10 Hiking Safety Tips You NEED to Know Before Hitting the Trail

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There’s few things on this planet that are better than lacing up those boots and exploring a new hiking trail. Getting awesome exercise endorphins AND enjoying incredible views? Yes please! 

However, hiking definitely isn’t without its risks—in fact, it’s estimated that approximately 50,000 search and rescue efforts for hikers are conducted in the United States each year alone. So if you’d rather just enjoy the trails and not become another statistic, here are 10 key safety hiking tips to follow to make sure you’re staying safe in the incredible great outdoors. 

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Woman standing on a rock formation along the Heart of Rocks hike at Chiricahua National Monument
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This post is sponsored by AllTrails, which we have personally used and loved for many years. All opinions are my own.

My husband, Justin, and I hike a LOT. We’ve been lucky enough to have hiked all over the world and usually hit the trails at least a couple of times a week. We love that hiking is a relatively low impact way to get exercise and, more importantly, see some of the wildest landscapes on the planet.

However, we also appreciate that hiking comes with some real risks—a reported ​​11,000 hikers and backpackers are injured and almost 5,000 people get lost on the trail in the United States each year.

Man climbing up a rock wall at the Devil's Hall Trail in Guadalupe Mountains National Park in Texas

We take safety seriously and have even made some investments, like an AllTrails+ membership (more on that later!), to make sure we stay safe on the trail. So here are the ten guidelines we follow every single time that we hit the trails.  

1. Be prepared for the trail that you’re going to ahead of time

Perhaps the most important of the hiking safety tips that you need to follow is to know what to expect along the trail—i.e., how long, steep and challenging it is and over what kind of terrain—and have the confidence that you can physically tackle it.

To find out this kind of information, we constantly use the AllTrails app, which has the distance, elevation gain, and TONS of other useful information for over 400,000 trails all over the world. 

Woman holding cell phone with AllTrails map

One key feature of AllTrails that we use ALL the time (like, literally multiple times a week!) is recent trail reports left by its 65 million-plus members, which can give you helpful insight on what other hikers experienced on the trail recently, whether they recommend bringing waterproof boots (like this pair for men or this pair for women) because there’s standing water on the trail, or whether a certain section of the hike is particularly challenging. 

And, with AllTrails+, a paid version of the AllTrails app that unlocks all kinds of cool functionalities, you can use its helpful features to be better prepared for any hike. For example, its Trail Previews feature lets you get an immersive preview of the elevation gain and terrain you can expect along any trail before you leave home, and its Advanced Conditions feature shows you information about the weather you might encounter—like if there may be snow at higher elevations!—and even how buggy the trail will be so you can know exactly what to wear and pack (like, bug spray, anyone?).

We use ALL of these features to help us plan ahead for any difficulties that we might encounter along the trail, whether that means bringing along extra gear or saving the trail for some other time when the conditions are more ideal.

Pssst… our awesome readers get a sweet 30% off discount to AllTrails+ — just use this link to save 30% on an annual AllTrails+ membership!
Woman standing on a hiking trail with a backcountry camping backpack along the Enchanted Valley Trail in Olympic National Park

Beyond just these kinds of trail basics, some other things you need to consider are:


Hiking at higher altitudes can strain your body, due to the lower oxygen levels in the air.

Suppose you’re heading from at or near sea level to a hike starting at 6,500 feet or above sea level, like the Acatenango hike in Guatemala or the Mauna Kea hike on the Big Island of Hawaii. In that case, I’d suggest acclimating at higher elevations for ideally a day, if possible, before tackling the trail to make sure you don’t experience Acute Mountain Sickness while hiking. 

Couple holding hands and watching the Fuego Volcano explode next to a campfire along the Acatenango hike in Guatemala

You can check out the elevation at the trailhead, endpoint, or anywhere along the pathway by looking at the trail map on AllTrails.


Do you know if there are any animals in the area, like grizzly bears or mountain goats, that you should be aware of? Do you have the appropriate gear, like bear spray, or know what to do if you encounter an animal along the trail?

For this aspect, we usually read recent AllTrails users’ reports to see if there’s anything that’s been spotted along the trail and check for any alerts on the relevant park’s website.


If you have serious allergies or respiratory problems, you might want to check out pollen or air quality index maps (speaking from experience, I can confirm that nobody likes swollen eyes or postnasal drip whilst hiking!). 

