How to protect yourself on hiking trails

Hiking camping stock photo
Posted at 7:26 AM, May 14, 2019
and last updated 2019-05-14 09:26:38-04

(CNN) — Alarming headlines about missing hikers or worse can trigger panic about trail safety and the risks of exploring remote areas.

The potential for danger exists no matter where you are, but the best way to guard against it is to be prepared and alert.

Here are some tips for how to stay safe while hiking in remote areas, culled from the National Park Service and the Appalachian Trail Conservancy.

Let someone know your plans

Whether you're alone or in a group, it's wise to tell someone else where you're going and when you intend to return.

Establish a plan for checking in and follow through with it. If your plans change, let your contacts know.

Carry trail maps and know how to use them

There's no harm in bringing your phone (except for taking perilous selfies), but it would a mistake to rely on it for directions.

Find a current map and bring along a hard copy of it. Study it and make a plan for where you intend to go. And make sure you know how to orient yourself before you set off.

Be wary of strangers

Be friendly, but cautious. Absolutely trust your instincts, especially if you are alone. Don't worry about being rude or hurting someone's feelings.

Avoid people who are intoxicated, act suspiciously or make you uncomfortable.

Be extra cautious if you're alone

Hiking alone inevitably makes you more vulnerable to unwanted contact. If you go it alone, keep in mind all of the above and be extra alert. Headphones can be a distraction, so you might want to consider ditching them.

When you encounter strangers, use the pronoun "we" instead of "I" when talking to people and try not to broadcast to others that you're alone.

Don't camp or linger near roads or trailheads

Places where people congregate -- such as roads, shelters and campsites -- can carry greater risks of unwanted interactions. Try to make yourself as inconspicuous as possible by camping away from roads and finding a location that's not clearly visible from a trail.

And on the subject of phones...

Reception is spotty and unavailable in many areas. Don't rely on your phone to be a map, a light source or a survival kit.

And if you're taking a selfie, stay within trails and boardwalks. For pictures of animals, use a zoom lens. If you're close enough to an animal to take a selfie with it, you are too close, and you should back away.

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