Alaska has endless opportunities for anyone interested in hiking! If you are new to hiking and looking to start spending more time in the Alaskan outdoors (which i highly recommend), you’ll want to ensure you are prepared enough to hike safely.
If you have a few hikes under your belt, but you just moved to Alaska, some of the information below may still be useful. So, here’s what to know about hiking in Alaska.
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Planning a trip to Alaska? Start with my Alaska Travel Guide.
10 Alaska Hiking Safety Tips For Beginners
1. Start with a plan
Planning is the first step to being a prepared hiker. When planning a hike in Alaska, there’s a lot to keep in mind, especially if you are hiking in an unfamiliar area. Ask yourself these questions to help you determine if it’s a good hiking trail for you:
- Am I hiking on an established trail?
- How many miles is this hike?
- What is the elevation gain?
- Is it shaded?
- Do I need to watch the tides?
- Are there any water crossings?
- Are there any water sources?
- Is the trail within my capabilities?
- Is this trail frequented by other people?
2. Get the beta
After you decide on a hiking trail, it’s time to gather information about current trail conditions, wildlife encounters, closures, and other useful tips. There are a few ways that you can go about finding the latest trail beta:
- Call the local park ranger to get some on-the-ground information.
- Join local hiking Facebook groups like Alaska Hiking or Hiking in Alaska.
- Check some of the popular hiking apps for any recent trip reports.
3. Check the forecasts
Even though the weather in Alaska is constantly changing, you can still check the weather forecast for the area you will be hiking in to help you get a better idea of the type of clothing and gear that you need to bring. Is it going to rain? Is the temperature going to rise or drop while I’m hiking? Will it be windy? Is there snow?
During the winter, it’s really important to check avalanche conditions and avoid hiking in avalanche terrain! Spring and early summer conditions can also turn into avalanche hazards, so keep this in mind when choosing where to hike.
4. Bring the right gear
Now that you’ve checked the forecasts, you can start packing for your hike! You should always pack the 10 essentials, which includes:
- First aid kit
- Sun protection
- Repair kit
- Emergency shelter
After you’ve included the essentials, you can pack the additional gear you may need based on the hike you have planned. My best advice when packing is to expect the unexpected. Take a look at What to Wear Hiking in Alaska (Summer), or What to Wear Hiking in Alaska (Winter).
5. Practice with a friend
To help you build confidence as a hiker, practice with a friend. Practice everything from packing your bag, testing out your hiking gear, and looking at trail maps. Choose an easy path close to home and practice walking around with your pack on before tackling a bigger hike. If you don’t have any outdoorsy friends, here’s some tips on How to Make Outdoorsy Friends. It’s also totally okay if you prefer to hike solo, which is something I enjoy doing myself!
6. Hide your valuables
If you plan on driving to the trailhead and leaving your vehicle unattended, make sure you don’t leave any valuables in sight. Unfortunately, some of the petty crime around Alaska includes what’s called “smash and grabs.” If the wrong person sees a valuable item left out on your front seat, on the dash, etc., it’s possible that they will break your car window and search your vehicle while you’re out living your best life. So, hide your belongings or take them with you to lessen the chances of becoming a target.
7. Share your plans
Before you get on the trail, make sure to communicate your plans with a friend or family member that is not hiking with you! It’s important to let someone know where you are going and how long you will be gone for, in case of emergencies.
Keep in mind that many areas of Alaska DO NOT have cell service. In this case, it’s useful to have a satellite communication device (this is one of the 10 essentials). Some trailheads have trail registers that you can sign, which can also help locate you in case of a wildfire or other emergency.
8. Be bear aware
Most people have a natural fear of bears, but the truth is most of us (in Alaska) live amongst bears and we run into them more times than we realize! If you want to feel more comfortable when you’re hiking in bear territory, here’s a few tips (from a non-bear expert):
- Travel in groups. It’s best to hike in groups of 3 or more.
- Make noise. Bears don’t want to be surprised. Yell “Heeeeeyoooooo” along the trail.
- Carry bear spray. If you do encounter a bear, bear spray is the best deterrent.
- Don’t run! Acknowledge the bear, make yourself look bigger and walk backwards.
- Avoid hiking at dawn and dusk. Bears are more active during this time.
- Mind the cubs. Bears are more aggressive when they have cubs to protect!
- Don’t wear headphones. You want to be able to hear your surroundings.
9. Eat and stay hydrated
Water and food are part of the 10 essentials that you should already have packed. But, what happens if it gets really hot and you happen to run out of water? To avoid dehydration, you want to think about how you might get more water. Some hikes don’t have any reliable water sources nearby and many sources of water in Alaska need to be treated for diseases like giardia, so you’ll either want to carry water purification tablets or a water filter. In regards to food, you can never bring too many snacks!
10. Know your limits
The last of my hiking safety tips for beginners is to know your limits! This is Alaska and Mother Nature is always keeping us on our toes. I’m here to tell you it’s OKAY to turn back before finishing your hike! Your safety is priority and let’s just say it, “shit happens!” If weather, unexpected hazards or emergencies make it unsafe to continue hiking, just turn back. Plus if you did a good job in the planning stage, you’ll already have a plan B!
Have a safe hike!
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Do you have any other hiking safety tips for beginners? Share them in the comments!