10 Stay Safe Hiking Tips

You’ll have more fun (and maybe stay alive) if you do the following on your Grand Canyon adventure:

  1. Never hike alone.  Trust me, you’ll end up getting into windy philosophical arguments with yourself, and you’ll always lose them.  If you must hike by yourself, tell someone where you’re going and when you expect to be back.
  2. Bring plenty of water.  You may need 2 liters per hour in summer.  Backpackers active during the heat of summer may need up to 5 gallons in as little as 8 hours!  Obviously, you’ll need to camp or hike near water sources if you can’t shoulder these amounts.  You should be eliminating regularly.  Dark urine is a sign of dehydration.  Supplement your water with sports drinks that have electrolyte replacement value.  That’s fancy for Gatorade.  Too much water alone can lead to hyponatremia, a low sodium level in the brain which may inspire you to hide from your rescuers.  (It has happened).
  3. In dry weather, you can sweat and not even know it due to evaporation.    Bring food packed with complex carbohydrates such as granola or trail mix.  In hot weather, bring snacks higher in salt content.  Salted nuts are a good bet. 
  4. Kaibab, an indigenous moniker appended to a nearby national forest and plateau and a couple Canyon trails, roughly translates to ‘inverted mountain.’  In the Grand Canyon, the hike begins on the rim – with the down part.  That means you’ll be at your most tired for the second half of the journey – the up part.  Keep in this mind when measuring travel times or judging how fresh you’ll need your legs to be for the trip back.  Plan on spending twice as much time going up as you did destroying your knees going down.
  5. In cold weather, use clothes and socks that dry quickly.  Use clothing and socks that wick – that is, that transpire water away from the skin.  Wet clothing, especially in cold weather, can be dangerous.  Consider that most cases of hypothermia happen in 50 degree temps.  Clothing for the upper body and shoes and socks especially should be warm.  Avoid cotton in cold weather.
  6. In summer heat, cotton is king since it fails to warm you when wet with sweat. Wear a long sleeve cotton shirt, loose cotton pants, even leather hiking boots.  An ingenious technique pioneered by legendary Canyon trekker, Harvey Butchart, involves soaking several tee shirts and placing them in a plastic bag.  So in hot weather, enjoy a wet tee shirt contest, even if you’re the only one playing.
  7. In summer in desert environments like the Grand Canyon, try to hike in the mornings (before 10) and in the afternoons (after 4).  This way, you avoid the warmest parts of the day.  Two tips for the price of one here: rest 10 minutes for every hour of hiking.  In really hot weather, make the ratio 20 minutes rest for every 40 hiking.  When it’s infernal, even 20:20 isn’t a bad idea.  If you can’t carry on a normal conversation without wheezing, you’re overdoing it. 
  8. When lightning threatens or is present, seek shelter, but avoid lone trees and other high objects.  Most rock conducts electricity, and some of the rock in the southwest can transmit lightning because it carries a high content of iron.  When confronted with lightning in exposed areas, your best bet is to squat down to reduce height and perch on your toes to minimize contact with the ground.  Also, avoid fibbing or challenging the gods in any way. 
  9.  Trail etiquette requires that uphill hikers have right-of-way.  Yield by standing trailside as they pass.  In the Grand Canyon, mules also have right-of-way.  They go on the outside of the trail so stand on the inner part of the trail while they pass and follow the mule guide’s instructions.
  10. Know your limits.  Many people that required rescue down here kept in excellent condition.  A lack of humility did them in.  If you do any hiking below the rim, you may run into folks doing a rim-to-rim-to-rim hike in one day.  Unless you’ve made arrangements with your local mortician, don’t emulate them.