Woman hiking in a meadow of wildflowers along the Sage Hill Trail in Washington

AllTrails+ has a really helpful feature where you can actually apply overlays, including an AQI and pollen count, to a map, so you can know exactly what to expect on the trail (and have that Zyrtec at the ready!).


We usually check the weather using a couple of different websites and apps, like weather.com, accuweather.com, for the area we’re going to be hiking in, or AllTrails+ also has a handy dandy overlay that you can apply on a map. 

Not only can this help us plan around the likelihood of thunderstorms or excessive heat, but also around things like cloud coverage—as photographers, we’re often chasing sunsets and we might want to shelve a sunset hike for another day if the clouds aren’t cooperating and blocking those epic views! 

Man snowshoeing along Hurricane Hill Trail in Olympic National Park in Washington

2. Follow the buddy system

I know hiking by your lonesome is kind of romanticized, a la Into the Wild, but let’s be real—the guy in that book literally got lost in the Alaska wilderness and died. Not exactly the vibe most hikers are going for.

If you hike with a buddy, there will be someone there to help or two brains to come up with a solution if something happens to you on the trail. 

Couple standing along the Kalalau Hike in Kauai, overlooking the Pacific Ocean

Plus, adventures are more fun with friends, amirite?

3. Let someone know of your plans ahead of time

Okay, this is one of the most important hiking safety tips, ESPECIALLY if you disregard #2—you NEED to have an itinerary for your hike in place and let someone trustworthy know said plan ahead of time, in case something goes awry and you don’t return as originally scheduled. 

For this, we use yet another feature of AllTrails+ that has a really cool—and potentially life-saving—feature called Live Share.

Woman looking at the Live Share on the AllTrails+ app on her cell phone

With Live Share, you can actually share your route information, real time progress along the trail, your expected return time, and even your battery life and cell service status with a loved one. And, even if you lose service along your hike, the person you shared your route with will be able to see your last location along the trail. 

This is SUPER important—in the event you’re hurt or lost while hiking, the person you shared your plans with via Live Share will be able to contact a park ranger or search and rescue party and provide pertinent details, like your last known location so that help can reach you as quickly as possible. 

4. Have a way to communicate

In the unlikely event that something bad happens along the trail, you need to have some kind of way to communicate with the outside world. 

Couple hiking through Arch Rock the  Alum Cave Trail in Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee

Some questions you should be asking yourself:

  • Is there cell service along the trail? Most of the major carriers, like T-Mobile, AT&T, and Verizon, have cell coverage maps that can give you a decent idea of whether there’s service along the trail. Recent AllTrails reviews can also be a handy place to look regarding this. 
  • If you’re not confident there’s cell service, do you have some other way to communicate with the outside world if help is needed, like via a satellite communicator?
  • Is your phone fully charged and are you taking a portable charger with you?

5. Download offline maps

If you’re anything like us, most of the trails that we hike are in remote and secluded locations and, unfortunately, don’t have cell service, which means you won’t be able to look up trail maps on your phone to make sure you’re on the right path or to track your progress using GPS. 

Good news, though—you can download maps with an AllTrails+ membership before you head out on your hike to make sure you know where you’re at and where you’re going the entire time you’re on the trail.

Woman touching the offline map function of the AllTrails+ app on her cellphone

Honestly, we dragged our feet a bit getting an AllTrails+ membership and then eventually bit the bullet specifically so that we can access this feature (which isn’t available on the free AllTrails app)—and are SO glad we did. 

I literally can’t count the number of times we’ve been unsure of which way to go on a trail that splits off in a bunch of directions without any signage—or have even accidentally strayed off the trail—and have been able to figure out the right path by looking at our offline map on AllTrails and using GPS to keep us on the right path. Score!

Couple hiking along the Fern Canyon Trail in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park in Redwoods National and State Parks in California

6. Have a Plan B in place

Trail conditions can change at any time and it’s a good idea to know where to go—and what to expect there—if your Plan A happens to not work out. For example, during our first day in Glacier National Park, we were hoping to hike the Avalanche Lake Trail—but unfortunately, it was closed due to grizzly bear activity in the area. So I’d suggest looking up information about back-up options around the trailhead, just in case. 

For your research, we just so happen to have over 80 trail guides for 8 different countries here on Uprooted Traveler. 

Man standing on a rock and looking at mountains along the Avalanche Lake hike in Glacier National Park

Alternatively, our friends over at AllTrails may have us beat just a little, with information for 400,000+ trails AND a handy dandy search functionality where you can look for trails at a certain destination and even filter for hikes based on aspects like their length, difficulty, and proximity to you. 

