hiking.jpg You might love spending a majority of your time in the great outdoors, but if you truly appreciate Mother Nature, you know how important it is be mindful of the environment. While you’re hiking, there are several ways you can ensure that you aren’t harming the plants and animals in your area. Here are five tips to help you be a responsible hiker and outdoor explorer.

1. Respect the wildlife

There is already existing wildlife in the woods when you walk in, meaning you’re essentially entering someone else’s home! With that in mind, it’s best to be respectful while you’re hiking. This means keeping noise to a minimum and leaving items where you find them (even small flowers and brush). Furthermore, do not approach animals in their natural habitats or nesting areas. Typically, large parks and forests will have signs that inform hikers of animals known to frequent the area. Depending on the breeding and hunting seasons, certain areas may also be prohibited to hikers. Be mindful of these warnings while you’re in the woods, and stay on the trails. Doing so can make sure that you and the creatures around you remain safe.

2. Prepare for the unexpected

While it may sound a little strange, it’s critical that you are prepared for the unexpected when you’re out for a hike. This means packing the necessary supplies in case of emergency, such as a first aid kit. Additionally, you’ll want to team up with your fellow hikers to create a communication system in the event of an accident. This can also help if an individual gets lost. Perhaps one of the biggest hurdles you’ll face in terms of the unexpected is the weather. Whether you’re traveling through the Southwest or New England, the weather can quickly take a turn once you’re at a high altitude. You can prepare for Mother Nature by bringing the clothing you need to stay warm and dry. In the end, there is some weather you simply can’t predict, in which case you may need to turn around. Knowing when to turn around and head back to base camp is your utmost responsibility as a hiker. Not only will it ensure your safety, but it will eliminate the need for others to rescue you if you become stranded.

3. Inform your friends and family

Whether you’re hiking alone or with an entire party of people, you’ll want to inform those who are staying behind of your plans. This means leaving emergency contact information with your friends and family who aren’t headed up the trail with you. In the event that you have an accident and cannot be found, these individuals can report you missing. Additionally, it’s a good idea to find a way to stay in contact with your friends and family. This will ensure that they know you are safe while you’re hiking. Be mindful of areas where you can take a rest during your hike and make a phone call back home. In the end, your loved ones will have plenty of peace of mind while you’re away.

4. Know where you’re hiking

If you’re going to a new hiking location for the first time, you aren’t going to be familiar with all of the trails and locations that are open for exploration. That being said, this doesn’t mean you can’t prepare ahead of time. Make it a point to obtain maps of the area you will be traveling to for your hiking trip. If possible, talk to the local park guides for information on how to stay safe while hiking. Other tools you may want to have on hand include a compass and binoculars to scope out the area. There’s no guarantee that you won’t get lost, especially if you’re traveling through a new area. However, the preventative measures you take can make all of the difference.

5. Have the rations you need to stay energized

There’s nothing worse than going for a hike on an empty stomach. Even if you’re only going to be away on a day trip, it’s important to plan accordingly in terms of food and water. As a rule of thumb, you should always pack more water than you think you need. If you’re going to be traveling for an extended period of time, bring a water filter and purification tablets. Worst case scenario, you should have the tools you need to boil water in order to stay hydrated. Some food you may want to bring along to maintain your energy include nuts and snack bars (preferably full of fiber). Any protein-packed food will give you the energy you need to finish your hike confidently. The bottom line is that hiking can be a safe, fun activity for individuals of all ages, as long as you plan ahead. Knowing the area helps, but this doesn’t mean you can’t explore new territory. As long as you’re willing to put in the effort to learn about a new park or trail, you can successfully hike through the location without any trouble. In addition to making memories, there are several benefits associated with hiking. Regular physical activity, such as hiking, can help you control your weight and reduce symptoms of depression, according to the American Hiking Society. Nearly one-third of Americans have high blood pressure, also known as hypertension. This condition can lead to heart attack or stroke. Physical activities, such as hiking, can lower blood pressure by four to 10 points. Walking is also known for being a weight-bearing exercise. Through walking or hiking, you can maintain your posture while strengthening your bones and muscles. Hiking can also reverse the negative impact of osteoporosis, which commonly impacts women. This condition is known for reducing bone density and calcium. Whether you love the great outdoors or you simply like hiking for exercise, the benefits are endless. By keeping these safety measures in mind, you can hike responsibly as well. In the end, Mother Nature will thank you for your efforts to treat the planet with respect.