Important information for before and during your hike

How to stay safe while hiking

How to be well prepared

We operate walking and cycling trips in diverse environments in Australia and in countries around the world. The travel advice below will help you to understand and alleviate potential risks. The better prepared you are, the safer and more successful your trip will be. 

Travel doesn’t always go as planned, so remember to get suitable travel insurance that covers your personal circumstances, destination, activities and pre-existing medical conditions. 

For information about Covid-19 see our Travel Alerts. See also our Booking Conditions and our RAW Travel App.

The following guidelines will help you prepare for your hike and stay safe: 

Identify safety risks

Familiarising yourself with the safety risks involved (eg, unpredictable weather, snakes, bushfires, limited access to water) as well as emergency procedures can prevent accidents and injuries, ensuring a safer hiking experience. 

Understand your hiking route

Knowing the length, elevation changes and notable landmarks of your planned hike will help you to navigate effectively. Carrying maps, GPS devices and/or guidebooks will enhance your wayfinding and minimise your risk of getting lost. 

Pack appropriate clothing and gear

Packing appropriate gear for hiking will help ensure you are equipped to handle various conditions and emergencies. This includes suitable footwear, hiking poles, layered clothing, food and water, navigation tools, communication devices, and first aid supplies.

Carry communication devices

Carrying a fully charged mobile phone, Personal Locator Beacon, satellite device, hiking GPS will give you peace of mind and ensure you can respond to injuries, illness, adverse weather and unexpected events in a timely manner. 

Evaluate your fitness level

Choosing trails that match your abilities is vital for your health and safety. Multi-day hiking requires muscular strength, cardiovascular endurance and balance. Most hiking trails are uneven and have some elevation gain, so you need strength and flexibility in your knees, ankles and feet to avoid injury. A program of regular exercise will help build endurance and strength, allowing you to confidently tackle the challenges of the trail. See our walk training guides for how to get hiking fit for your destination.

We strongly recommend that you consult with your health care professional before beginning a new exercise program to determine how much exercise is safe for you. Starting an exercise program that is more strenuous than you are ready for can result in injury and serious medical problems.

All of these points are covered in more detail in the sections below. 

Terrain and trail hazards

Our trips take hikers on a variety of terrain. Terrain refers to the physical features of a natural landscape: mountainous, alpine, forested, swampy, rocky, hilly, etc. 

Depending on where you’re hiking, you might encounter wildly different terrain, often within a relatively small area. Underfoot, you could find yourself walking on hard-packed dirt, soft sandy beaches, mossy log stairways, wooden boardwalks, scree fields, rocky paths, granite slopes and so on.

Knowing what type of terrain you might encounter will help you plan and pack for your hike, and work out what navigation skills are required. 

Acquiring knowledge of the route beforehand can prevent unnecessary detours and keep you on track. Remember to familiarise yourself with your route information on the RAW Travel App and ensure that the app is working on your phone before you leave home. 

Here are some guidelines to help reduce the risk of injury while hiking

Set realistic goals: Plan your hike according to your abilities, fitness level and available time. Select trails that align with your capabilities and stick to the predetermined route to avoid exhaustion or getting lost.

Follow trail markers: Pay attention to trail markers and signage to avoid getting lost. Remain within the defined trail boundaries and resist the temptation to venture off-trail. Straying from the designated path can harm delicate ecosystems, disrupt wildlife habitats, and heighten the risk of accidents.

Be prepared: Carry a first aid, kit, map/guidebook, phone, navigation tool, extra clothing layers, sunscreen, insect repellent, and extra food and water. You may need other items like a whistle and head torch. Proper equipment ensures your ability to navigate safely, even in unforeseen circumstances.

Carry a secondary navigation device: If you’re hiking on a maintained trail, in most cases you can navigate with a smartphone, but your phone may run out of battery, get wet or break. Or you may lose it. Always carry a paper map / guidebook in your daypack so that you have two reliable navigation aids. Do not rely exclusively on your phone. This is particularly important on trails that are poorly signed.

  • On several sections of the Tour du Mont Blanc mobile phone reception is entirely absent. Certain valleys along the TMB have exceptionally deep and steep sides, rendering satellite phones, beacon locators and similar devices ineffective due to the inability to establish connections with enough satellites. You will experience difficulty using a satellite phone in the Chamonix valley. It’s crucial that you are aware of these limitations to ensure your safety and preparedness during the hike.

Use trekking poles for stability: Pay attention to your footing and use trekking poles for stability. Trails with loose rocks, exposed tree roots and gravel increase the risk of tripping. 

Stay focused: Be aware of your surroundings and look out for trail junctions and intersections. Use landmarks to aid navigation. This helps avoid sudden fatigue and subsequent careless errors, such as stumbling over tree roots or slipping. Stay vigilant while hiking and minimise distractions. 

Take regular breaks: Accidents often occur towards the end of a hike, as you near your destination, and when the terrain seems easier. Fatigue can lead to decreased attention. Take breaks, stay hydrated, and replenish your energy reserves during the hike.

Maintain a safe distance on narrow paths: Always stay on the inside edge of a mountain especially when you pass other hikers. Stay focused and maintain a safe distance from the edge. Keep a safe distance from edges and always pass on the upslope side to ensure safety.

Be careful crossing rivers: Crossing streams or rivers can be risky due to slippery rocks or swift currents. Assess water conditions and use appropriate footwear and equipment.

Dress appropriately: Wear clothing that is appropriate for the conditions you are hiking in. Heat, cold, rain and snow can pose health risks. Sudden weather changes can cause disorientation and increase the risk of hypothermia and hyperthermia.

