a trail is immune to the dangers of society. But many times troubled individuals seek out the wilderness to cope with their mental issues. In very rare cases these issues lead to altercations and in this case, tragedy.
- Always carry a cell phone and proper navigation. That means carry paper maps or an updated map app on your phone (realize though it may not have side trails like a paper map). If you are in trouble and need to bail or to get yourself out of a situation, you will need to know where to go. Have emergency contact information for the area you are hiking in on your phone. When in doubt dial 911.
- Never give your itinerary out on social media. Share plans with family or friends privately but don’t broadcast it everywhere. Some hikers in the past have been attacked by sharing their whereabouts. That includes who you share with on the trail. Be sure you know the person(s) before telling them where you will be or what you are doing. I never give out my info to anyone. I tell hikers I don’t know where I’ll be. I also never tell anyone I see on the trail I am hiking solo if they ask.
- Carrying safety measures is an individual choice. Some have talked about carrying mace, a firearm, etc. Please realize that each state has their own regulations for carrying pepper spray or a firearm. It is your responsibility to know the laws of each state and to make sure you are trained in all aspects of firearm safety and abiding by the regulations. Taking a defensive class can make you feel more confident. Oftentimes in situations your brain is the best defense you have. Don’t take chances. Don’t ever engage with someone who appears unstable. If something isn’t right, if you meet someone who isn’t right, leave the area. Even If it’s late at night, leave the area. And for that reason, make sure you also have fresh batteries in your headlamp, charged cell phone, and navigation handy.
- If you witness anything suspicious or criminal, alert local authorities and fill out an incident form with the trail’s managing group (for the Appalachian Trail, for example, it would be the Appalachian Trail Conservancy). This includes items stolen, altercations witnessed, weird behavior, threats, damage to person or property, etc.
- Try to hike together or stay with groups. I have done extensive solo hiking, but it isn’t for everyone and I have hiked with others in certain areas. Especially on the AT though, it’s rare you are ever hiking solo. If you feel better with others then find hikers to hike with.
- If you can and it is legal in that area, avoid staying in high use areas such as shelters or high use camping areas where you may encounter mentally unstable individuals, etc. Do not camp near any kind of road, including road traces. Look for those out of the way places to camp if it is legal to do so.
- The trail grapevine is essential for trail news, as is shelter logs. Take all warnings seriously and use common sense and good judgment. If you need to - adjust your plans, skip over a part of the trail (it isn't going anywhere), get off the trail, take a side trail, flip flop, do whatever you must to be safe.
- Do not hitchhike if possible. Check with day hikers in parking lots, try online hiking groups, or use your guidebook to call for rides. If you must hitch, do so with others.
- Above all, look out for one another. We are hiker family. If one is affected, it affects us all. There is strength in numbers and in each other. Stay strong, stay alert, and don’t let fear rob you of having a good time in the woods.