Now that we’re right in the middle of summer, outdoorsy people are hoping to get out for a hike and enjoy the warm weather before the chill of autumn starts rolling in. What’s important for both experienced hikers and newcomers alike is to know the basics of outdoor safety. Just like any activity, if done improperly, hiking can be dangerous for trekkers. To make sure you’re prepared, we’ve put together a short list of safety tips so that you can hit the trail confidently and safely.

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Know your dangerous plants and animals


You may feel the urge to pick up the adorable snake that just slithered by you or to grab some plants that you find interesting, but think twice before you do! If you can’t identify poisonous plants like poison ivy or dangerous animals and insects, err on the side of caution and leave them be. In addition to potentially being a danger to you, handling animals while not a veterinarian or an expert can be dangerous for the critter as well, so it’s best to just leave them be and snap pictures from afar!

Don’t venture off the trail


While you may be an excellent navigator or fantastic at reading maps, avoid stepping off the marked path when hiking! Trails usually have indicators or markers letting you know which direction to go in, which keeps you from getting lost and helps to maintain the natural environment. Straying from the path can make it easier to lose your way and get turned around, so make sure you keep an eye on the markers during your hike.

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Hike with another person, when possible


Having a buddy with you on the trail can be useful: You have company with you on your hike, and you also have someone who can look out for you, and you them. However, if you’d rather be alone in nature, make sure you study the trail beforehand and let someone know where you’re going and what time they should expect to hear from you after your hike.

Bring plenty of water and snacks


Dehydration can be dangerous when hiking, so bring as much water as you can comfortably carry and make sure that you’re taking sips from your bottle as often as possible. You may also find yourself getting hungry from all of the exertion from your hike, so don’t forget to bring some non-perishable snacks that don’t have to be cooked like granola, dried fruit, or nuts. Keeping your energy up and your body functioning is one of the most important things you can do to stay safe when hiking.

Know your limits


Before you start your journey, take some time to self-evaluate your physical needs and what you can realistically handle. Sure, you may want to challenge yourself with a trickier trail, and that’s great! But remember to set practical goals: Exhaustion can be dangerous while hiking! Take into consideration your medical needs, what medications you should take with you (for example, bring along your inhaler if you have asthma), the length of the trail, the time it will take to complete the hike, and the terrain (Is it rocky? Muddy? Will there be a steep incline?). Do extensive research before heading out, and seek out a park ranger if you have more questions. For newcomers, check out our guide to some of America’s best hiking trails for beginners.

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Don’t forget bug spray


Bugs can not only be annoying while you’re out, they can also be dangerous. No one likes mosquito bites, and everyone wants to avoid getting ticks on them, so take precautions beforehand by investing in some insect repellent. You should look out specifically for ones that are meant to ward off mosquitos and ticks. For additional safety, after your hike, make sure you or someone else checks your clothes and body for ticks before you take a shower.

Use sunscreen


Sunscreen is an outdoors must-have! Sunburns are painful and generally inconvenient, but they can also be dangerous for your skin and your health. To avoid feeling like you were cooked while hiking, make sure to apply plenty of sunscreen before your hike and during as needed!

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With these safety tips, hopefully you feel more comfortable heading outdoors and taking a relaxing hike. While hiking can be intimidating, with the right tools and knowledge you can get back to nature with peace of mind during your journey.