Below are some basic safety guidelines for hiking on your own. We suggest you start following points 9 through 11 when hiking with groups (like us!) so they start becoming a habit.
1. Never hike alone. Two is a minimum and three or four is better.
2. Always let someone know where you are going, preferably written down with approximate route and time you plan to return. When you return, let your contact know you are back, especially if you had an unexpected delay.
3. Never overestimate your strength or the strength of your group. You cannot go faster or farther than the weakest member of your group.
4. Never overestimate your skills. If you are a beginner, there are plenty of fun and easy routes that will keep you busy until you can do the more challenging routes.
5. Keep your eye on the weather and your watch. If the weather looks iffy, don’t chance a long walk, especially at higher altitudes. If it is getting late in the day, take the fastest, safest way to civilization.
6. Learn how to use a map and a compass and carry them with you at all times.
7. Plan well (see point 8). Insufficient knowledge, winging it or similar can lead to serious problems not only for your group but for rescue teams that might have to find / help you. A cell phone in your pack is no substitute for doing your homework BEFORE you head out.
8. Even if it’s an easy route, know the basics about what you want to do: approximate length, hills, estimated time for completing it, where you can turn back safely and where you might have problems of any sort, technical, navigational or other. If the route is longer or more complicated, research it as thoroughly as possible before leaving home.
9. Always carry high-energy food for emergencies and plenty of water for the whole day (minimum 1 1/2 liters in the winter or on short hikes and 2 liters or more in the summer and for longer hikes).
10. Always carry at least a minimum first aid and emergency kit including matches or a lighter and metalized emergency blanket or similar. (other good things for this kit: duck tape or similiar, flashlight, whistle, lightweight cord, safety pins, notepad and felt tip pen, signal mirror if not already on your compass, first aid for blisters, small cuts, disinfectant, aspirin, bandages etc). Don’t forget a bandanna or cotton scarf – in addition to keeping the sun off your neck and washing trail grime off your face before reaching town, these lightweight bits of cloth are invaluable in emergencies. AND duct tape. Don’t think this is overkill, it will fix anything, at least enough to get you back to town, whether backpack, boots or something else (personal experience: sole came off my not-that-old boots, fortunately not far from town and not on a challenging trail. I didn’t have duct tape with me that day but always carry now!!)
11. Depending on the route you plan, carrying gear for rain or cold is always a good idea and absolutely necessary between September and June. Temperatures can drop unbelievably fast and it can snow in the summer even at moderate altitudes. Don’t get caught unprepared! Extra socks and a complete change of clothing (all in a plastic bag) is also a good idea – AND could quite literally save your life if you run into problems.
ALWAYS GO PREPARED!! Not wanting to carry weight is no excuse for being unprepared, as you will understand if you think of the alternatives and even more if you ever have an iffy situation on a hike. One June day we went from heavy sweating to a fogged-in “thunder-snowshower” in about 30 minutes, not far from Madrid at only about 1500 meters / 4900 feet altitude! We had just enough gear to get out of that with nothing more than a scare – but it made us think seriously about what is in our packs and about watching the weather with a closer eye. Don’t wait for a situation like this to wake you up – it may be more than a scare.