Hiking Safety & Essentials

Hiking trails on Hawaii can be some of the best in the world with their amazing views, beautiful waterfalls, and unspoiled nature. Taking a hike can also be dangerous so read on to stay safe and learn what you need to do before hiking in Hawaii.

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Matt Anderson's Take
Read this entire article so you can safely hike Hawaii's many trails and paths and learn what to bring with you and what to do in an emergency situation.

Plan Your Hike
Do some research on a site like LookIntoHawaii.com to know more about your hike and what you can expect along the way. Look at maps (online or paper) and get your bearings. Google Earth (or Google Maps) is a great resource to let you get a good idea of the locations you'll be hiking to and what general path you'll be taking along the way.

GPS is a great tool to use while on the hike and in Hawaii you may even be on a hike where you can get a cell signal to use your phone as a GPS, but often on hikes you'll lose the cell signal which means your phone won't be able to pull the maps down which makes the phone useless. Look for an app that doesn't require any cell signal (these usually pre-load the maps onto your phone and then only rely on the GPS chip in your phone, and not a cell tower signal).

Companies like Garmin make many stand alone GPS units specifically for hiking and they won't require a cell phone signal to work. Many are rugged, or even waterproof, and may even include a detailed hiking trail in their mapping systems.

Tell Somebody Before You Hike
Before hiking, always make sure somebody knows where you are going and when you'll be back. This way, if you get lost or hurt somebody will be able to tell rescuers where they should start looking for you.

Buddy Up
You should never hike alone so find a friend and go in groups to be safe. If somebody gets hurt, others will be able to help or go and get help. It's easy to slip and fall on any hike and it only takes one nasty fall to do life threatening damage so use the buddy system.

Know Your Limits
Novice hikers shouldn't be attempting difficult ridge hikes or hikes with large elevation changes. Know your hike before you go, and know what your limits are. If things start getting difficult then know when to stop, turn around, and head back. Not finishing a hike won't ruin your vacation, but being carried out with injuries on a helicopter will.

Check The Weather
Flash flooding is a real threat in Hawaii and can occur even if it isn't raining where the trail is at. Always check current weather conditions before you head out and be very careful around streams or gulches. If streams start rising or moving faster it's time to get away.

Never try to cross a stream unless it's very calm and there is no threat of a flash flood. People get stranded and even die from flash flooding so be extra careful.

Wear Proper Clothing
Dressing in layers is a good idea so you can remove items or add them back on as temperatures get hot or cool. The sun can be intense in Hawaii so always bring sunscreen. Hats and sunglasses are always a good idea as well.

On some hikes, mosquitoes are a problem so bring mosquito repellent. Consider bringing a whistle, flashlight, over the counter pain killers, and a first aid kit. Luck favors the prepared.

For shoes, be sure to wear proper footwear like hiking boots or shoes. Slippers (sandals, thongs, flip flops) are not a good idea. Depending on the hike and length of it, some rain gear might be a good idea as showers are common.

Wearing high visibility colors is a good idea. This will help rescuers see you if you are hurt or lost as well as allow hunters to know you're not their prey.

Water. Water. Water. And Food.
Always bring at least 1/2 gallon of water (two liters) per person on full day hikes, more on hot days or extra long hikes. Even if you're just doing a short hike, bring plenty of water. You'll go through it faster than you can imagine because dehydration works quickly.

Store your water in a backpack, daypack, or waistpack (fanny pack) of some kind along with some snacks. Trail mix snacks are always a good option. I take those chewy fruit snacks that my kids love so much along with a Snickers bar as well for quick energy.

Never drink the water in any of the streams or lakes you find on your hike. No matter how clear the water looks it may contain the bacterial disease Leptospirosis. The Lepto bacteria can survive for long periods in fresh water and mud and can enter your body through the eyes, nose, mouth, or any cuts you have. If you end up sick (with flu like symptoms) from 2 to 20 days after a hike you should see a doctor right away.

Hiking With Kids
It's easy to think your kids are a hiking machine like you, but chances are good they are not. Kids take smaller steps and need to move much slower. This means that tree-root-covered-trails, steps, and boulders are also harder for them to navigate and may tire them out sooner. Stick with the easy trails until your children are ready for more and always hold their hands on the tough parts (climbing, stream crossing, etc).

Car Break Ins
It's common to pull up to the parking area near a trail head and see broken glass on the ground. It's also usually easy to see if that glass is the kind that comes from a car window (versus a bottle). If you see broken car window glass then you're in a spot where break-ins occur.

Never, ever leave items in your car. Leave your car as empty as you possibly can. Even a box on a seat might have a thief drooling at the chance to see what's inside it. Rental cars are especially at risk since tourists often toss their stuff in the trunk, which is the first place a thief will look after they bash in the window.

Pack In & Pack Out
Help protect Hawaii's hiking trails by always cleaning up after yourself. This should be common sense but it clearly isn't. Whatever you bring on a hike needs to come back out with you. You can plus that idea by picking up random trash that you find along the way and pack it out as well.

On that same note, invasive plants and weeds can spread via hiking boots so always start your hike with clean boots and scrub your boots when you're done.

Etiquette
The first rule of hiking club is that we stay on the trail. Don't try and blaze your own trail. You might get hurt or lost but also could be messing with fragile plant or animal ecosystems. Stay on the trail. Period.

Treat nature with respect and don't mess with the plant or animal life you see along the way. If you're on a trail with others then give them some space or ask to pass them. If others come up behind you, move aside and let them pass. If you are biking on a trail (when allowed) then hikers and those on horseback have the right of way. If you're hiking, anyone on horse back has the right of way.

Pet Owners
Keep your pet on its leash at all times and clean up any mess it makes. When hiking with a pet remember that you may encounter hunting dogs along the way so always keep your pet on its leash so it remains safe. No matter how friendly your dog is, nobody wants to come up on an unleashed dog.

Emergency Situations
The best thing to do in a major emergency is to dial 911 from your phone. Explain your situation, trail name, and your last known location as best you can. If rescue is out looking for you then you need to stay put. Make noise and motion with high visibility items to attract as much attention as you can.

Keep yourself warm and dry. Rains and wind can make things cold and uncomfortable fairly fast so keep yourself out of the elements as much as you can while you wait for rescue. This is when having watched all of those Man vs Wild and Survivorman episodes will finally pay off.
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