Better Safe than Sorry: Precautions to be taken while trekking
Be mindful of these things while trekking.
I’ve already covered quite a few aspects surrounding trekking and wilderness exploration such as, some mistakes not to make as a newbie trekker, why it’s a good idea to be a swimmer on a trek, six items to tick off before embarking upon any trek, and some harsh truths about trekking I’ve learnt the hard way.
But over the course of all these years exploring the wilderness and interacting with a wide spectrum of participants, I’ve noticed how so many of them ignore even the most basic of safety precautions and throw caution to the wind when it comes to outdoor safety.
When it comes to the outdoors, there are rules which you follow that usually go a long way in making your trek a hassle-free and enjoyable experience. And then there are those non-negotiable precautions that you take, the ones that you just cannot ignore.
Here are 4 such precautions to be taken while enjoying yourself out in the wilderness:
Check your shoes always before putting them back on
Check your shoes for insects every time you put them back on.
The inside of a shoe is a wet, damp, cozy nook that makes the perfect dwelling for insects bugs and rodents especially when it’s dry, hot, or too cold outside.
Regardless of the weather, you must make it a point to tap your shoes well before putting them back on every time you take them off. Do not put your hand inside. The insect thats lodged itself there could feel threatened and strike at you immediately leaving you seriously injured. Just loosen up all the laces and hit the shoes against a rock or any other hard surface as hard as you can with the toe box pointing towards the sky. Whatever bug or insect that has taken shelter inside will be forced to vacate the premises due to all the hard pounding.
Ticks, bugs, leeches, bees, flies, spiders, grasshoppers, crickets, frogs, lizards, centipedes, and an assortment of other thimble-sized insects are some likely temporary tenants who could get into your shoes and live rent-free to escape from the extreme heat, cold, or dryness. Don’t rule out the possibility of scorpions as well.
This rule even applies to short breaks which you take during the day.
Many trekkers like to air out their feet and dip their toes inside a cool refreshing stream after trekking continuously for hours together.
Nothing feels more relaxing than loosening your clothes, taking off a few layers, and removing your footwear to feel the natural wind or water caress it after an entire day of rubbing against all that manmade fabric.
Sometimes, we just take off our shoes during lunch break to free our delicate toes of the rigid tight box that they’ve been imprisoned in since the morning. Many insects and bugs find refuge from the dry afternoon heat inside the wet damp confines of a shoe. Don’t let them call it home.
Tap your shoes out every time you take them off for a short or even extended period of time.
Keep your tent closed at all times
Always ensure to zip and secure your tent at all times regardless of whether you’re inside or outside it.
Most often, people tend to take this rule very casually and either partially zip their tents or keep them open altogether, making it the perfect invitation for snakes, scorpions, ants, bugs, and other creepy crawlies to get inside and make themselves at home.
In case you ever forget to secure your tent after setting it up and have abandoned it for a fair bit of time, make sure you give it a thorough pat down once you return, and only then proceed to settle down inside. Insects, snakes, ants, or any other fun-sized creature could have made its way inside lured by the smell of food or in search of warmth from the biting cold and set up camp.
If you’ve set up your tent for the night and left it to attend some kind of campsite activity like sitting around a campfire for dinner, taking a dip in a stream, relaxing at a viewpoint nearby, or to socialize with others, make sure you clean the place thoroughly the moment you get back.
Pat down the entire tent from the far end all the way down to the entrance including all the corners. You never know what creature might have gone and lodged itself in the cozy nooks and crannies to get away from the biting cold. Remove any clothes, undergarments, or towels lying inside and wring them out nicely outside before putting them back inside. Keep your backpack zipped and secured at all times even when its inside the tent.
The ideal thing to do would be to keep your tent zipped at all times whether you’re inside or outside it. But people let down their guard on treks and tend to not take such things very seriously. It’s okay to sleep with your tent open if it's too hot, but never make the mistake of leaving it open while venturing outside.
Never leave your tent unoccupied for a prolonged period of time with no one around to keep watch.
Never wear earphones on a trek — Ever!
If you’re used to listening to music using your AirPods or wired earphones during your runs in the city, you’d better leave that habit back home in the city while leaving for your trek.
Inside the jungle, you want your senses to be sharp and refined as much as possible, not hindered. Every stream trickle, rustling of the leaves in the distance, and bird call should be audible to you. That is why I strive to go on treks only with quiet people in the first place. People who are talkative, not attuned to nature, or keep listening to music during the trek are a threat to themselves as well as the group.
