Summer is a great time for outdoor activities. Usually, now would be a great time to head outdoors and camp or hike in an idyllic location. Well, not this year. With the COVID-19 pandemic raging, extra precautions need to be taken when you venture outdoors.
Several advisories are in effect and they need to be followed for your safety as well as the protection of other hikers. Here are some things you need to know:
Social distancing protocols are still in effect. Keep a distance of at least six feet from other people. As you walk a trail or hike, you are likely to encounter other hikers. Remember to maintain your distance.
Sometimes, you could be lost admiring the view or be zoned out at the moment. Or, you could be at a popular spot on the trail where several hikers are already admiring the view. There can be sections on the trail where the width is too small to allow for proper distancing.
This is not the time to give up caution. Stay alert and maintain your distance. Popular trail authorities and hiker associations are repeatedly urging people to be very careful.
Choose local and simple over popular. It is better to pick local, accessible trails over traveling to more popular spots. Popular trails and national parks have started to open, and they’ve quickly found themselves overcrowded. Now is not the time to be at a crowded place! Even if you’ve long wanted to see the beauty of the Grand Canyon or Yosemite, skip it this year.
Apart from the risk of crowded trails and parks, there is also the risk of traveling to these locations. Places like gas stations, public restrooms, picnic tables, etc. can all carry a risk of spreading the infection.
The COVID-19 virus can live on surfaces for several hours or days. For example, it is known to survive on steel for about 48 hours, longer on plastic. A seemingly uncrowded picnic table might prove risky.
Pick a trail close to home and one unlikely to be crowded. Use the toilet before you leave, so you don’t have to use public facilities. A day trip to somewhere close to you carries a lot less risk than traveling to the other end of the country or state.
Choose your hiking companions wisely. A usual tip for beginner hikers is to find a group that can help them understand the ropes. Experts too know to rely on groups for some hikes and camping trips. In the current situation, it is best to be more guarded on choosing your hiking companions.
All’s good if it’s someone from your household and/or someone you’ve been in constant contact with over the last few weeks. A club outing with people you don’t know or haven’t been in contact with isn’t smart at the moment.
If you’ve been planning a particularly tough or risky hike, it’s best to skip it for now. Choose hikes that are convenient and unlikely to put you in a situation that might need external support. Most rescue organizations and responders are already busy with the pandemic. Diverting help to a remote hiking spot might be difficult.
Wear a mask and avoid touching your face. Masks on a hike? Well, not exactly, but covering your face is important. Keep a mask in your pocket and put it on when you see someone else on the trail. Or, you could keep wearing the mask and slip it down the nose when not needed.
This part is easily handled on more laid-back sections of the trail. However, you might not want to keep the mask on for long at more strenuous sections of the trail. If you see several people around, wear the mask anyway.
Another, and perhaps more practical idea, is to keep a bandana tied around your neck. When you see someone approaching, simply pull up the bandana to cover your face and nose.
All of this assumes you’ve not been touching random objects in your path. Avoid touching your face, especially nose and eyes if you’ve touched any other object. It’s a good idea to keep some alcohol-based sanitizer with you. It’s a quick, clean way to sanitize your hands while you’re on the trail.
When you reach home, make sure to wash your hands with soap for at least 20 seconds before you touch anything else.
Understanding the risk factor. Hiking is generally considered safe, even during the pandemic. The risk of transmission in open, outdoor spaces is extremely low. So, passing someone on the trail is low risk, especially when following social distancing norms.
However, someone coughing or sneezing is a different scenario. That makes things more complicated and increases the risk manifold. A crowded location is especially risky.
Therefore, the golden rule is to avoid trails where there’s a risk of crowds. A crowded trail is practically a health risk! Also, avoid traveling long distances to hike or camp. Popular locations get crowded and public facilities, gas stations, etc. can be risky places.
Joshua Hodge is the editor of DeepBlueMountain, a website dedicated to camping resources, tips and reviews. Growing up in the foothills of the Rockies, Joshua took early to exploring and soon moved to longer hikes and camping. It’s a passion he still follows and sees as a guiding influence.