Walking on Roads: 13 Safety Tips for Hikers

Walking on Roads: 13 Safety Tips for Hikers

Often, our hikes don’t allow us to remain safely ensconced in wild forest or vehicle-free mountainous terrain for the duration of our outing.

Whether we’re forced to abandon our trail for safety’s sake, to get back to the car before dark, or are simply on a long-distance section or thru-hike where hitting the hard stuff (asphalt/tarmac) for a while is an integral part of the route, a road walk is something all of us should be prepared to experience at some point in our hiking careers.

Below, we offer 13 tips to help you stay safe when that time comes.

How to Stay Safe When Road Walking?

You’re in the right place! In this guide we will be covering the following:

  • Always Use sidewalks if available
  • As a pedestrian always face oncoming traffic
  • Make yourself as visible as possible

Road-Walking 101

13 Dos, Don’ts, and Other Safety Advice

1. Only walk on the road if it’s absolutely necessary to do so—if there’s a grass verge, sidewalk, or breakdown lane, use that.

2. You should always be facing oncoming traffic. This will both allow you to see and be seen by any traffic that is headed your way, thereby making possible for you (or it) to avoid each other.

If you’re in a country where they drive on the right (most of the world), then you should walk facing traffic on the left side of the road. Conversely, in countries which drive on the left, make sure and walk on the right side of the road. Never walk in the same direction as the traffic.

3. Make yourself visible to oncoming traffic by donning your brightest clothing.

4. Always walk in single file so as to make yourself/group a smaller “target,” so to speak.

5. Don’t get distracted by conversation or daydreaming—either of which could cause you to drift into the road or not hear something (an oncoming car, truck, bike) that needs to be noticed (!).

6. Make sure you’re not breaking the law before setting off on foot down a road—walking on roads is illegal in many areas or on certain types of road (interstate highways, for example) and could result in a fine.

7. Only walk on a road at night if you have reflective clothing and/or a headlamp that will make you visible to motorists.

8. If it’s necessary to walk through a tunnel, use your cell phone light or headlamp to make sure oncoming vehicles are aware of your presence.

9. When approaching a blind curve in the road, cross over to the other side of the road so you can see oncoming traffic and don’t surprise—or, heaven forbid, get in the way of—any vehicles taking the corner a little too tightly.  

10. If a larger vehicle such as a trailer truck, RV, or bus is approaching, get off the road and well out of the way to avoid being sucked toward the vehicle by its airflow or simply to give it more room to pass. It’s also wise to close your eyes and mouth to keep out dust.

11. Fill your water bottle before “hitting the road” as natural water sources along roads are usually few and far between, bridged over, or polluted by ice-melt products applied in winter or chemicals in the road surface itself.

12. Walking on roads is much harder on your feet than walking on trails. This being so, try to take regular breaks to give your feet a rest (taking off your socks and shoes or boots) and be sure to allow plenty of time to reach your destination before dark.

13. Walking on a road with your dog is highly inadvisable, but if you are forced to do so be sure to keep your dog on a very short leash, walking either directly behind or between you and the handrail or shoulder. On narrower roads, it’s always best to stop and hug the side of the road with your dog when vehicles are approaching.

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    Kieran James Cunningham

    Kieran James Cunningham

    Kieran James Cunningham is a climber, mountaineer and writer based in the Italian Alps. He’s climbed a handful of 6000ers in the Himalayas, 4000ers in the Alps and loves nothing more than a good long-distance wander in the wilderness. He climbs when he should be writing, writes when he should be sleeping, has fun always.

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