Be aware of wildlife: Be aware of potential encounters with wildlife such as snakes and insects. Educate yourself about local wildlife and carry necessary repellents.

Look out for obstacles: Watch out for fallen trees or debris obstructing the trail. Navigate around them safely or find alternative routes.

All of these points are covered in more detail in the sections below. 

By following these tips and using common sense, you can reduce the risk of injuries and make informed decisions if you do need to address any potential risks or hazards. 

How to go down a steep hill safely

For many people, hiking downhill is much harder than going uphill. Your toes get squished in the front of your boots, your legs undergo tremendous strain, and you can end up with blackened toenails, painful blisters, and swollen joints.

Here’s how to descend steep terrain safely:

  • Use hiking poles Plant a hiking pole downslope and brace with your upper body.
  • Step heel first: To help keep your body weight centred and prevent you from slipping, especially on loose gravel or soil.
  • Keep your knees slightly bent: To help cushion each step. If you have knee pain, consider wearing a knee brace for downhill sections.
  • If in doubt, scramble or slide: If at any point you feel unsafe or unsteady, scramble or slide.
Beaches and river crossings

If your walk involves crossing tidal rivers or exposed beaches then make sure that you find and check the relevant tidal chart for the area, which will show the times of high and low tides for the area you need to cross.

Be extremely cautious about swimming at unpatrolled beaches, tempting though that may be on sunny days. Keep a careful eye out for rips and undertows before you get in and avoid going more than waist deep on beaches where you don’t know what’s underneath. If you have limited swimming ability or experience, do not enter the water.

Any water crossing deeper than knee height is potentially dangerous. Rivers can rise fast when it rains. Carefully assess the river and cross with great care only if it is safe to do so. Knowing how to cross rivers safely is an essential outdoor skill, on par with first aid and navigation. 

To alleviate the risks associated with river crossings while hiking, familiarise yourself with safe river crossing techniques and discern when to avoid crossings altogether. 

Plan for river crossings: Check current information about river levels and the planned crossing points and infrastructure. River levels may be high due to a wet season, recent storms or snow melt. A bridge may be damaged or the crossing point may be altered due to floods, storms or bushfires. Identify alternative inland routes.

Recognise hazards: High water levels, swift currents, and submerged obstacles pose significant dangers during river crossings. Potential falls can result in severe injuries, including head trauma or being swept downstream.

Find safe crossing points: Do not cross if the water is moving swiftly and the water looks deep or discoloured. Wait until the tide and water retreats to a safer depth or look for shallow water, manageable currents and clear riverbeds. Make sure there is an easy exit point on the opposite bank. 

Face upstream when crossing. Ensure the water is flowing towards you. Never turn your back on the current. Take small steps. Use hiking poles for stability. Keep your eyes on the far bank; don’t look down in the water. 

Cross in a group: Groups of hikers can make crossing safer by linking arms together, with the strongest member positioned upstream.

Keep your footwear on: Rocks can be slippery or sharp. 

Unfasten your pack straps: If you fall in, your pack will drag you down and make swimming difficult. If your straps are unfastened you can wriggle out quickly. 

If you fall in: Use your pack as an improvised flotation device. Get on to your back, point your feet downstream and paddle for shore. Use your feet to push you away from dangerous objects and protect your head if you can. Once on shore, evaluate yourself for hypothermia.

By being aware of these hazards and taking appropriate precautions, you can cross a  river safely while hiking.

Recommended hiking gear

Good quality hiking gear is essential for a safe, enjoyable and successful hiking experience. The right gear for your hike will depend on the terrain, weather conditions, duration of the hike, and your individual preferences. You don’t need to buy expensive gear to go hiking. Consider borrowing, renting and buying second-hand gear. 

Chafing is a common issue for hikers. Clothing that is loose, ill-fitting or made of cotton can cause chafing. To prevent chafing, look for snug fitting clothing with minimal seams. Lubricating the skin can be helpful in areas where friction is most likely, including your thighs, back, waist, groin and underarms. Spandex shorts or leggings will help keep your thighs from rubbing together. 

A backpack can also cause chafing; a ventilated suspended mesh back on your backpack will help keep you cooler and more comfortable. Remember that sweat, dirt and bacteria build up after a day of hiking, so ensure you wear clean clothes each day. Also, drink water to keep your body hydrated – high salt concentrations can increase chafing.

The following items are recommended for most hikes

Hiking boots/shoes
Appropriate footwear will provide your feet and ankles with protection and stability, give you traction on wet and dry surfaces, and help prevent blisters. For our walks, we recommend that you invest in sturdy, well-fitting, waterproof hiking boots or shoes with full ankle support and reliable grip. Ensure that your footwear is properly broken in and comfortable before hitting the trail. While it’s possible to hike in trainers/sneakers, we advise against it. Take a spare pair of shoes or sandals to change into after each day’s hike.

When hiking, the correct clothing will shield you against varying weather conditions and temperature changes. Layer clothing for a long-distance walk for safety and comfort takes some planning. Moisture-wicking and quick-drying materials are ideal for base layers. Insulating layers and waterproof outer layers can help regulate body temperature and protect against wind and rain. Include a beanie and gloves to keep your head and hands insulated and protect them from the elements.

Hiking socks
The type of socks you wear for hiking matters just as much as the type of shoes you have. Unlike regular socks, hiking socks are designed to protect your feet, providing cushioning and wick-away moisture. Merino wool or a mix of Merino and synthetics are the best choice. Wool and synthetics regulate the temperature of your feet and will wick away sweat and moisture, keeping your feet dry and free of blisters. Choose socks that are a few inches higher than your footwear to avoid the edge of the boot rubbing directly against your skin. Change your socks whenever your feet get wet.

