Tips from an Eagle Scout: What can you do to make your next hike better, more memorable, and safer?
1. Take a friend!
When you go out into the woods, always take a buddy! Whether it’s a family member or a friend, don’t go alone. It can be dangerous to go alone.
Going out into the wilderness can be exciting and fun, but it’s always better with a buddy. Grab a friend, sibling, or other family members before heading out. Bringing a friend along has several benefits. You have someone to talk to, you have someone who will listen to you, and you have someone to keep you safe. If you get injured along the way, your friend is there to help you, or go get help, depending on the severity of your injury. Plus, why would you want to go alone?
2. Take a furry friend!
Taking a pet hiking is always fun. Especially if that pet is a dog! Just remember to keep your dog in sight, and follow any trail rules about leashes, or cleaning up after your pet. And remember, the rules about leashes aren’t to make you feel better. It’s to make everyone else feel better. If you encounter someone on horseback on the trail, get your dog next to you and hold them there. Dogs can frighten horses, and a frightened horse is dangerous to you, your dog, the horse’s rider, and any other poor soul who happens to be in the horse’s path. Also, remember to clean up after your pet! Their poo may be okay in your yard, but nobody else wants to step in it.
3. Bring Food and Water
Remember to stay hydrated on your Hike!
Whether you are planning a short hike or a several-day backpacking trip, you will need to bring water. Every person should bring at least 32 oz (1 Nalgene) of water for every 12 hours of trail. If you are planning a longer hike, like one that stretches over lunch (or dinner), you may want to bring some food. Trail mix is a good snack that will keep you energized for your entire hike (especially if it has M&M’s in it!) and will last the entire hike if you eat it in small handfuls at a time.
Remember to pack light and healthy food too. A jar of peanut butter won’t feel great on your back. And it won’t feel great in your stomach either. While peanut butter makes for great sandwiches, it takes a lot of energy for a human to digest it. Instead, reach for fruits, granola, and dried meat. Yes, beef jerky is good for hiking!
4. Stay on the trail
If a trail is designed with switchbacks, you need to use the switchbacks. This is to help keep you safe and to prevent washout from rainstorms.
This rule is here to keep both you and nature safe. Trails are made to be the safest route from one place to another. By staying on the trail, you are keeping yourself safe, but you are also keeping Mother Nature safe as well. When you wander off of a trail, you will step on grass and small plants, and you will leave a new trail. If enough people wander off of the trail, there will be no more nature because it will all have been trampled away by people who don’t stay on a trail.
5. Remember the Yield Diamond.
There are rules of the trail, just like the rules of the road.
These rules are for courtesy, but also for safety. Bicyclists yield to hikers and their pets, as well as anyone on horseback. Hikers yield to equestrians. These rules are to keep everyone safe on the trails. Cyclists are the most mobile. The can stop quickly, and get off of the trail and out of the way of walkers and horses. Walkers are slower and are often at the mercy of the hill. Horses are the least easy to maneuver. A horseback rider cannot simply ‘move out of the way,’ or ‘stop.’ A horseback rider is at the mercy of their horse, and horses are easily frightened. While horses are generally very kind creatures, they can be very dangerous when frightened.
Treat horses with respect and care. Don’t sneak up behind a horse, don’t let your dog run loose around a horse, and understand that horses are living things that are easily scared and dangerous when they are scared.
6. Nature isn’t a trashcan
Throw away your trash. Nature isn’t a trashcan.
Remember that snack you brought along? Nature sure will, if you leave the trash behind as evidence. If you take something into the Great Outdoors, take it out with you. “Pack it in, Pack it out.” Trash cans can commonly be found at parking lots or trailheads, or you can throw your trash away at home. But don’t leave it in nature. Animals may try to eat it or get caught in it and suffocate. Even if it doesn’t manage to kill anything, it sure does look bad.
7. Toilets… (TREES ARE NOT TOILETS)
NEVER PEE ON TREES. USE THE TOILETS AT THE TRAILHEAD.
Welcome to the Great Outdoors! You have been exploring nature for a few hours now, but all that water you have been drinking is ready to “make like a tree… and leaf!” When Nature calls in the wild, it calls. If you can make it back to the trailhead and the toilets there, please do! If you can make it home, even better. But if you can’t hold it another minute, you need to go. Walk off of the trail a few paces, and find a bit of privacy. At this point, most people would tell you to just “Pee on a tree.” Some people are even under the mistaken belief that it is good for the tree. BUT YOU SHOULD NEVER PEE ON TREES!
You should NEVER pee on trees. It is bad for trees! Use the toilets at the trailhead if you can. But if nature’s call is too strong, head for a rock. NEVER pee on trees!
Urine contains salty waste products that small critters like squirrels and deer think smell good. These critters will seek out the smell of the dried salts and do anything they can to get to them. This includes attacking, scratching, gnawing, and causing serious damage to anything that you relieved yourself on. SO… pee on rocks, not trees! When an animal attacks a rock in an attempt to get to that wonderful smell of dried urine, the rock doesn’t feel anything. In fact, the rock will probably not be damaged at all. Most animals that would be looking for your pee aren’t strong enough to break a rock.
8. “Take only [photographs], leave only footprints.”
Yes, there are monsters in the world who would do this. Don’t be a monster.
This statement, attributed to Native American Chief Seattle (though he said ‘memories,’ not ‘photographs’) is a statement that perfectly summarizes how people should treat nature. In the 200 years that the United States has been around, our ancestors have managed to keep nature open and beautiful for us. Let’s make sure to treat nature with respect, and keep it open and beautiful for generations to come.
Don’t leave any trace that you were there. Don’t leave behind trash, and especially not graffiti. Graffiti looks great on the side of cement walls and it is a cool art form (when done legally and with permission). But it never looks good on nature. Don’t spray rocks, trees, or bushes.
If you find a stick on the trail, leave it there. It belongs in nature. If you bring along a knife, don’t carve your initials into a tree. Nobody else needs to know that you were here. Just you.