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Hiking Safety

hiking safety supplies

Safety and preparedness are extremely important no matter your physical ability or destination. You'll have a more enjoyable and safer experience if you're properly prepared.

Plan Ahead

Before you leave, plan ahead. Learn about the area ahead of time. Learn about the area you'll be visiting ahead of time; know the opportunities and the regulations. Check maps, guidebooks and websites. Nearby State lands.

A group of hikers on a trail through the woods
It's safer to hike in a group than
to go alone.
  • Arrange to go with a group or at least one other person.
  • Know your skill level and physical capabilities-choose trails within your or your group's ability.
  • Arrange to go with a group or at least one other person.
  • Know what time the sun sets and plan your hike so you can return before dark.
  • Inform someone of your travel plans-let them know where you are going, your planned route, when you plan to return, and emergency numbers to call if you do not return at the scheduled time.
  • Program cell phones with the DEC Dispatch phone numbers, but do not rely on cell service in all areas.
    • Statewide: (518) 408-5850
    • Adirondacks: (518) 891-0235
  • Check the weather forecast and plan your trip accordingly. If the weather is poor, postpone your trip.
  • Check trail conditions before hiking.
  • Make sure you know how to use a map and compass when planning to hike in remote locations such as the Adirondack and Catskill Mountains.

What to Wear

  • Moisture-wicking synthetic fabrics that keep your skin dry and help regulate your body temperature in both cold and warm weather-avoid cotton, which holds moisture.
  • Additional layers such as wool or fleece for insulation and a wind/waterproof outer layer, depending on the weather. Layered clothing is recommended even for summer hikes.
  • Light-colored clothing, which will make it easier to see ticks.
  • Waterproof, sturdy, and comfortable shoes or boots.
  • Hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen.
  • A watch or other time-keeping device.

What to Pack

A person in an improvised shelter made from an orange trash bag with a hole for the face.
You can create a quick shelter
from rain or cold using a heavy-
duty trash bag with a hole cut
out for your face.
  • Day pack large enough to carry your gear
  • Water
  • High energy snacks
  • First aid kit (Epi-pen if allergic to bee stings)
  • Trail map and compass or GPS unit
  • Extra clothing layers and socks
  • Whistle
  • Flashlight or headlamp and extra batteries
  • Bug repellant
  • Pocket knife
  • Garbage bag-to carry out garbage or use as shelter
  • Trekking poles
Additional items for hiking in remote locations
  • Fire starter kit: matches in waterproof container and cotton balls soaked in petroleum jelly
  • Space blanket or bivy sack
  • Water filtration system or purification tablets
  • Safety vest or brightly colored clothing

At the Trailhead or Parking Lot

  • Conceal valuables, and lock your vehicle.
  • Sign trail registers and indicate the time. This will assist searchers in locating you if you become lost.

On the Trail

  • Stay with your party; don't split up and take different trails.
  • Be sure to drink water regularly; rest and snack occasionally.
  • Do not drink water from ponds or streams unless you have treated it first by boiling, filtering or using purification tablets.
  • Stay with your party; don't split up or take different trails.
  • Keep track of time and remember it will take you as long to return to your starting point as it did to hike out.
  • Turn off cellphones or switch to "airplane mode" to conserve the battery.
  • Do not use your cell phone as a light source, which will drain its batteries. Use the flashlight you packed instead.

If You Get Lost or Injured

A campfire burning at night
If you're lost, a campfire will
keep you warm and the smoke
will make you easier to find.
  • Stop where you are. Keep calm and assess your situation.
  • Try to determine your location-look for recognizable landmarks and listen for vehicles on nearby roads.
  • If you are sure you can get yourself out of the woods using a map and compass, do so-otherwise stay put.
  • If you have cell service, call the DEC Dispatch (see above). The dispatcher will ask questions to collect information needed to help searchers locate you quickly.
  • If you don't have cell service, move to a location close by where you are visible to searchers on the ground or in the air. If you have something brightly colored, wear it or place it in a conspicuous location.
  • If it appears that you will need to spend the night:
    • Clear an area of debris to build a campfire to provide heat, light and comfort. A fire will help searchers locate you.
    • Using items from your pack, build a shelter that will serve as a "cocoon" to keep you warm and sheltered from the weather. You can also use dead branches, conifer boughs and leave litter to insulate the shelter.
  • DEC has a brochure with safety tips (PDF) (191 kB) on how to prevent getting lost and what to do if you are lost.
If someone is injured or stricken…
  • If there is no cell service, at least one person should remain with the injured person while the others note their location and leave to contact DEC Dispatch.
  • If there isn't anyone to stay behind, make sure the injured person has shelter and supplies before leaving to seek help.

When You Return

  • Sign trail registers again and indicate the time.
  • Return trail guides.
  • Dispose of litter properly.

Weather Considerations

In the Northeast, the weather can change quickly and dramatically. A day may begin sunny and warm but suddenly become wet and chilly-conditions that may lead to hypothermia. Hypothermia can occur in any season-not just winter-and it can be fatal.

Staying Safe in Summer

Outdoor recreationists should be aware of the possibility of heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Heat stroke is potentially fatal.

Recreationists also should be aware that if skies darken, the wind increases or lightning flashes, it's likely an electrical storm is approaching. Avoid high ground, isolated trees, water and metal objects. Seek shelter in a nearby building or vehicle. If a storm is imminent, make yourself as small as possible by squatting on the balls of your feet and keeping your arms close to your sides. Limit contact with the ground by putting your hands on your knees. (see "Lightning Safety" link at right)

If a storm threatens while you're swimming or boating, get out of the water and away from it as quickly as possible. If you cannot return a boat to shore before a storm hits, go below deck or crouch in the middle of the boat, staying away from metal objects and surfaces.