Backpack (daypack)
The size of your backpack will depend on the length of your hike and the amount of gear you need to carry. Choose a comfortable backpack with padded shoulder straps and a hip belt for proper weight distribution. If your backpack doesn’t have an integral waterproof cover, be very careful if you buy a separate one. Make sure it fits your daypack well. Covers that are too big can act as giant sails on windy mountaintops.

Trekking poles
Using trekking poles while hiking can help you maintain a constant pace, lessen the pounding on your joints, and help to reduce muscle soreness. They will give you a feeling of security and balance when trekking through muddy, wet, rocky or narrow trails, and can help prevent ankle and knee injury on steep ascents and descents. They are also helpful if you get tired or injured, and can be used as an emergency splint. Plus, they are instrumental when crossing rivers and can be useful for pushing  prickly bushes away or waiving away aggressive dogs.

First-aid kit
Carry a first aid kit when hiking so that you can ease the discomfort of minor injuries or prevent them developing into something much worse. Tailor it to your specific needs, duration and destination of your hike, and any medical conditions you have. Regularly check and replenish your first aid kit. See the next section for what to include in a basic first aid kit.

Sun protection
Apply (and reapply) sunscreen (with an SPF of 30 or higher) on every exposed part of your body, including the back of your hands. Wear a wide-brimmed hat and close-fitting, wrap-around style of sunglasses (eyes are extremely sensitive to the sun’s UV light, also can burn).

Navigational aids
Understanding your hiking route, including length, elevation changes and notable landmarks enables you to navigate effectively and stay on course. Carrying maps, GPS devices and/or guidebooks and using our RAW Travel App will enhance your wayfinding and minimise your risk of getting lost.

First aid kit

Carry a first aid kit when hiking so that you can ease the discomfort of minor injuries or prevent them developing into something much worse. A basic first aid kit may contain the following items:

  • Plasters in assorted sizes and shapes for covering cuts, scrapes and blisters
  • Bandages (at least 2) for sprains, snake bite
  • Absorbent and non-absorbent dressings
  • Emergency/thermal blanket
  • Sterile gauze pads and adhesive tape (surgical, stretchy) – for larger wounds or securing bandages
  • Antiseptic wipes or alcohol pads – to cleanse cuts and scrapes and prevent infection
  • Antibacterial ointment – for application on wounds after cleaning
  • Moleskin pads – to protect a blister from irritation
  • Tweezers – for removing splinters, ticks or debris from the skin
  • Scissors – for cutting tape, gauze or clothing if necessary
  • Pain relievers – ibuprofen or paracetamol for minor aches and pains
  • Antihistamines – for allergic reactions to insect bites, plants or other allergens
  • Burn gel – to treat minor burns caused by heat or friction
  • Eye wash – saline solution for flushing out debris from eyes
  • Insect repellent – to deter bites from mosquitoes and other pests
  • Gastro-stop/rehydration powders
  • Personal medications – prescription medications, inhalers, EpiPens

Tailor your first aid kit to your specific needs, duration and destination of your hike, and any medical conditions you have. Regularly check and replenish your first aid kit.

Extreme weather events

As our trips operate in many different environments both in Australia and globally there is a possibility that extreme weather events such as wildfires, typhoons, floods, heavy snowfalls and storms may impact our ability to run your trip as planned. 

In the event of extreme weather, we will follow any directions of local government and emergency services, which may necessitate changes to your travel plans. For example: missing out on a section of your hike, not being able to get to your next night’s accommodation or a delayed commencement of your trip with us. Our staff will contact you to ensure you are following any government advice on the situation, to either evacuate or stay put depending on the locale and circumstances.

Our priority is your safety. While we will do our best to advise and help you change any arrangements that are needed, an extreme weather event is beyond our and everyone else’s control. 

RAW Travel has booked and paid for all your arrangements in advance and we cannot issue refunds for any unused accommodation and services, or additional arrangements that may be required in these circumstances. This is an event that needs to be covered by your travel insurance policy. As stated in our Booking Conditions, you need to ensure that your provider covers this eventuality. 

RAW Travel’s service covers much more than just the hotel and transfer costs, and we incur a large part of our costs prior to your trip departing. It is not possible for us or other travel suppliers to offer refunds for events that are beyond our control. We will of course assist you by providing supporting documentation for your valid insurance claims. 

Extreme weather conditions
  • tropical storms and typhoons
  • heavy rain and flooding
  • unstable cliffs and landslides
  • damaging and destructive wind
  • thunderstorms and lightning
  • earthquakes and tsunamis
  • heat waves and high temperatures
  • extreme cold
  • bushfires and wildfires

Unpredictable and intense weather can present considerable risks to hikers, necessitating heightened awareness and preparation. See the following sections for how to alleviate the risk. Before and during hiking, always check the weather information provided under Important Information on the RAW Travel App

How to stay safe when there is a natural disaster

Some destinations experience certain types of natural disasters more often. Before you travel, find out what natural disasters are common in your destination. Know what you can do to be prepared. This helps reduce the impact on your health and safety.

If you do encounter a natural disaster it’s crucial to prioritise your safety and take appropriate actions. 

Stay informed
Keep yourself updated with local news sources, weather updates, and advisories provided by local authorities. Pay close attention to any evacuation orders, safety instructions, or emergency alerts.

Follow instructions
Promptly follow the guidance and instructions provided by local authorities. Be prepared to evacuate to designated shelters or safer locations if necessary.

