Day Hiking Tips
This page presents some basic information and suggestions on how best to enjoy a safe day hike in canyon country.
Following these basic rules for backcountry hiking will enhance your journey and lessen the chance of a negative experience.
- Choose a trail that fits your skills and experience, and allow sufficient time for the hike. Allow yourself enough time to find your way if you should get lost.
- Begin with a detailed map. Locate your route on the map and try to familiarize yourself with the distance, elevation gain, and directional changes you will encounter. Not all miles are created equal. Review alternative routes.
- Become familiar with the weather conditions in the hike area. Keep in mind the shorter daylight hours of fall and winter.
- Obtain permits if necessary.
- Limit your group to a size a leader can safely handle and that won't damage backcountry sites. One leader for eight hikers is recommended.
- Let some responsible person know where you are going, what route you will take, when you expect to return, and what to do it you don't. And stick to your plan.
- Never hike alone. Go with a friend. If you're alone and take a fall there will be no one to assist you.
- Carry water (at least one gallon per person per day) and drink even when you don't feel thirsty. It is better to take too much water.
- Hats, sunglasses, and sunscreen are recommended.
- Take matches, food, and adequate clothing.
- Bring a compass, a topographic map, and a trail map, and use them often.
- See Packs for more information.
- Many trailheads are isolated. Never leave valuables where they can bee seen, and lock your vehicle. If you must leave something of value, lock it in your trunk.
- Do not advertise your extended absence with a posted note of your itinerary.
- A cache of water in your car is a good idea. You will be thirsty on your return.
- Don't be too proud to ask directions.
- Sign the trail register if there is one available. Search-and-Rescue teams look there first.
- Always check with a ranger before entering the backcountry when that resource is available.
- Hike only on established, marked trails, on slick rock, or in washes, to avoid damaging fragile cryptobiotic soil and to prevent multiple paths. Off-trail travel is prohibited within many parks and monuments.
- When hiking, walk in single file to minimize the effect of your footprints.
- When approaching other hikers on the trail stay to the right. If there is not room enough for all to pass comfortably follow these guidelines:
- Step aside and allow those climbing to continue their ascent.
- Backpacks generally have the right of way over those with smaller or no packs.
- Horses, mules, and other livestock always have the right of way over hikers and bikers. Stand to the side of the trail and do not move. These animals are easily frightened and may spook.
- Hikers generally have the right of way over mountain bikes. However, it may be easier for hikers to stand aside and let the bikers pass.
- In all situations use common sense and courtesy.
- Don't take signs, or even another's tracks, as the correct route in unfamiliar terrain.
- Develop the habit of watching only the ground in front of you while moving. Stop before looking around. This habit will save you from tripping over stones, exposed roots, and rodent burrows, as well as prevent painful encounters with cactus and other prickly plants. It will also lessen your chance of a surprise confrontation with a rattlesnake.
- Be on the lookout for rattlesnakes during the spring, summer, and fall months. Stay on trails and do not disturb them if encountered.
- Watch for wildlife and respect their space.
- Pace yourself and rest often. Be aware of altitude, footing, and other conditions which require a slower pace. Don't push beyond your limits.
- Don't take shortcuts. Doing so leads to excess erosion.
- Stick together. Don't leave exhausted friends to catch up. Never split up unless your own safety is threatened. If a friend is hurt or sick, stay with them until help arrives.
- Don't be afraid to turn back and retrace your tracks if daylight is getting short. Search and rescue operations are expensive and avoidable.
- See Lost in the Backcountry.
- The use of the backcountry is limited and wilderness permits are required for all overnight backpacking trips.
- Wear sturdy boots or comfortable shoes suited to your hike. Lightweight boots or sturdy sneakers may be adequate, and have less impact than heavy lug-soled boots.
- A hat is advisable to protect against heat and sunburn.
- Do not put your hands or feet into places you can't see.
- Hiking and other strenuous activities in extreme heat can be hazardous.
- Flash floods can occur without warning. Never cross a canyon that is flooding.
- Stay away from canyon rims, look before you step to make sure the path is clear, and keep children under very close supervision.
- Use care when hiking on on slickrock, especially if it is wet or snowy. Sandstone is soft and fractures easily. Sand grains can act like ball bearings under your boots.
- Never throw or roll rocks. There may be hikers below.
- When hiking in the desert, carrying water is a good idea on any hike, and a necessity on longer ones. Natural water sources are scarce, are essential to wildlife, and may contain the parasite Giardia. Follow precautions before consuming natural water.
- Report inappropriate behavior to the proper authorities.
- Warm up and start slowly, resisting the temptation to keep up with faster-paced partners. Stop to stretch after 20 minutes.
- Find your own pace. Can you maintain a conversation as you stride uphill? If not, you're working too hard. Slow down until you can talk without gasping.
- Suck wind. Most of us don't use our full lung capacity. To get your fair share, relax your throat muscles and "engulf" the incoming air. Breathe in deeply and smoothly.
- Keep moving. Long breaks may feel divine, but you burn extra energy warming up again. Your best bet is to rest five to ten minutes every 45 minutes.
- Stoke the furnace. As you walk, keep a continuous flow of fuel to your muscles by sipping water and nibbling gorp. Avoid enormous lunches, which zap your energy.
- Stride right. Use a version of the "rest step" on steep climbs. At each stride, rest momentarily on a straightened lower leg, keeping your calves loose and your soles flat-footed. Rock your upper body forward and upwards, smoothly "throwing" your hips up over the new center of balance atop your higher leg.
- Many accidents occur when people fall after stepping off trails or roadsides, or by venturing onto very steep slopes.
- When hiking in mountainous areas within the national parks, stay on designated trails and don't go beyond protective fencing or guard rails. Supervise children closely in such areas.
- At upper elevations, trails should be followed carefully.
- Exercise caution around any snowfield. Snowfields and glaciers present serious hazards.
- Snow bridges may conceal deep crevasses on glaciers or large hidden cavities under snowfields, and may collapse under the weight of an unsuspecting hiker.
- Don't slide on snowbanks. People often lose control and slide into rocks or trees.
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