Seven W's of Hiking Safety: Weather

Number one of the Seven W's of Hiking Safety is Weather.

Weather conditions can change rapidly and bring with them unique challenges when hiking, whether hot or cold, wet or dry.


Be Prepared

Check the current and future weather conditions before you plan your hike. Be aware of any possible rain, thunderstorms, snow, humidity, extreme heat, etc. and pack accordingly (or plan your hike for a different day with better conditions).

Here are some suggestions for what to pack when the weather seems threatening:

For Rain

Consider packing a plastic rain poncho (preferably one with a hood).

Remember that people have died from hypothermia from wearing soaked clothing in the wilderness; choose to wear waterproof clothing to prevent this.

For Snow

Bring extra clothing (large coat, gloves, warm hat, snow shoes).

If you plan on hiking in the snow, learn to use an ice axe and crampons and be sure to pack them.

For Sun and Heat

Wear sunblock and a hat with a brim. Pack lots of water.

Don't Panic

Suddenly your pleasant hike takes a turn for the worse as the weather abruptly changes, what do you do? Don't panic!

Sudden Rain

Find high ground away from stream-beds and gullies to avoid flash floods. Stay on the trail, and find your way back as quickly as possible. However, if the rain is too thick to continue on the trail, take shelter under a hollow log or a rock overhang until the downpour lets up.

Sudden Thunderstorms

During a thunderstorm in the forest, the main danger is lightning. Avoid high, open areas--find a low area with a dense thicket of small trees. If you feel your hair begin to stand on end, lightning is about to strike--squat low to the ground, put your hands over your ears, and keep your head between your knees (minimize your contact with the ground, keep on your toes, and make yourself as small as possible).

Also, be aware that lightning strikes can cause Wildfires (another of the Seven W's of Hiking Safety).

Sudden Snow or Blizzards

Try to reach a lower elevation, but only if you can do it safely. Avoid cliffs, drop-offs, and open saddles as both decreased visibility and increased wind make these areas extremely dangerous. Keep dry and stay warm (covering your mouth can protect your lungs from extreme cold).

Unexpected Heat or Humidity

Drink plenty of water! Signs that you are becoming dehydrated include:

  • headaches
  • muscle cramps
  • blurred or snowy vision
  • dizziness
  • fainting
  • decreased blood pressure

If you are experiencing these symptoms, your priority is water--find it and drink plenty of it (but be aware that water in the wilderness is another of the Seven W's of Hiking Safety). If you have access to electrolyte enhanced water, this can be even more effective than plain water in treating mild dehydration.

For more information on hazardous weather conditions, follow this link to www.fema.gov.

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Riverside Hiking Examiner Cathy Flores is a freelance author currently writing a hiking guide for the San Bernardino Mountains.

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