Contact your embassy
Inform your country’s embassy or consulate about your situation, especially if you require assistance, medical attention, or evacuation. They can provide support and guidance to citizens affected by natural disasters while traveling abroad.

Seek shelter
Take shelter in sturdy buildings or designated evacuation centres. Avoid areas prone to flooding, landslides, or other hazards. If indoors, stay away from windows, doors, and exterior walls.

Prepare emergency supplies
Ensure you have an emergency kit stocked with essential supplies such as non-perishable food, water, medications, first aid supplies, flashlight, batteries, and important documents (passport, travel insurance, identification).

Stay calm
Stay composed and reassure fellow travellers, especially children and elderly companions. Avoid panic-inducing behaviour and focus on following safety protocols and evacuation procedures.

Stay connected
Keep your mobile phone charged and maintain communication with family, friends, or travel companions. Share your whereabouts and safety status regularly, especially if you need assistance or evacuation.

Avoid unnecessary risks
Refrain from unnecessary travel or outdoor activities until local authorities declare it safe to do so. Be cautious of potential hazards such as fallen power lines, debris, or contaminated water.

Stay updated
Stay vigilant and follow any updates or advisories issued by local authorities. Conditions may change rapidly during natural disasters, so remain adaptable and responsive.

Assist others
Offer assistance to those in need, if it’s safe to do so. Help elderly individuals, people with disabilities, or others who may require assistance during evacuation or emergency situations.

Remember to remain flexible, patient, and cooperative during challenging circumstances. By staying informed, prepared, and responsive to local authorities’ instructions, you can better navigate and mitigate the impacts of natural disasters while travelling overseas.

Tropical storms/cyclones

Tropical storms cause extreme high winds, severe rain, lightning and, if near coastal areas, huge swells and waves. They can result in landslides, flooding and extensive damage to trails and infrastructure, and they pose a threat to hikers’ safety.

Hurricanes and typhoons are types of tropical cyclones. The difference between a hurricane and a typhoon is the location where the storm occurs. In the Atlantic they are called hurricanes, while in the Pacific they are typhoons. The Atlantic hurricane season officially runs from June to November while most typhoons in the Pacific develop between May and October. Australia’s tropical cyclone season is from November to April. 

During the tropical storms things come to a standstill in the affected areas. Nobody ventures outside and transportation networks cease operating until the storm has passed. 

Tropical cyclone warnings are issued in advance. The alert levels change to reflect the increasing risk and advice about what to do before, during and after the cyclone. If you are not in the forecast path of a cyclone, you can still be at risk. 

Gather as much information as you can. Talk to hotel staff, tour leaders and local authorities. If the unlikely event that you are hiking or trekking in the area as a cyclone approaches, get to safety quickly. Find somewhere populated, with a shelter, or transport out. Otherwise, find somewhere safe to wait it out, away from large bodies of water.

Read the following sections for detailed information about specific risks and practical suggestions on what to do if you are hiking in adverse weather, including heavy rain, high winds, thunderstorms, earthquakes and more. 

Heavy rain and flooding

Heavy rain and flooding can significantly impact you on a hike and can pose risks to your safety and comfort, including:

Limited visibility: Heavy rain can reduce visibility on the trail, making it challenging to stay on the trail.

Obstructed paths: Fallen trees, debris and landslides caused by heavy rain and flooding can block hiking paths, making progress difficult or impossible.

Limited shelter: Finding suitable shelter during heavy rain can be challenging, exposing you to prolonged periods of discomfort and increasing the risk of exposure-related illnesses.

Communication challenges: Heavy rain and flooding may disrupt communication signals, making it difficult to call for help in emergencies.

To alleviate. the risks associated with heavy rain and flooding while hiking, consider the following precautions:

  • Check weather forecasts before heading out and be prepared for changing weather conditions. 
  • Wear waterproof clothing and sturdy, waterproof footwear to stay dry and maintain traction.
  • Pack extra layers, a waterproof backpack cover, and a shelter such as a tarp or emergency bivvy to protect against cold and rain.
  • Stay informed about potential flood-prone areas along your route and be prepared to alter your plans if necessary.
  • Avoid hiking near rivers, streams, or low-lying areas during heavy rain or flood warnings. Water levels in creeks, rivers, and canyons can rise quickly. Areas may become inaccessible, or equipment can be washed away. Slippery terrain increases accident risk.
  • If caught in a flood, seek higher ground immediately and avoid crossing flooded areas or swollen waterways.
  • Be prepared to seek shelter or wait out the rain if conditions become unsafe for hiking.
  • If you are uncertain, prioritise caution and consider retracing your steps or finding shelter until the weather conditions become more favourable.

By staying informed, prepared and cautious, you can reduce their risk of encountering dangerous situations caused by heavy rain and flooding while hiking.

Unstable cliffs and landslides

In areas where there is hilly or mountainous terrain and unstable cliffs, rainy conditions and seismic activity can trigger landslides and rockfalls, putting you at risk while hiking. Areas burned by forest and brush fires are also particularly susceptible to landslides.

Landslides: These involve the movement of rock, soil and debris down slopes and can happen slowly or rapidly, putting you at risk of becoming trapped or injured. 

Loss of trail: Erosion can cause sections of coastal trails to crumble or wash away, making them hazardous or impassable and increasing the likelihood that you will become stranded or disoriented.

High-tide risks: Erosion can exacerbate the effects of high tides, leading to inundation of coastal paths or beach areas. You can be cut off from safe passage or trapped by rising water levels.

