As the cold winter air turns milder and snow melts from the streets, those sitting inside throughout winter might be itching to get out and go on a hike.
“With spring hiking, there’s a handful of additional risks and there’s items that I recommend people take to mitigate those risks,” said Wesley Trimble, program outreach and communications manager for the American Hiking Society.
Trimble recommends doing some research before hitting your desired trail. National forest offices, land managers or even local offices can be a great source of information about trail conditions that tend to be more unpredictable in the spring.
Before you hit the trails or pack your backpack, make sure you know the eight risks that face spring hikers.
In the spring, the temperature swing can be more extreme, especially if you’re in an area where there is elevation change.
Temperatures can drop as hikers travel upwards in elevation, making it hard to stay comfortable in one outfit the entirety of the hike. Multiple layers that are less bulky are best for springtime hikes. Trimble recommends having a base layer, midlayer, fleece jacket or sweatshirt and an outer wind barrier. If rain is in the forecast, it’s best to have a waterproof outer layer.
Trimble recommends lighter layers, instead of a bulky winter coat, so that hikers can adjust to the temperature as it changes and as they start to sweat.
Shorter daylight hours
The spring still consists of shorter days, which means less daylight for a hike. Hikers may forget about the decreased daylight, or get lost while hiking, which can be dangerous.
“I recommend that people throw in a headlamp into their backpack just in case you get delayed on the trail,” Trimble said.
Risk of sunburn
While the sun doesn’t pose a greater risk in the spring than in the summer, hikers often forget to bring protection against it during the spring. Trimble recommends always packing sunscreen in your hiking bag.
Faster flowing creeks and rivers
Creeks and rivers flow higher and faster in the spring than any other time of the year due to snowmelt.
The early springtime creeks and rivers can be more dangerous. Trimble recommends doing research to check if there are creeks or rivers that are on the desired trail and whether or not it is safe to hike at that current time.
Snow- and- ice-covered trails
“When I go hiking in the springtime, I encourage people to think about traction,” Trimble said.
While this is definitely a concern at higher elevations, those hiking at lower elevations and on north-facing slopes could still run into icy, snowy or muddy surfaces.
Traction devices such as microspikes are useful and lightweight. The spikes can slip over trail runners or boots. Trimble recommends Kahtoolas, Yaktrax, and Hillsong microspikes.
“I’ll throw my traction devices into my backpack well into June because above tree line there could be snow,” Trimble said.
Trekking poles are also useful devices that hikers use to stabilize themselves.
Possibility of avalanches
In some parts of the country, snow can still be an issue during spring hikes.
With snow present, there are risks of avalanches in the mountains. Even if snow is not visible in an area, there can still be avalanches that are triggered above the places where you’re hiking. Trimble recommends always checking avalanche risk with mountain authorities before heading out for a hike.
Injury due to winter inactivity
The first hike of the season can be exciting, but Trimble reminds hikers not to be overly confident when choosing a trail to hike.
“I’d recommend people dial back expectations and take a shorter and slower hike at first to let the body adapt to the new hiking season,” Trimble said.
As the season progresses, Trimble recommends slowly increasing distance and trail difficulty.
Increased risk of bugs and ticks
Bugs and ticks may slip your mind when packing for a hike after a whole winter of not having to worry about the risk.
“In the south and warmer areas, it is definitely the beginning of the bug season,” Trimble said.
Trimble recommends packing insect repellent in your backpack. Use the Environmental Protection Agency tool to find the repellent that’s right for you.