A myriad number of things could happen to you if you choose to listen to music while hiking. And if you’ve been watching English movies, you already know what I’m talking about.
Someone could be alerting you to an approaching flash flood, the presence of a venomous snake or reptile near you, or even an approaching animal, and you wouldn’t be able to hear them. A rowdy bunch of people who could probably be hostile could be approaching your group and wouldn’t know it. Your fellow trek mates at the very end of the line could be hollering at you to slow down, and you wouldn’t be able to hear them. Or someone could go missing, be right around the corner behind a bush, but couldn’t be saved because the person nearest to them happened to be you, who was busy plugged into his/her music.
Moreover, a wild animal could be resting just around the next turn in the trail, and you wouldn’t be able to hear it. Well, to be honest, you wouldn’t be able to sense its presence anyway. Carnivorous jungle cats are stealth hunters and usually pounce on their prey when most vulnerable. But it still helps to keep your eyes, ears, and senses peeled for anything that is lurking nearby to significantly boost your chances of survival.
You want to do everything in your power to maximize your connection with your environment and be tuned in as much as possible. Not zoned out!
Even if it is something you cannot control, such as a flash flood or a wild animal attack, being in sync with your environment greatly increases your chances of survival.
Nowadays, I see trekkers not only carrying earphones to a trek, but that monstrosity of a contraption called a Bluetooth Speaker, playing music as loudly as they possibly can, completely eliminating all the white noise nearby and ruining the trek for everyone.
Alcohol and drugs
If you’re a regular or even occasional drinker, you must resist the temptation to drink, and outrightly reject all forms of alcohol and drug consumption during a trek.
Having your mental state altered is the last thing you want in the forest. The very place where you’ll be needing the services of each and every single neuron in your brain to safely take you in and out of the jungle without any major mishaps on the way.
A forest is the last place where you want to be asking yourself whether what you’re seeing in front of you is real or a hallucination from the drug you just took. The wild, untamed nature is taxing enough on one's senses as it is, and you’ll need all your mental and physical faculties to be fighting fit in order to navigate all the obstacles of the natural world.
If you’re intoxicated by alcohol or disoriented by drugs, you’ll lose your footing in the forest and ultimately your grasp over reality. You’ll not only become a burden to the group, but a pain to yourself when you're struggling to accomplish even the most basic and menial of tasks.
While most hardened and seasoned trekkers have made it a point to never consume alcohol on a trek, a whole lot of others make the mistake of drinking after the trek is complete on the way back home.
Big mistake! You’ve only exited the forest. You have miles to go before you can reach the city and get home. The journey isn’t over yet.
What if your bus or car meets with an accident on the way?
What if there’s a sudden change in weather, and you’re forced to take shelter somewhere?
What if you’re assaulted by muggers on the way?
What if your bus driver tries to take advantage of the situation?
What if someone tries to fool around with the women in your group? How are you going to protect them if you yourself are wobbly and intoxicated?
What if someone falls sick during the return journey, and requires your assistance for treatment and hospitalization?
Or, what if you just lose your way?
Ever heard of the phrase “Never celebrate too early”? These are just a few reasons why.
The point is not that all these things will happen, but how prepared you are to deal with them in the off chance that they do. You need to be in as good a condition during the return journey as much as you were during your onward journey to the trek location. You need to be level-headed, calm, and mentally stable, regardless of whether you’re the trek leader or one of the participants.
Fine, you completed the trek and made it out alive. That is an achievement in itself. But the celebrations can wait until the next weekend where the entire gang is fresh with vigour and vitality, instead of sleep-deprived and tired, can’t it?
Don’t make the mistake of dropping your guard once the trek is over. Get back to the city and then celebrate.
Whether it’s being attentive and keeping your senses peeled for signs of movement inside the jungle, tapping out your shoes always before putting them back on, following campground etiquette, or completely avoiding alcohol and drugs for the duration of a trek, there are many non-negotiables you follow to have a delightful and pain free experience as much as possible.
Being a seasoned trekker means that you not only know to follow the written word, but that you also possess the ability to gauge the gravity of a situation and take an appropriate decision in a matter of moments. It’s moments like these that define how well you, as a trek leader or seasoned trekker, know the jungle and how well versed you are with dealing with issues on a trek.
I would definitely love to hear from any other veteran trekkers or trek organizers out there who have such snippets to share. Lessons that can’t be found in rule books, but something you learnt from your countless expeditions inside the jungle.
Do let me know in the comments bar to the side.