Increased rockfall hazard: As erosion wears away at coastal cliffs it can expose unstable rock formations that are prone to collapse. Walking beneath or near cliffs may put you at risk of injury from falling rocks or debris.

Dangerous undercutting of cliffs: Erosion can undercut the base of cliffs, creating unstable overhangs or undercut ledges. Walking along the base of cliffs may put you at risk; if they collapse they can entrap you.  

To alleviate the risks associated with coastal erosion while hiking you should consider the following precautions:

  • Stay informed about local conditions and consult the relevant authorities for advice on safe hiking routes.
  • Avoid hiking in high-risk areas during adverse weather conditions or after heavy rainfall.
  • Stay on designated trails and avoid venturing too close to cliff edges or unstable areas.
  • Pay attention to warning signs or advisories regarding coastal hazards and trail closures.
  • Check tide charts and plan hikes to coincide with low tide to minimise exposure to high-tide risks.
  • Listen for unusual sounds that might indicate moving debris, such as trees cracking or boulders knocking together.
  • Look for signs of recent erosion, such as fresh cliff collapses or eroded trail sections.
  • Avoid lingering beneath overhanging cliffs or in areas prone to rockfall or collapse.

By exercising caution and awareness of coastal erosion hazards, you can enjoy coastal trails and landscapes while minimising the risk of accidents or injury.

Damaging and destructive winds

Damaging and destructive winds can have several adverse effects while you are hiking.

Difficulty maintaining balance: It can be challenging to maintain your balance, especially on exposed ridges or narrow trails. Gusts of wind can push you off balance, increasing the risk of slips and falls.

Fatigue: Hiking against strong headwinds requires additional effort and can lead to increased fatigue. You may find yourself exerting more energy to maintain your pace, which can affect your endurance over long distances.

Reduced visibility: Dust, debris, or vegetation may be blown into the air by strong winds, reducing visibility along the trail. This can make it harder to navigate and anticipate obstacles, increasing the risk of getting lost or disoriented.

Risk of falling objects: In windy conditions, branches, rocks or other debris may be dislodged from trees or cliffs and pose a risk of falling onto the trail. 

Wind chill: Strong winds can increase the risk of hypothermia or frostbite, especially in exposed or high-altitude environments.

Noise: Strong winds can create loud noise, especially in open or mountainous terrain. This can be distracting or disorienting, affecting your ability to concentrate and enjoy the natural surroundings.

To alleviate the risks associated with damaging winds while hiking you can take the following precautions:

  • Wear suitable clothing layers to protect yourself against wind chill, including a windproof outer layer, hat, gloves, and a buff or scarf to cover exposed skin.
  • Use trekking poles for added stability and to navigate uneven terrain more effectively.
  • If strong winds are forecasted, consider hiking routes that stay low to the ground, such as valleys or sheltered areas, where you’ll be less exposed to the full force of the wind.
  • Avoid ridge lines and exposed areas where the wind is likely to be stronger. Find natural windbreaks such as dense vegetation or rock formations.
  • Pay attention to the direction of the wind and adjust your hiking strategy accordingly. Walking into a headwind can be physically taxing; alter your route to take advantage of tailwinds whenever possible.
  • Stay hydrated and fuelled throughout your hike by drinking plenty of water and consuming high-energy snacks to 
  • If wind conditions become too severe or pose a safety risk, be prepared to turn back and seek shelter until conditions improve. 
Thunderstorms and lightning

Thunderstorms can bring heavy rain, lightning, strong winds and sometimes even hail, putting you at risk while you are hiking.

Lightning bolts are more likely to hit sharp, elevated terrain (mountains and ridges) due to their closeness to storm clouds. Lightning strikes pose a severe risk when hiking, especially if you are caught in exposed areas or near tall objects like trees or peaks. 

To alleviate the risks associated with thunderstorms and lightning while hiking you can take the following precautions:

  • Monitor local weather conditions regularly.
  • Recognise the signs of an oncoming thunder and lightning storm.
  • If you find yourself in an open area without shelter during a lightning storm, seek the lowest ground possible.
  • Avoid lying flat on the ground. 
  • Crouch to reduce your chances of being struck. Sit on your daypack with your knees drawn up toward your body. Alternatively, squat close to the ground, place your hands on your knees, and tuck your head between them.
  • Place your hands over your ears to reduce hearing damage. 
  • For added protection, put on extra layers of clothing and waterproof gear. 
  • Move away from water and metal objects such as fences and poles.
  • Wait at least 30 minutes after the last clap of thunder before resuming your hike. Lightning can strike even after a storm appears to have passed.
  • Remain calm. Panicking can increase the risk of accidents or poor decision-making.
  • Carry a fully charged mobile or emergency communication device and know how to use it to call for help if needed.
  • Familiarise yourself with how to treat common lightning strike injuries, including burns, wounds and fractures. 
  • If a lightning victim is unconscious, attempt CPR immediately – there is no danger; no electric charge remains.
Earthquakes and tsunamis

Earthquakes are common in some destinations, especially regions with a lot of geological activity. In coastal regions, strong earthquakes occurring underwater can generate tsunamis – large ocean waves that can inundate coastal areas. Hiking near the shoreline may put you at risk of being swept away or trapped by rising water levels.

Ground instability: During an earthquake, the ground may shake violently, leading to instability and potential landslides or rock falls along hiking trails. Loose rocks, boulders, or unstable terrain may pose a risk of injury.

Falling debris: Earthquakes can dislodge rocks, tree branches, or other debris from surrounding slopes or cliffs, increasing the risk of being struck by falling objects while hiking.

