20 Essential Outdoor Adventure Safety Tips

20 Tips to Stay Safe in the Outdoors

While there are many barriers that prevent people from enjoying the outdoors, one of the most common I hear is being concerned about safety.

The risks in nature are real and range from extreme temperatures, injuries, wildlife encounters, navigation errors and more. But, many of these risks can be managed proactively by taking steps before you go and knowing what to do while you’re out there. 

Honestly, there is a high likelihood that nothing serious will ever happen to you in the outdoors. But, like insurance, it’s best to have a plan and resources available in that rare moment when the unthinkable happens. 

Text: How to Stay Safe While Outdoors - 20 Essential Tips
Image: Women with her back to the camera on the left side of the frame wearing a backpack and holding a map. Behind her is a desert scene with green brush and mountains in the distance.

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Outdoor Adventure Safety Tips: Before You Go

Before you even leave home, there are several steps you can take to identify and manage potential risks. Try these seven essential outdoor adventure safety tips before you go!

1 | Check multiple weather sources for your actual destination.

Weather patterns can change rapidly, particularly near large bodies of water and in mountainous regions. Checking multiple sources for the latest weather in your destination, not a town 30 miles away but the actual destination, will allow you to have a more complete picture of the risks. 

2 | Assess risk factors and conditions specific to your destination.

There are so many factors that could impact your safety while in the outdoors, including altitude, sun exposure, and tide patterns. Many of these factors you can plan for in advance with the right gear or even leaving at a specific time of day.

For instance, while hiking in Seward Alaska, I planned to hike a coastal trail with the hopes of seeing whales and other sea life. Before I left, I checked the online trail map where I discovered that part of the trail was inaccessible during high tide. Had I not known that I may have gotten stranded between tides!

3 | Always carry safety gear tailored for your outing.

A wood bridge with green metal rails extends from the center of the frame straight across into the distance. At the far end is a green forest and below is a rocky stream. A woman (me) is walking across the bridge with a red backpack on carrying a water bottle, handheld GPS and safety whistle attached to it.
Always carry the ten essentials plus any additional gear needed for your specific outdoor adventure plans.

A great place to start is using my day hike packing list as a starting point, which covers the ten essentials plus bonus safety tips for outdoor activities. From there, you can customize what you carry depending on what type of outdoor adventure you have planned. For instance, if you’re headed into bear country, be sure to have a bear safety plan.

Be sure to plan for the worst case scenario, carrying extra food, water and layers in case you get lost or injured on your adventure.

Pro Tip: Always bring essential medications with you!

4 | Dress appropriately for the conditions and season.

It’s not enough to just check the weather in your destination, be sure to also dress appropriately. Layers are a great way to give yourself options if you are unsure of what to expect or if you anticipate changes in the weather.

Wondering what to wear while hiking in the winter? Here’s my winter hiking guide!

5 | Inspect your essential gear.

Make sure that your most essential outdoor adventure safety gear is in good working order before you leave home. This includes your headlamp, water filter, and even your shoe laces! 

6 | Learn basic first aid.

When you or your adventure buddy needs first aid, it’s not the best time to learn how to actually give first aid. Familiarize yourself with how to identify and treat the most common types of injuries that occur in the outdoors. Examples include blisters, cuts, sprains, dehydration, hypothermia, and heat stroke. 

Whether you make one yourself or purchase a first aid kit, be sure to have the necessary supplies with you!

Pro Tip: Consider taking a class in wilderness first aid from organizations like NOLS, REI, and the Red Cross

7 | Share your itinerary.

This is so simple, yet often overlooked. Imagine heading out on a hike by yourself, getting injured and not a single person knowing what trail you are on. Drop a pin and send it to a friend or just text someone the name of the trail, route, park, etc. that you’ll be exploring. 

Pro Tip: Many backpacking trails have a register or log book at the trailhead and/or in each section, which can be helpful in locating you in the event of an emergency. Some ranger stations or park visitor centers also have a register.

Outdoor Adventure Safety Tips: While Outdoors

Now you’re ready to get outside! Use these ten outdoor adventure safety tips while you’re enjoying the outdoors.

1 | Trust your gut.

Our bodies and brains are literally designed to anticipate and protect us from danger. So, if something doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t. Trust your intuition and don’t be too proud to turn around or change your plans.

2 | Be realistic about your physical limitations/ condition.

Trust me, I am all about pushing my own boundaries so I’m not suggesting you take it easy. However, you put yourself and others at risk by not being realistic about your capabilities.

For instance, I’ve lived my life at sea level and know that altitude is extremely challenging for me. I plan a day to acclimate before any strenuous outdoor activity and focus on keeping myself extra hydrated.

Pro Tip: Want to improve your hiking fitness? Try these three workouts to get you trail ready in no time!

3 | Know how to do basic repairs on your critical equipment.