They also just released over 200 hand-curated National Park guides for AllTrails+ members, which provide KILLER suggestions of the best and most underrated hikes in some of the most beautiful places on the planet!

Woman touching the National Park guides in AllTrails+ on her cellphone

7. Come up with an emergency plan

Unfortunately, bad things can happen on the trail, so it’s important to think through and come up with a plan, in case something goes awry on the trail. 

For example:

  • Where are you meeting if your group gets separated from one another?
  • Do you know the emergency number, wherever you’re hiking—whether it’s 911 or otherwise? Remember that other countries have different emergency numbers that you should know ahead of time!
  • Does someone in your group have a first aid kit and know how to use it?
  • Do you have something to signal for help if you need it? It’s helpful to have things like a mirror, headlamp, or bright articles of clothing handy for this one! 
Woman putting a headlamp into her backpack with a water bottle in it

8. Come prepared with the appropriate gear

Of all hiking safety tips, the most common faux pas that we see on trails are seeing folks hiking with totally inadequate gear, whether that’s wearing flip-flops or other types of nonsense footwear on rocky and uneven hikes (hint—for the majority of unpaved hiking trails, you’re going to want to wear proper hiking boots with a sturdy sole) or hitting the trail without any kind of hydration (yup, we see it alllll the time).

Couple hiking on a large boulder along the Rubicon Trail in Lake Tahoe, California

If you followed Tip #1 above and know what to expect along the trail, that also means you should have a decent idea of what kind of gear will be required to comfortably and safely tackle the hike.

Besides proper footwear, there are ten essentials that you should be bringing with you on the trail:

Woman with a beanie downloading an offline map on the AllTrails+ app on a cellphone

We just leave the majority of these items in our hiking backpacks so we have them on us in any given trail. However, in full transparency, we definitely don’t bring ALL of these ten essentials every single time we hit the trail—for example, if we’re doing a flat trail that’s less than a mile long, bringing along an emergency blanket might be a bit extreme. 

However, you should be familiar with what to expect along the trail and pack accordingly. And always err on the side of caution—it’s definitely better to be carting around an emergency blanket or headlamp when you don’t need it, rather than being without one when you really are in dire need. 

Man filtering water with a Sawyer Mini Squeeze into a Nalgene bottle along the Enchanted Valley hike in Olympic National Park

9. Stay on the trail

So what’s the best and easiest way not to get lost or injured while hiking? 

Staying on the trail! 

Man walking along a wooden boardwalk along the Emerald Lake Trail in Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado

While you might occasionally be tempted to step off trail, I’d highly discourage it. There’s certain areas, like along the Appalachian Trail, where, if you step off the pathway, the vegetation is so dense that you can literally lose sight of the trail almost immediately. And not only does it make it more likely that you might get lost or injured, but it also has a negative impact on the trail itself, like unnecessary erosion and trampling of plant life. 

Sometimes, you might not actually mean to go off-trail—I have personally accidentally followed the social trail down the wrong way and then had a hard time getting back on the right track on more than one occasion. 

Man with a backcountry camping backpack along the Wedgemount Mountain hike in Whistler, British Columbia

So how do you prevent this from happening?

Well, one of our favorite aspects of AllTrails+ is that, not only can you download maps and track your on-trail progress, but the app will actually alert you with vibration and an audible chime if you’re accidentally going off trail (as in, go NUTS in your pocket and vibrate aggressively until you get back on the right path). It’s saved our butts SO many times when we’ve accidentally gotten off trail and not even been aware of it! 

10. Be okay with turning back

This is one of the toughest hiking safety tips (at least for me!)—but if you’re not comfortable moving forward with a trail or aren’t sure that you have the right gear, you need to be okay with turning around and heading back to the trailhead. 

Woman standing on the edge of Guadalupe Peak, overlooking El Capitan, along the Guadalupe Peak Trail in Guadalupe Mountains National Park in Texas

It’s WAY better to know your limits and save finishing a trail for some time in the future when you’re better prepared, than to hurt yourself or get to the point where others have to help you (and possibly endanger themselves). 

Remember that hiking is literally ALL about the journey, not the destination—it’ll be a lot easier to make the right decision with that perspective, instead of pressing on just to see some endpoint.

There you have it—10 hiking safety tips to keep you safe on the trail. Do you have any questions about staying safe in the great outdoors? Let us know in the comments below!

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