Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Park Ranger Hiking Tips

National Park Rangers throughout the country spend 50,000 and 100,000 hours every year rendering aid to and searching for lost or injured hikers. Even the simplest hike can quickly become complicated by changes in weather, unexpected terrain, minor injuries, inappropriate clothing and gear, or group members becoming separated.

Here are some simple tips to help prevent you or a family member from becoming a statistic in a report and ruining a wonderful park experience.

• Plan ahead for your hike. Review a map of the area or check for a map posted at the trail head. Having a vision of the trail route and where it goes will be helpful should you become confused by unofficial social trails.

• After reviewing a map and if available a description of the trail, do not take on a hike that is more physically difficult than all the members of your group can handle.

• Check the weather report for the area before your hike. Dress and carry appropriate gear to remain comfortable and safe during your time outdoors. Remember that in mountainous terrain temperatures drop sharply at night, so be prepared to prevent hypothermia should you be late getting to your destination or vehicle.

• Proper foot wear is essential not only for comfort but to prevent injuries. If hiking in rocky terrain, be sure to wear stout hiking boots with good tread. Most of the injuries treated by park rangers involve slips and falls on trails by people wearing inappropriate foot wear.

• Stay on the designated trails. The vast majority of the searches for lost hikers I worked during my career involved people getting off the trail, getting confused, and then trying to cut cross country to get to their destination.

• Keep your group within sight of each other. Never let some members, especially children, run ahead of the group. This is a recipe for disaster when members of your hiking group take a different trail and become separated. The result is generally people overreacting and contributing to the complexity of the situation. This reaction is amplified when the missing hikers are children. Well intended emotions then kick in and decision making becomes more difficult for members of the group. One tip is to have the slowest member of your group walk in the front and everyone has to stay behind them.

• Carry water even on short hikes. You may be amazed how quickly you can dehydrate while hiking outdoors. Dehydration and hypothermia both result in confusion and a loss of decision making skills.

Following these simple practices will help you to enjoy your next visit to any park.

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