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Watch a clip about hiking safety and how to leave no trace during your hike, and check out other clips on DEC's YouTube Channel.

Follow the Hiker Responsibility Code:

Be Prepared

Wear proper gear and attire, including sturdy, comfortable boots.

  • Moisture-wicking synthetic fabrics that keep your skin dry and help regulate your body temperature in both cold and warm weather - avoid cotton as it holds moisture
  • 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
  • A watch or other time-keeping device
  • Trekking poles will reduce leg fatigue and joint pain
  • Snowshoes and traction devices in the winter

10 Hiking Essentials

Carry these essentials in a day pack on all hikes for a safe and enjoyable experience.

  • Map
  • Compass
  • GPS system
  • Extra batteries
  • Waterproof/windproof jacket
  • Hat
  • Gloves
  • Thermal undergarments (pack extra)
  • Wool socks (pack extra)
  • Goggles - Winter
  • Face mask - Winter
  • Headlamp
  • Flashlight
  • Lanterns
  • Extra batteries
  • Use a pre-made kit or build your own
  • Whistle
  • Signal mirror
  • Duct tape
  • Pocket knife/multi-tool, etc.
  • Bright colored cloth
  • Matches in waterproof container
  • Lighter
  • Fire starters
hiking gear
  • Choose high protein and high calorie items
  • Pack extra food
  • In the winter break food into small pieces and pack in the center of pack to avoid freezing
  • Pack at least 2 liters per person
  • Carry more than you think you will need
  • Water filtration or purifying system
  • In the winter insulate your hydro-tubing or pack water in the center of pack to avoid freezing
  • Sunglasses
  • Sunscreen
  • Hat
  • Bug Repellent
  • Bug Net
  • Tent
  • Space Blanket
  • Tarp
hiker looking at a map

Use Maps, Guides, or DEC's Website to Plan Your Trip

Leave Trip Plans With Family or Friends

  • Update them with any changes to your plans

Be Realistic About Your Fitness and Skill Level

  • Don't overestimate your abilities
  • Don't underestimate mother nature
  • Choose trails within your or your group's ability
  • In the winter, breaking through fresh snow can be more tiring than regular hiking.

Check the Weather Forecast and Current Conditions

  • Day of your trip
  • Night of your trip and the next day so you can be prepared for an unexpected night in the woods
  • Know what time the sun sets and plan your hike to return before dark


  • Thunderstorms can pop up even if they are not forecast
  • Watch for darkening skies, increase winds, lightning flashes, and the rumble of thunder
  • Avoid summits and other open areas during thunderstorms
  • As soon as you are first aware of an approaching thunderstorm move to lower elevations and seek shelter
  • If caught outside in a thunderstorm find a low spot away from tall trees, seek an area of shorter trees and crouch down away from tree trunks
  • Make yourself as short as possible by;
    • Sitting on your pack or sleeping pad with your knees flexed, and
    • Hugging your knees to keep your feet together to minimize the ground effect of a near-by lightning strike

Weather Conditions Can Affect Your Health

Hypothermia occurs when your body loses heat faster than it can produce heat, causing a dangerously low body temperature.

a hiker climbing up a rockey covered trail covered in snow, Tree's are in the background with the sun's light shining through a clearing between them.
  • Stay warm and dry to prevent hypothermia
  • Cool wet weather is as dangerous as extremely cold temperatures.
  • During cool and rainy weather
    • Wear waterproof jacket with hood or hat and waterproof pants
    • Wear layers of non-cotton clothing that can wick moisture
  • During nice weather
    • Pack rain gear and extra clothing as weather can change quickly or you may have to spend the night in the woods
  • During cold weather - dress properly
    • Thermal undergarments that wick moisture
    • Fleece or wool insulating layer
    • Waterproof or water-resistant outer layers
    • Thick socks, a winter hat, and gloves or mittens
    • Waterproof, insulated boots
  • Carry plenty of food and water - eat, drink, and rest often
  • Being tired, hungry, or dehydrated makes you more susceptible to hypothermia

Heat Exhaustion and Heat Stroke occur when your body's cooling mechanisms are overcome by heat, causing a dangerously high body temperature.

  • Wear sunscreen
  • Slow your pace
  • Drink water and rest more often
  • Seek shade and avoid long periods in direct sunlight
  • Do not hike in extremely hot weather

Prepare For Survival

  • Know what to do in case of emergencies and be prepared for them to happen

Hike in a Group and Stay Together

  • Pace your hike to the slowest person
  • Stay in sight of the person behind you and the person in front of you
  • Stay in hearing distance of everyone in your group

Monitor Conditions and Turn Back

  • If the weather changes for the worse
  • If exhaustion is setting in for any group members
  • If darkness is approaching
  • Don't push your limits!

More Safety Tips

Emergency Phone Numbers

  • 911
  • DEC Dispatch: 1-833-NYS-RANGERS (1-833-697-7264)

At the Trailhead or Parking Lot

hiker registering at the trailhead sign in
  • Conceal valuables, and lock your vehicle
  • Save the DEC Dispatch number in your cell phone
  • 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
  • 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
  • Keep track of time and remember it will take you as long to return to your starting point as it did to get to wherever you are on your hike
  • Turn off cellphones or switch to "airplane mode" to conserve the battery
  • Use a flashlight or headlamp. Save your cell phone battery
Forest Ranger DEC logo

If You Are Lost or Injured

  • 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 911 or 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 someone is injured or stricken and there is no cell service:
    • One person should remain with the injured person while the others note their location and leave to obtain assistance
    • If there isn't anyone to stay behind, make sure the injured person has shelter and supplies before leaving to seek help
  • 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 leaf litter to insulate the shelter
    • DEC has a brochure with safety tips on how to prevent getting lost and what to do if you are lost
  • DEC Forest Rangers have the primary responsibility for searching for lost hikers and rescuing injured hikers

When You Return

  • Sign trail registers again and indicate the time
  • Return any trail guides
  • Dispose of litter properly
  • Inform person you left trip plans with that you have finished your hike