Hike Safe this Spring


Healthy Living – April 11, 2017
Anthony Tannous, MD – Eastern Maine Medical Center

Maine spring is finally here, and though Mainers know how to brave the winter with steadfastness and grit, everyone is a more than a little happy to put away their heavy jackets and snow plows and embrace the fresh outdoors again. Soon enough most people will start planning their weekend hikes and to be completely honest, there is no better place to do it than the beautiful Maine nature paths.

We do however see more than our fair share of hiking injuries, the great majority of which are entirely preventable with foresight and careful planning.

First thing to do is to tell someone where and where are you are hiking, preferably someone who will miss you if you disappear. The best hikes are calm and remote and I’m a big fan of solo hiking. It helps quiet the mind and alleviate the stress of the work week. But that also means that if you suffer an injury and there is no one else around to help, it may be quite a while before anyone finds you.
Second, get a map! I favor an old-fashioned paper hiking map. There are many options for electronic apps that help you stay oriented but wireless reception may be patchy and battery issues can be damning. A map will help you stay on safe trails and find your way home. Stick to marked trails that are appropriate for your experience and challenge yourself intelligently. If you’re feeling adventurous, recruit a companion or even a guide.

Third, dress appropriately for the weather. Whenever you expose yourself to the elements you risk hypo or hyperthermia, sunburns and scratches and bruises. Make sure you are equipped for the weather. Also dress comfortably! I cannot stress that enough. I know from personal experience that you should not bring a fresh pair of hiking boots to a long hike. Break them in with shorter hikes at first before the big event. What may seem comfortable for the first hour of hiking may not be as appealing after hour three or four.

Personally, to make sure I have the best and safest hiking experience, I have made a small checklist that I store on my phone, that includes all my hiking essentials to pack in my bag: sunscreen, an insect repellant, plenty of hydration (water and sports drinks), energy bars, a bright colored T-shirt for daytime and a reflective T-shirt for night time, the lightest rain gear I can find, matches, a whistle, a small knife, a flashlight with batteries, a trash bag, and a small standard first aid kit which you can find in any pharmacy. This actually makes for a reasonably light backpack that shouldn’t hold you back too much.

But what to do if you get lost? Most park rangers will advise you to stay put, make shelter, use your whistle and if you hear helicopters step out into an open area and lay down on the ground to increase your visible surface area from the air.

If you plan appropriately, you will guarantee yourself a long and pleasurable hiking adventure that will re-energize you for days. See you on the trails!