Safety First: Helmets While Hiking

As an April Fool’s Day joke (kind-of), Philadelphia Mayor Michael A. Nutter unveiled the first ever “e-lanes” for distracted pedestrians–or, for those among us who are reading this as we walk to lunch, sidewalk space for those who like to text and walk.

Officials said,  “The E-Lane is a dedicated sidewalk space exclusively for pedestrians who wish to use electronic devices while walking.”  Nutter’s press release and e-lane psa video are a bit tongue in cheek, but they got us thinking that we might need the same thing on backpacking trips.

Think about it.  When we are hiking along in the pristine wilderness of the Colorado Rocky Mountains, it is–dare we say–distracting?  How many times have you, while hiking or backpacking with your friends along a gorgeous remote trail, cease to pay attention to the person meandering in front of you?  Without any verbal warning, your friend stops to take off a layer, have a drink (especially if they are the old-school water bottle carrying type), or pull out the binoculars…then WHAM!  You crash right into them.

These are serious collisions.  Sometimes water is spilled, sometimes the mountain goat runs away, and sometimes you smoosh your face into the somewhat repellant and greasy fry pan your buddy insists on strapping to the OUTSIDE of his pack.

Since we are proud practitioners of Leave No Trace principles, and we have learned a fair amount of quality trail building techniques from our friends at the Colorado Fourteeners Initiative, we know that adding an additional trail for those of us to enter flow states while hiking isn’t reasonable.  But we DO want to raise awareness about the dangers of distracted walking in the woods.

If you plan to hike blindfolded, choose a reliable high school student to guide you.

Here are some tips to reduce the possibility of distracted walking:

  • Always communicate in real life, in real time (texting your hiking partner that there is a bear on the trail ahead is never advisable)
  • Maintain a safe distance between hiking partners (if you can smell your friend, you are too close)
  • Use all of your senses to remain connected with the outdoors (if the crunch, crunch, crunch of your friends’ uber-rugged mountaineering boots assault your fine-tuned sense of hearing….then, again, take a few steps back)
  • Watch your weather, especially in the direction you are heading (this will force you to occasionally glance at the back of your friends head)
  • Beware of the Beauty Barrage: too many stunning vistas may leave you so physically reinvigorated that you feel like you could “run up that mountain”, much to the detriment of your hiking partner.

Unfortunately, there is really no cure for distracted walking in the woods…except for hiking alone.

Then you can happily (and safely) text all of your friends the pictures when you get back…while you walk to work.

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