Trail damage: Severe earthquakes can cause damage to hiking trails, including cracks, landslides, or structural failures such as collapsed bridges or infrastructure. You may become stranded or face obstacles that hinder their progress.

Liquefaction: In areas with loose or saturated soil, earthquakes can trigger liquefaction, where the ground temporarily behaves like a liquid. This phenomenon can cause sinkholes or ground subsidence, posing a hazard.

To alleviate. the risks associated with earthquakes while hiking, consider the following precautions:

  • While hiking in tsunami-prone regions, be aware of evacuation routes and warning systems.
  • Check local earthquake monitoring agencies or geological surveys before embarking on a hike.
  • Choose hiking routes away from steep slopes, cliffs or areas prone to landslides or rock falls.
  • Be aware of natural escape routes or open areas where you can seek refuge in the event of an earthquake.
  • Carry a first aid kit and emergency supplies, including water, food and a torch in case you become stranded or need to wait for rescue.
  • Follow guidance from local officials about trail closures or evacuation routes.
  • In the event of an earthquake, hikers should seek refuge in open areas, steering clear of trees, cliffs or structures prone to collapse. Drop to the ground, cover your head, and hold on until the shaking stops.
  • In the event of a tsunami warning, quickly move to higher ground. 

While the risk of experiencing an earthquake and/or tsunami while hiking is generally low, being prepared and being aware of potential hazards can help ensure your safety.

Heat waves and high temperatures

Heat waves bring prolonged periods of exceptionally high temperatures, often accompanied by elevated humidity levels. Hiking in hot weather puts you at risk of heat cramps, sunburn, dehydration, hyponatremia, heat exhaustion and heatstroke, which can be life-threatening. 

In addition, extreme heat can cause electronic devices such as smartphones or GPS units to malfunction or shut down. This can disrupt communication or navigation capabilities, potentially leading to difficulties in an emergency situation.

It is important to familiarise yourself with the signs of heat-related illness and be prepared to take action if required.

Excessive sweating and inadequate fluid intake can lead to dehydration, which can impair physical and cognitive functions. Dehydration increases the risk of heat-related illnesses and can lead to fatigue, weakness, confusion and fainting.

Sunburn symptoms often appear within a few hours after sun exposure. Sunburn symptoms can include pink or red skin that feels warm or hot to touch, pain, tenderness and itching, swelling and, if severe headache, fever, nausea and fatigue.

Heat exhaustion
Characterised by profuse sweating, weakness, dizziness, nausea and headache. Failure to address heat exhaustion promptly can escalate to heatstroke. If you suspect you are experiencing heat exhaustion, cease hiking immediately, seek shade, and remove excess layers of clothing. Dampen a cloth or shirt and place it around your neck, while also pouring water over your head and face to help cool down.

Heatstroke is a life-threatening condition that causes the body’s internal temperature to rise rapidly. Symptoms include a high body temperature (above 103°F or 39.4°C), confusion, loss of consciousness, and seizures. Heatstroke requires immediate medical attention and can be fatal if not treated promptly.

Excessive water intake without sufficient electrolyte replenishment can lead to hyponatremia, a dangerous condition characterised by low sodium levels in the blood. Symptoms include nausea, headache, confusion, and in severe cases, seizures and coma.

To alleviate the risks associated when hiking in extreme heat, take the following precautions:

  • Check weather forecasts before heading out and avoid hiking during the hottest part of the day. Many trails lack sufficient shade and can exacerbate the effects of high temperatures.
  • Let someone know your hiking plans and expected return time, and carry a fully charged phone for emergencies.
  • Protect as much skin as possible by covering up when you are out in the sun (choose long sleeve tops and pants over shorts and t-shirts). 
  • Choose light-coloured clothing to reflect the sun’s rays (dark clothing absorbs the sun’s rays and makes your body heat up). 
  • Apply (and reapply) sunscreen (with an SPF of 30 or higher) on every exposed part of your body, including the back of your hands. 
  • Wear a wide-brimmed hat and close-fitting, wrap-around style of sunglasses (eyes are extremely sensitive to the sun’s UV light, also can burn).
  • Carry more water than you think you’ll need and drink a litre of water before you start your hike. Sip water during the day. 
  • Replenish your electrolytes by adding electrolyte powder or tablets to your water. (Electrolytes regulate nerve and muscle function and help regulate the balance of fluid in your body.)
  • Take regular breaks and seek shade to cool down and conserve energy.
  • Stay cool and well-hydrated throughout the day; consider electrolyte-replenishing drinks.
  • Be prepared to alter or shorten your hike if conditions become too extreme.
  • Avoid hiking altogether on days with extreme weather warnings, especially when daytime temperatures are forecasted to exceed 36°C.

By being prepared with knowledge and resources, you can minimise your risks while hiking in extremely hot conditions.

Extreme cold

If you are venturing into remote wilderness areas with high alpine plateaus, you need to be very well prepared. Weather in alpine areas is notoriously unpredictable. It can rapidly change from sunny and calm conditions to a hailstorm, even in the summer months. An alpine environment almost always means colder temperatures, so you need to be prepared. When the weather is mild or pleasantly warm at the bottom of a mountain it can give you a false sense of confidence for how cold it can be at the top. Always carry warm clothes for mountains.

Cold weather can have serious impacts on your health and safety while hiking. Trails can become icy, visibility can be limited, and you can put yourself at risk of hypothermia and frostbite. Significant windchill increases the risk of both these problems.

