by: Izzy Cheung, Staff Writer

With summer ending, rain coming, and the sun setting earlier, hiking is bound to become an activity that’s done less and less — some may refer to this as “shoulder season.” Hiking during this time might not be as popular, but regardless of whether you’re hiking now or at a different time of year, there are always a few things you should keep in mind when heading on an outdoor adventure. Here are some of the ABCs of hiking to keep yourself and our environment safe.

A: Always follow “Leave No Trace” principles. 

The “Leave No Trace” principles are seven steps you should be taking when embarking on an adventure into the wilderness. These principles were designed to keep hikers and the environments they explore safe. I’ll be going through these as we go down the list, but want to emphasize the importance of adhering to these principles. Sticking by them could potentially save your life in a dangerous situation.

B: Be bear-y mindful of other creatures. 

It’s important to keep in mind that the places we hike or adventure in are the homes of other creatures as well. Make sure to treat wildlife with respect when venturing into the wilderness. Preserving nature for others as well as those who inhabit it lets the earth thrive. Living in British Columbia means that bear encounters are pretty common. Here are some things to consider in the event of encountering a bear.

  • You most likely can’t outrun or out-climb a bear, so refrain from running away or attempting to escape by climbing a tree (before you ask, yes, some people may do this). Back away slowly.
  • Make loud noises or speak loudly.
  • Make yourself look bigger by standing on a rock or log.

In the rare case of a bear attack, if you encounter a brown or grizzly bear, you should play dead and protect your neck. Black bears are more prone to aggression, so if you find yourself confronting one, escape into a safe space — if escape is inevitable or the bear’s attack persists, fight back and concentrate on the bear’s face. You should also bring bear spray and know how to use it on your backcountry hikes for the very unlikely chance that a bear attacks.

Learn more about bear encounters here

C: Constantly check your hiking conditions. 

Making sure you’re prepared and checking the conditions of the area you’ll be hiking in is a very important aspect of adventuring. Trust me, you don’t want to get caught in a rainstorm while halfway up a mountain, but in the event that it does happen, make sure you’re prepared for it. Ensure that you’re ready for any hiking conditions by planning ahead and being prepared for the conditions you’re expecting. Make sure you know the trails you’ll be navigating, or have access to a cellular service-optional map of them. It may be useful to communicate what trails you are embarking on and your expected time frame to a loved one. You may also consider taking a satellite phone with you. Knowing the terrain (rocky, flat, marshy, etc.) helps as well. Don’t venture above treeline in the snow, unless you have avalanche safety training. Prepare for any weather by dressing in layers and bringing a backpack that you can tuck any jackets or sweaters in if you find yourself warming up. I like to bring along a rain layer, sweatshirt, and a shirt underneath, then put the sweatshirt in my bag if I get warm.

D: Dispose of waste properly. 

Another “Leave No Trace” Principle: disposing of your waste properly ensures that the wilderness we hike within maintains the beauty and peace that draws people to it. To do this, you can package your trail snacks or meals in reusable containers and keep them in your backpack. If you’re bringing anything else that will result in waste onto a trail, be sure to bring it back with you and dispose of it properly when near the proper bins. Yes, this also means you should pack out your toilet paper in things like doggie bags. For food, I’ve started making my own snacks (oat bars, granola, etc.). Placing these in plastic containers instead of store-bought granola bars helps minimize the chance of waste.

E: Everyone gets to enjoy.  

Be courteous to others on the trails, much like how you would on public transportation or while walking on the street. This includes, but is not limited to:

  • Letting uphill walkers go first on a narrow trail.
  • Stopping and making room for those with mobility aids on a trail.
  • If listening to music, use earbuds or headphones instead of playing it out loud.
  • Adhering to any warning signs.
  • Travelling on frequented or durable paths to minimize the impact on nature and the environment.

If you’re planning on having a campfire, review the restrictions of the area you’re exploring. Many provincial parks ban open-air fires during certain times of the year, so ensure that you’re adhering to their guidelines. If you’re permitted to do so, minimize the impacts of the fire by keeping it in a fire ring or on top of a mound, but, if possible, consider taking a small backpacking stove to minimize the risk of starting a fire.

F: Find something cool? Leave it for others. 

Keeping the environment the way that it was when you arrived is an important step in preserving it. Leave behind what you find — including fun looking flowers, cool rocks, or any other parts of the wildlife that may be enticing to keep. Leaving these items will allow others to see and enjoy them on their hikes as well, and keep the environment undisturbed.

Another principle that falls under this umbrella is respecting wildlife. Realistically, this should go without saying — don’t disturb or feed the wildlife, as it can disrupt their homes and instincts. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t look. As long as you’re watching from a distance and not interfering with the wildlife, feel free to observe or take photos. Remember to watch out for any sudden changes in the behaviour of these animals, though, as this could signal discomfort or distress.

H: Hike with a mindful attitude.

Don’t overlook the Indigenous histories or significance behind specific places. Instead of mindlessly hiking through trails you found online or were recommended through social media, make an effort to learn about the significance of the land. Follow Indigenous advice and guides, or even consider taking an Indigenous-led tour. What to you might be a beautiful stroll through nature and a nice swimming lake, could actually be sacred Indigenous territory.

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