Common sense goes a long way on summer hikes

Those enjoying area parks are urged to take care on hiking trails this summer.

Weather, according to Jan Latham, program director and guide for Adventures in Good Company, a Baltimore-based female-focused hiking guide services company, can lead to accidents, both directly and indirectly.

“There’s no bad weather, there’s just bad gear,”‘ she said. “If you have the right gear, it’s beautiful to hike in the rain. If you’re on a ridgeline and there’s lightning, get off that ridgeline. If you can’t, you need to get in the lowest possible place you can. You want to avoid open meadows and fields, never stand under a single tree. All of those things we’ve always heard are very true.”

Lanham said the right gear is especially important because hikers often don’t pay any mind to a brief summer shower. Latham said this is a mistake and unforeseen issues can arise.

“What tends to happen, particularly in the summer months, you’ll be hiking along and it’ll start sprinkling and summer rains are quite cold and you go along and end up getting wet. People don’t have the proper clothes,” Latham said. “They’re wearing cotton and you shouldn’t wear cotton when you hike…Once you start getting wet, your body temperature is going to drop and the more your body temp drops, the less sound your reasoning becomes. You can make bad decisions and get into trouble pretty quickly.”

What Latham described are the foundations of hypothermia, and wind can exacerbate these issues.

“The wind can whip up and you lose a lot of body heat from convection,” Latham said. “It’s really amazing how you can have the risk of hypothermia in the middle of summer… You need to know about layering and have at least one warm layer with you plus your rain gear; your ‘hiking costume’, so to speak. No cotton. No jeans. It’s not even recommended for a short day hike.”

Hypothermic conditions, Latham said, can affect one’s state of mind, the soundness of which is vital to the safety of any hiker. Proper food consumption and hydration are two other factors that, when not properly executed, can detract from a hiker’s alertness, creating potentially dangerous situations.

“If you are hiking, do what’s known as grazing – eating a little bit every few hours to keep that glucose level nice and even,” she said. “You don’t want peaks and valleys… Have your trail mix with you. You’re just keeping that energy level nice and even. If you’re not feeling well, you tend to make mistakes. All of this has to do with your mental status.”

As far as hydration is concerned, Latham recommends a hydration system, often referred to by the popular brand name Camelbak. These devices consist of a backpack with an internal bladder. A hiker fills his or her bladder with water, and a hose from the bladder to an area near the hiker’s shoulder. This enables the hiker the hydrate without having to stop, retrieve a water bottle, drink and put it back.

Latham also said proper sun protection is part of the highest tier of importance to hikers, along with proper eating, proper clothing and adequate hydration.

Much lower in the hierarchy of importance to experts, but first on the list for most laypeople, is the issue of animal encounters. Latham preaches common sense during these potentially stressful moments, employing the old adage “they’re more afraid of you than you are of them.” Latham urged knowledge, preparation and level-headedness should one come across a snake or bear.

She said the best way to deal with a snake encounter is to practice good judgment. She said that most hikers who are bitten are younger adult males who are bitten in the forearm area because they picked up a snake or didn’t leave it alone.

“They (snakes) don’t know the difference between a trail and the woods,”‘ she said. “They may be crossing your trail and you have to let him go. Again, you’re going to stop, figure out where the head and where the tail is. Always go around the tail end of the snake. They do not have to be coiled to strike and they can strike their full body length so you don’t want to make them mad.”

“My advice for any kind of animal encounter — you need to stop, you need to figure out what exactly is going on,” she said. “There are procedures if you see a bear. You stop, figure out if you’re in the line of sight of a mama bear and her cubs, just back away slowly, let mama bear and baby bears reunite and let them go on their way.”

She said the antithesis of the above approach should be employed if a hiker comes across a solitary bear, explaining that one should make a lot of noise, and the bear will usually be scared off.

One way of making the required racket is by way of a whistle. A whistle, whether for bears or to alert others of a hiker’s location following an accident, is one of the 10 essentials of hiking, the gold standard for hikers and backpackers.

“There are a lot of different versions but the original 10 essentials were created in the 1930s when mountaineering was starting in the United States,” she said. “…I kind of am a preacher of the 10 essentials. You can keep those in your backpack all the time. You can make them very small and very lightweight. If you have those, you are safe. You have your best chance of not having problems.”

More information on the 10 essentials can be found at

Contact staff writer Nathan Budryk at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or