You’re hiking along happily, taking in the sights and sounds of nature, when suddenly you fall. You got so caught up in the babbling brook, rustling leaves and scampering squirrels that you missed the tree log jutting out in front of you, tripped on it and sprained your ankle. Accidents do happen on hikes, more often than you think. You need to be alert at all times and follow these safety tips.

Start off small

Forget the 10-mile trek, unless you are highly experienced or have built up your stamina considerably. Choose a shorter route close to home and work your way up to the big hikes.

Prepare for your hike

Research the area where you’re going. Know what the terrain and weather will be like, and plan accordingly. While tennis shoes might suffice for a short, leisurely hike through a park on a sunny day, boots might be better for a rigorous trek up a mountainside on a rainy day. Let someone at home know where you’re going and when you’ll be back. That way, should you not return on time, they can take action.

Hike with others

Don’t go it alone. You could run into problems and have no one to turn to. What would you do if you tore a ligament and could not walk or get a signal on your cell phone? You would have to wait and hope that someone else came along, which may or may not happen. Bring along a pal, preferably an experienced hiker. Should you suffer an accident and need assistance, you will have someone there to take care of matters.

Bring the right stuff

Pack enough food and water to last you throughout your trip. Don’t depend upon Mother Nature for nourishment. Stream water is a no-no, as are many of the nuts and berries you might find along the way. Bring appropriate clothing and gear for the weather predicted. Pack a compass, map and field guide, as well as cell phone and a first aid kit for emergencies. Know how to use the equipment and where to seek medical attention, if needed.

Travel smart

Stick to the trail. Don’t wander off, or you just might wind up lost and destroy precious ecosystems in the process. Protect yourself and the environment. Apply sunscreen vigilantly and take breaks frequently. Don’t push yourself, or you might not have the energy to finish. Pack out what you pack in and give wildlife their space.

Hiking can be an exhilarating experience, as long as you play it safe. Be careful, stay alert and don’t take any more risks than necessary. Happy hiking!