Signs of hypothermia include shivering, stuttering, stumbling easy on the trail, and acting a little ‘spacey’. Do not ignore symptoms like feeling dizzy, disorientated, nauseous or out of breath.

To alleviate the risks associated when hiking in extremely cold weather, take the following precautions:

  • Check the weather forecast in advance. Know the windchill and temperature ranges for where you will be hiking before heading to the trail.
  • Don’t hike in extremely cold weather on longer and rugged trails.
  • Have first aid training and hike with a partner. Be familiar with hypothermia signs and symptoms.
  • Carry a well-insulated thermos with boiling water to make warm beverages.
  • Dress in layers; a good moisture-wicking base layer, long-sleeve shirt and tights, hoodie, waterproof/windproof jacket. Cover up any exposed skin.
  • Ensure clothing and gear is loose fitting. Tight wristbands will slow down circulation, as will tight socks and pack straps.
  • Keep your core (stomach, back, and chest) warm by wearing as much clothing as you can comfortably manage.
  • Wear a hat, and glove liners under your gloves. Waterproof mittens are a better choice.
  • Consider wearing gaiters to stop water getting into your hiking boots.
  • Protect your lungs from extreme cold by covering your mouth with a scarf or fabric.
  • Stay as dry as possible and seek shelter from the wind whenever possible.
  • Where there is no artificial shelter available such as a mountain hut, carry a thermal blanket to guard against situations where you could get hypothermia.
  • Eat small amounts of food and water on a regular basis to stay hydrated and maintain your energy levels.

By being prepared with knowledge and resources, you can minimise your risk of hypothermia while hiking in extremely cold conditions.


If you are hiking in an area that is heavily forested, has thick bush, long, dry grass, or is a coastal area with lots of plant life – you are at risk of fire. Bushfires can pose a serious threat to hikers. 

Direct threat to life
Bushfires can spread swiftly and unpredictably. Encountering a bushfire while hiking can expose you to heat, smoke, and flames, potentially resulting in injury or fatality.

Lack of water
Extended drought conditions can result in water scarcity, drying up water sources and heightening the risk of bushfires in forested regions. 

Smoke inhalation
Smoke from bushfires can lead to reduced visibility and respiratory issues. Inhaling smoke particles can irritate the lungs and worsen pre-existing respiratory conditions.

Trail closures
Trails might be shut down during periods of heightened fire risk or active bushfires, disrupting planned hiking routes and requiring alternative arrangements for accommodation and transportation.

Evacuation orders
You may need to evacuate from areas threatened by bushfires, either independently or with assistance from emergency services. Evacuation routes can be congested or challenging to navigate, particularly in low-visibility conditions caused by smoke.

To alleviate the risks associated with fire weather and bushfires while hiking, take the following precautions:

  • Stay informed about current fire conditions and bushfire alerts in your intended hiking area.
  • Avoid hiking in high-risk bushfire areas, especially during periods of extreme fire danger or total fire bans.
  • Check weather forecasts and fire danger ratings before embarking on a hike.
  • Know the topography of the area in which you are hiking as it will help you identify potential escape routes. Many trails will have no safe refuge due to impenetrable vegetation, thick fuel-laden forest, steep cliffs or a combination of these.
  • Pack a bushfire survival kit with first aid items, additional water, food, torch and whistle.
  • Let someone know where you are going and when you expect to be back.
  • Stay vigilant – look for signs of fire, such as smoke or haze.
  • If the weather conditions change for the worse, leave early. 
  • Know which vegetation is more likely to burn than others.
  • If you see a fire, leave the area immediately.
  • Retreat to clearings and water bodies (beaches, rivers and estuaries) until the danger has passed.
  • Find a safe place to shelter, such as a large rock or a creek. 
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a damp cloth to help to filter out smoke and ash.
  • Drink water to keep you hydrated and prevent heat exhaustion.
  • If you do become caught in a bushfire, stay calm. This will help you to make the best decisions for your safety.
  • Follow guidance from local authorities and adhere to trail closures or evacuation directives.
  • Carry a personal locator beacon (PLB) or satellite communication device for emergencies.

By staying informed, prepared and cautious, you can minimise your exposure to bushfires while hiking.

Wildlife encounters

When hiking in natural environments you need to be aware of the wildlife you may encounter and to take appropriate precautions to ensure your safety. 

Research local wildlife
Before your hike, research the wildlife species that inhabit the area you’ll be exploring. These can include mammals, birds, reptiles, and insects. Understanding their behaviours and habitats will help you be better prepared for potential encounters.

Stay alert
While hiking, remain vigilant and keep your senses sharp. Look and listen for signs of wildlife such as rustling bushes, animal tracks or calls. Be particularly cautious in areas with dense vegetation, near water sources and where food may be abundant.

Respect wildlife
Keep a safe distance from wildlife and never approach or attempt to feed them. Disturbing animals can have negative consequences for both you and the animals themselves.

Travel in groups
Hiking with others can enhance safety. Larger groups are typically noisier and more intimidating to wildlife. Plus, in the event of an emergency, you’ll have assistance readily available.

Know emergency procedures
Familiarise yourself with emergency procedures for wildlife encounters in the area you’ll be hiking. This includes knowing how to contact local authorities for assistance.

By being aware of wildlife, respecting their habitats, and following safety guidelines, you can enjoy a safer and more enjoyable hiking experience while minimising the risk of wildlife-related incidents.

Snake bites

During the warmer months, many snakes are found along hiking trails. When hiking, be vigilant and watch where you step. Before sitting down, check rocks and logs. Avoid walking through tall grass. 

