Hiking is an excellent activity for exercise, exploring and family bonding, but it can also be dangerous if you aren’t prepared. Most park rangers will tell you they spend much of their time assisting injured hikers or searching for people lost in unfamiliar areas. With the following seven tips in mind, you can have a great hike that is memorable for all the right reasons and none of the wrong ones:

Have a Plan

Getting lost can put a huge damper on your hike and even put your life in danger. Before you hit the trails, draw up a plan. Make sure you know where you’re going and what the condition of the trails is. You should also know the weather forecast so you’re not surprised. Finally, before you go, have an emergency plan in place and make sure someone at home knows where you're headed and how to get a hold of you.

Take a Buddy

In general, a walk can be a refreshing solitary activity, but when you go on a hike you should take a friend or go in a group. A pair of hikers is much better equipped to deal with an emergency and keep each other from panicking. If you go in a group, stay together and move at the pace of the slowest hiker. And make sure everyone in the group has water, a light and a whistle in case you get separated.

Bring the Proper Gear

The shoes you wear can make or break a hike (and your ankles), but that’s not the only piece of equipment you need to think about. To hike safely, you must have the proper gear.

To make sure you’re prepared for an emergency. you should always have a light, a whistle, a knife, a basic first-aid kit, a way to make fire, and a mobile phone. Your phone won’t always work, but it’s more likely to help if you have it. You should even consider mobile apps or services like Hiker Alert that could help you in an emergency.

Equip yourself with a map and GPS or compass, in case you get turned around. You don’t have to spend a lot of money on this type of equipment, but if you go on any kind of hike at all, you should have it.

Pack Food and Water

Even if you’re only going on a short hike, to prevent an emergency and protect yourself if one arises, you need to take some food and water. You can live without food longer than water, so you can pack light in that respect, but you should have some of both. Plan to take one quart of water for every two hours of hiking. For overnight trips, a general rule is to take one pound of food per day for an average male.

Be Aware of Your Limits

Hiking is a lot of fun and getting to the end of a long or challenging trail can give you a huge sense of accomplishment, but if you’re going to hike safely, you have to know your limits. Don’t hike terrain beyond your level of ability. Don’t plan a six-hour hike if you’re only used to two-hour hikes. Getting stuck overnight when you’re not prepared to camp can be disastrous. Hike to your ability and enjoy the accomplishment of the gradual improvement.

Know When to Stop

The outdoors are full of adventure, but they’re also full of unpredictability. Conditions change quickly. The weather can shift in the blink of an eye. Your own physical state can change without warning. Knowing when to call it quits on a hike can be the difference between making it back to base safely before dark and spending a nightmare weekend alone in the woods.

Use Your Common Sense

Life is unpredictable and emergencies happen. You should do everything you can to prepare for your hike and then the best way to survive is to use your common sense. Listen to your instincts and don’t panic. Stop, breathe and think. The more you’ve planned ahead, the better off you’ll be.

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