Safety when hiking and backpacking: 12 tips for beginners in hiking

According to the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency, visitors to the mountain regions of Sweden underestimate the rapidly changing weather and, in addition, safety awareness has decreased. Inexperienced tourists call 112 even though it is not a real emergency. People get too tired, get sore knees or have too insufficient equipment and/or knowledge for the hike they have embarked on.

It doesn’t have to be that way. It is perfectly possible to hike even as a beginner. Just prepare yourself properly by learning a few important things, strengthen your body a bit in advance and choose a simple hike as your first adventure.

Here are my 12 tips to help you on your way to becoming a self-confident hiker.

Break on mountain hike in Tänndalen Wilda Nilsson
Taking a break near Hamrafjäll in Tänndalen in Sweden.

12 tips to make hiking safer for both beginners and experienced hikers

1. Don’t hike alone

If you are a beginner, I recommend that you walk with someone with more experience than yourself. If you don’t have any friends who want to hike, you can find new hiking friends through different groups on Facebook for example. You can also join a group hike with a guide. Avoid walking by yourself, especially as a beginner. Even if you are fit, accidents can happen.

2. Choose a simple hike along marked trails

A hike along marked trails is a fantastic experience where you can focus on enjoying the beautiful views. Of course, you’ll use the map to know where your are but the trail marking makes it much easier to navigate. Along the trails in Sweden there are usually emergency cottages/ cabins with an emergency phone. There are also cabins where you can pay a fee to stay over night. Often there are also bridges over streams on marked trails which is much safer than wading.

3. Choose to turn back in time

It can feel bitter to turn around but promise yourself that you will ignore (the idiotic) pride and turn around in time if the weather worsens or if you become unsure of navigation or anything else. Wandering further or taking a chance is never the solution. Cancel the hike in time, before an accident forces you to do so. It is equally important not to press when you, or someone in the group, is too tired. Set up camp earlier, get the tents up and cook dinner well before someone breaks down from exhaustion.

4. Don’t trust your phone to have coverage

Your phone probably won’t have coverage up in the Swedish mountains. Maybe you’re lucky and have coverage sometimes but don’t expect to be able to use it. Plan so that your tour goes past cabins where there are emergency telephones if you are a beginner. And, as I said, don’t go hiking alone.

5. Choose the right clothes and bring correct equipment

Get ready for changing weather by dressing according to the layer-on-layer principle. Pack a change of dry clothes in your backpack and make sure you’ve tried carrying your full backpack on short hikes at home before heading out on in the wilderness. A flashlight or headlamp is always smart to keep in your backpack even if you think you will come home before darkness falls. A light tent or a tarp you can build shelters from is smart to have even if you’re not going to sleep outside.

Make sure you have used your boots a lot and taped your feet to avoid chafing. Here you can read my blog post about how I tape my feet with Leukoplast.

6. Pack extra food and snacks

Bring more food than you’re going to need. Maybe something happens on your turn that will force you to stay out longer than expected. Then the extra food comes in handy.

7. Leave a roadmap so someone knows where to go

Tell someone which way you intend to hike and when you are expected to be back again so that there is someone who can sound the alarm if you don’t come back. It is often possible to register in logbooks in the cabins in the mountains or at the mountain stations. Use them and then check off when you’re back again.

Follow the map so you know where you are even if you walk along marked trails, in the picture below I show the thumb grip. I stand with Svalåtjärn directly in front of me and Skenörsfjället behind. Since I would follow a winter trail, which runs over water, I needed to leave the trail and walk around the watercourse, it was easy orientation because I practiced in advance.

8. Prepare for hiking by exercising at home

Practice strength and fitness by training for your hike at home. Start walking longer and longer distances, replace your jogging shoes with boots, eventually put on an increasingly heavier backpack and try to walk up some nearby slopes, hills or steps. Then the ”real” hike will be more enjoyable if your are a bit stronger and you have also got a number of lovely day trips on the way there. However, you can also hike between cabins and eat dinner there and thus eliminating weight from your backpack.

9. Practice with your tent and gas stove at home in different weather

Start by putting the tent up in your garden or in the nearest park or forest. You do not have to sleep in the tent the first time, but you should practice putting it up and taking it down so that you have full control of how to do before you stand in the wind and rain on the mountain and swear because you don’t know what the h*ll your doing. The same goes for the stove, practice with it at home and you’ll know you can use it.

10. Start with a day trip and then an overnight stay

Don’t go on week-long tours without trying a day trip and then an overnight weekend in the woods nearby your home. Get used to the experience and gather knowledge before you head out into more trying terrain such as in the mountains. A good idea is also to let the first tour be a holiday hike where you sleep indoors and thus can carry a lighter pack. You can also consider staying at a hotel or similar and then making nice trips from there.

Camping with a dog? If you want tips on how to camp with your dog, read my blog post here.

German Shepherd and Jack Wolfskon Gossamer II tent

11. Adjust the pace to the slowest

Go so slow that everyone in the group can keep up. Let the slow one go to the front and set the tempo. We all have different physical conditions and sometimes it depends on the form of the day. Are you going to walk together as a group? Make sure you take a weekend trip first together. Then you have time to try out a bit and see what pace suits the whole group. Perhaps the strongest person can carry a little heavier packing to relieve someone else?

12. Bring a first aid kit and a survival kit

With a first aid kit, you can take care of minor injuries and wounds yourself. Probably someone will get chafing, some other pain in the head and so on. Should a survival situation arise, you will thank yourself for packing a survival kit. Make sure you bring your band aids, painkillers, chafing tape, bandages, sunscreen, knife, ignition steel/ ferro rod (practice using it in advance!) and waterproof matches.

In case of emergency accidents and emergencies, you should of course call Fjällräddningen. Then call 911 and be prepared to answer questions about where you are (always follow the map even if you are on a trail!), what has happened and how many people are affected. Please read more on the Mountain Safety Council’s website.

Bonus Tip 1: Hiking during winter

Are you going out for a walk or hiking in winter in snow and/or cold? I’ve collected things that are good to know ahead of a winter hike in this blog post.

Bonus tip 2: Tape your feet and avoid chafing

Do you have new boots or are you headed out for a hike? Here you can read my blog post on how to tape your feet to prevent chafing.

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