Snakes typically slither away when they sense your presence. Since most snake bites occur below the knee, it’s advisable to wear long pants and/or gaiters. Gaiters don’t guarantee complete protection from snake bites but can help reduce the risk.

First-aid for snake bite

You must be equipped to treat a snake bite. Even if it is not clear whether or not the snake successfully released venom you must always treat the snake bite seriously as they can be fatal. Signs and symptoms of a snake bite may vary depending on the type of snake. Familiarise yourself with snakebite management and make sure your first-aid kit contains enough useful bandages.

If you are bitten by a snake:

  • Bandage the bite area firmly, without hindering blood circulation. If you have been bitten on the wrist/arm, remember to remove any rings, bracelets and watches.
  • Splint the bandaged limb (with whatever you can find, eg a stick) so it’s immobilised. 
  • Record the time the bite occurred and when the bandage was applied.
  • Seek medical assistance and stay still so the venom is not pumped around your body.
Bear encounters

If you are hiking in regions where bears are present, it’s important to understand bear behaviour and know how to react if you encounter one. 

Here are some effective ways to mitigate the risks of meeting a bear.

Know the seasons Take extra care in spring when mothers with newborn cubs come out of hibernation, and in autumn, when bears move around a lot foraging in preparation for hibernation.

Avoid hiking in early mornings/evenings At these times – and in foggy or rainy weather – bears are at their most active.

Make noise Bears typically avoid humans. To alert them of your presence, keep up a lively conversation (or sing or clap) to let them know your whereabouts so they can avoid you. 

Bring a bear bell Carrying a bear bell is a common and effective method of telling the bear you are coming. Attach one to your backpack and you will ring-a-ding-a-ling as you walk.

Carry bear spray Bear spray can deter an aggressive bear and give you time to retreat to safety. Familiarise yourself with how to use it.

Stay calm If you see a bear in the distance, move calmly and quietly in the opposite direction. Do not stick around to take photos. If you meet a bear close up, back away slowly while facing the bear.

Play dead (if attacked) If a bear charges or attacks you, curl into a ball on your side, protect your neck and head.

Insect bites

Insects can be a nuisance when you are hiking. If you are aware of the kinds of insects that are found in the areas where you are hiking you can be ready in case of an encounter with them. 

Most insect bites and stings result in a localised itch and swelling that settles within a few days. While generally not life-threatening, these symptoms can cause discomfort and annoyance during the hike.

Severe allergic reactions (anaphylaxis) to insects are usually due to bees, wasps or ants. Symptoms include an all over rash, swelling of tongue or throat, trouble breathing, abdominal pain, diarrhoea, vomiting and a drop in blood pressure (shock). Be vigilant for any signs or symptoms of insect-borne diseases and seek medical attention if necessary.

Take precautions such as wearing long sleeves and pants, and using insect repellent (natural or organic repellents may not be as effective and may require more frequent application).

Here are some guidelines for treating some common insect bites on the go.

Bees and wasps: Often attracted to sweet snacks. Remain vigilant while eating and promptly remove stingers without crushing the insect to minimise venom injection. Clean the area and apply soothing ointment if needed.

Mosquitoes: Active mainly in the evening and typically found between 600 and 2200m above sea level. Mosquitoes spread Ross River virus. Symptoms include fever, rash and joint pain. Use an effective mosquito repellent containing DEET (diethyl toluamide) or picaridin in lotion or gel form, and reapply as instructed. 

Leeches: Frequently encountered on some trails. While leeches are generally harmless and their bites rarely cause significant health issues, the sight of leeches attaching to the skin can be unpleasant and may cause anxiety or distress.

Ticks: Carriers of Lyme disease and tick-borne encephalitis. They are found in certain forested regions, tall grass and fern areas. Check for ticks regularly, and know how to properly remove ticks if you are bitten. Proper wound care will reduce the risk of disease transmission. 

Horseflies: Found in alpine pastures and areas around rivers. If bitten, disinfect the area and apply an anti-inflammatory cream.

Hydration and nutrition

What you eat before and during a hike will determine how you feel and how much energy you have during your hike. Eating right will regulate your blood sugar and help maintain muscle function. 

Drinking plenty of water before, during and after your hike will prevent dehydration, which can lead to fatigue, decreased focus, muscle cramps and dizziness. 

For safety reasons, always pack a little extra food with you on any hike. If you have dietary issues such as diabetes it’s important to understand how your body performs under physical stress.

If you are drinking adequate water but not consuming electrolytes, you could be susceptible to hyponatremia (a condition that occurs when the level of sodium in the blood is too low), which can be very debilitating and a real threat to your health.

Here are some guidelines to help avoid dehydration and keep you energised while hiking:

  • Find out what the water sources are like on the trail where you will be hiking. Have a plan for refilling your water bottles. 
  • Carry a minimum of 2 litres of water. Bring more than you think you need.
  • To replenish lost salts and minerals, especially during prolonged or strenuous hikes and on hot days on the trail, bring sachets of electrolytes that you can add into your water bottle occasionally.
  • Consider a water purification device; clear-looking streams can contain bacteria and parasites. 
  • Begin your hike already well-hydrated by drinking water beforehand. 
  • Regularly drink small amounts of water during your hike.
  • Don’t wait until you’re feeling thirsty to take a sip. Many people only begin to feel thirsty once they are already dehydrated.
  • Use a hydration pack so that you can sip water whenever the need arises, without having to stop or slow down. 
  • Snack regularly and consistently (every 1 to 2 hours) to sustain your energy. Try to eat complex carbohydrates, protein and healthy fats. 

See the earlier sections for information on dehydration and heat related illnesses.

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