.
  • Making a sling.
  • Identifying and treating heatstroke.
  • Identifying and treating hypothermia.
  • Treating allergic reactions.
  • Bracing a break or sprain.

What other first aid skills are good for backpackers to know?

Other first aid skills backpackers might want to learn include treating frostbite, performing sutures, managing catastrophic bleeding, spinal immobilization, and treating altitude-related illnesses.

What to carry to be able to signal for help?

To be able to make a distress signal when backpacking, you should carry a whistle, matches or a lighter, a mirror, and/or a flashlight or headlamp.

How do you make a distress signal?

The list below outlines five ways you can make a distress signal when backpacking.

  • Give three sharp blows on a whistle
  • Create a “V”(assistance required) or an “X” (medical assistance required) with objects like sticks, logs, or rocks, or with your body
  • Make a signal fire (three fires are best)
  • Extend both arms and raise them up and down
  • Fire three shots with a firearm five seconds apart

What are survival skills to have in a backpacking emergency?

Backpackers should learn the survival skills listed below in case they find themselves in an emergency situation.

  • Making a fire.
  • Navigating with or without a map and compass.
  • Making a distress signal.
  • Filtering water from wild sources.
  • Foraging food.
  • Building a shelter.
  • Tying knots.
  • Making a weapon.
  • Administering first aid.

What are the biggest safety issues in a survival situation?

The biggest safety issues in a survival situation while backpacking are listed below.

  • Hypothermia.
  • Heatstroke.
  • Animal attacks.
  • Exposure.
  • Infections.
  • Dehydration.
  • Starvation.
  • Diarrhea.
  • Rockfalls, avalanches, landslides.
  • Flash floods.
  • Human threats.