Hiking, like any active recreation, comes with some inherent risks. Making sure you pack the ten essentials, leaving your itinerary with family and friends, and other common sense precautions go a long way toward minimizing some of those risks. You can find a copy of the very comprehensive Trip Intentions form (Victoria Police) and an Online Trip Intentions form on the Bushwalking Search and Rescue (BSAR) website, on the right-hand side of the Home page under Safety Information.
Even if you have been hiking for years without incident, it’s never a bad idea to remember accidents can happen and to go back to basics when preparing a walk . Experience and being well-prepared count for a lot outdoors, but good communication and developing decision-making skills are just as essential.
In your plan, always consider how you will cope and treat possible injuries. Plan your emergency contact arrangements.
Choose your hiking companions. Each one of us is ultimately responsible for our own safety in the bush. But all hikers in a group need to feel comfortable together. Get to know about everyone’s level of experience when you are planning the walk. If there are going to be inexperienced walkers on the hike, it needs to be planned to cater for the abilities of the least experienced.
Before you set off:
Pack for the unexpected, pack for probable contingencies – weather conditions might change, the walk might take longer than expected, etc., check conditions – weather, water availability, track conditions, road conditions, river levels, fire/burn-off warnings etc, and identify escape route(s).
Once on the track
Heed signs and rangers’ advice – It’s good stewardship to follow the guidelines and advice of rangers and other land managers. Heed signage at trailheads and listen to the advice of rangers you meet at ranger stations or on the track.
Identify and deal with hazards during your hike – STOP, THINK and TALK IT THROUGH.
Consider the implications of your actions and talk through hazards with your group. If you take a risk, make sure it’s a calculated one. And make everyone understands the risk and is comfortable with taking it.
Think about the decisions you made in the past – Did they turn out the way you intended? Were you smart or just lucky? Remember, coming home safely is far more important than reaching your destination. If it was luck that brought you home safely, think about what you might have done differently to have avoided the risk and take that into account when assessing current risks.
Hike your own hike – Don’t let others’ actions determine your decisions without careful consideration. Listen to what others say, but make your own evaluation of hazards every time. BUT NEVER LEAVE THE GROUP TO WALK ON YOUR OWN.
Know your own limits and the limits of everyone in your group – Don’t push on regardless. Turning back if conditions aren’t safe or if someone in your group is uncomfortable is always the right decision. We all would like to achieve the goal of our walk, but reaching it safely is more important (and more fun). If someone is uncomfortable, consider finding a different route or trying again when conditions improve.
Make sure everyone is listened to – If you are more experienced, communicate with the rest of your group throughout the walk, be aware of how they are coping, and listen to what they say about how they are coping, and ‘read between the lines’. If you are a less experienced hiker, ask questions and speak up if you have any concerns – your safety should be put above reaching the destination.
Take your time at water crossings – Crossing rivers and creeks is one of the more common hazards on a hike. It’s always best to cross water on a bridge where available. Be especially cautious in moving water– water can be dangerous if treated without respect. Rivers and even narrow creeks can be fast-moving and you risk being swept off your feet or away crossing fast moving ones.
Adapted from an article by the Washington Trails Association: http://www.wta.org/signpost/tips-for-evaluating-risk-on-trail