Don’t overthink this one! This can be as simple as bringing a few feet of duct tape with you to repair a strap on your backpack, a shoe, or other gear. Check out my day hike packing list for more ideas on what to carry with you on your next adventure.

4 | Have a safety plan.

Two women walk through tall grass and wildflowers with two additional people in silhouette in the background. The sun is setting behind the group with a tall hill or mountain in the distance.
If enjoying the outdoors in a group, discuss your safety plan in case something unexpected happens!

This is more straightforward when you’re planning to be outdoors on your own. When you are with a group, though, this is more complicated – and even more important.

What will you do if you get separated? What will you do if someone gets hurt? Who is carrying the first aid kit? Does everyone know how to do basic first aid? Take time to have an intentional conversation about this so if something happens everyone knows what to do!

5 | Be alert.

Enjoy all the beauty that nature has to offer and be mindful and aware of your surroundings. This includes paying attention to where you’re stepping (or paddling, if on water) and watching for slippery surfaces, low hanging branches, trip hazards and drop offs. 

For those who have access to their hearing, avoid wearing headphones as this may prevent you from being alerted to a threat (such as a bear or other wildlife). 

6 | Know approximately what time sunset will be.

Whatever you are doing in the outdoors, knowing the approximate time of sunset is a helpful guide. Overnight temperatures can drop, weather patterns can shift, and navigating gets more challenging, especially if you don’t have a light source and are in an unfamiliar place. 

Allow yourself time to make it back to the trailhead, campsite or other safe place before nightfall. If you intend to be outdoors after nightfall, plan ahead and bring appropriate gear and clothing.

7 | Don’t drink the water.

Even the cleanest looking water can be carrying waterborne parasites and bacteria that can cause serious illness. Unless you are certain a water source is safe, do not drink directly from it. Carry in more than enough water for your outing or bring something to filter the water before drinking it.

// Check out my favorite simple and affordable standalone water filtration device (REI and Amazon).

// Find my favorite affordable water filtration device that integrates with a water bottle (REI and Amazon).

8 | Avoid lightning strikes.

A silhouette of a dead tree rising above the tree tops of a forest with bright purple and blue sky with lightning flashing through it.
If you see lightning, avoid standing near isolated trees. Opt instead for a forest or open field, if possible.

If you find yourself in the outdoors without a shelter during lightning or an electric storm, there are several precautions you can take to minimize your risk of being struck. First, seek a low spot by heading downhill if possible. If on water, make every effort to get off of the water as soon as possible. Avoid standing near an isolated tree. A forest or open field are safer options.

Crouch with your feet together instead of apart, keeping only your feet in contact with the ground. If you are with others, be sure to crouch at least 15 feet apart from one another.

Set down any metal objects such as hiking poles, paddles, or packs with metal frames.

9 | Know what to do if you get lost.

A paper trail map is folded and faded laying on a green mossy surface next to a blue and lime green water bottle.
If you get lost, first try to locate your position on a map. Be sure to carry a compass and know how to use it!

First, make every effort to stay calm. Before wandering further, collect your thoughts and attempt to remember how you got to your current location. Take a moment to try to find your current location on the map (Read more about day hiking essentials here). Note any landmarks such as bodies of water, peaks, unique formations or vegetation. 

If you are able to identify your location on the map, use your compass to walk intentionally using your map as a guide. Don’t leave the trail if at all possible as it will make navigating significantly more challenging. If you are unable to identify your location on the map, attempt to locate a body of water or drainage ditch that you may be able to follow. 

If it is near nightfall or you are otherwise unable to safely continue, consider staying put overnight. Use your day hike packing list items to keep you safe and warm until sunrise. 

10 | Never approach wildlife.

This is such an important outdoor safety precaution! Remember, you are wandering around their home. Observe wildlife from a distance. If you see a mama and its babies, be particularly cautious.

Outdoor Adventure Safety Tips: When You Return

The adventure doesn’t end when you return from enjoying the outdoors! 

1 | Clean your gear and store it properly.

Extend the life of your equipment and keep your gear in good working order for your next adventure by gently cleaning it and storing it. 

A wood paneled wall has two rows of wooden rungs hanging horizontally. On two of the rungs there are backpacks hanging. On the left is a blue backpack and on the right is a red backpack.
Make your outdoor adventure gear last longer by cleaning it and storing it properly!

2 | Take care of your body.

Check in with your body and tend to any areas that are sore or otherwise need attention. Make sure you are rehydrated, blister free, and stretch if you feel tight. This will help your body recover more quickly. 

3 | Celebrate and plan the next adventure.

Relish in the feeling of accomplishment – you did it! Do a happy dance, pat yourself on the back, share it on the ‘gram, and tell your friends all about it. Now, where to next?

Essential Safety Tips for Outdoor Activities

Nature is beautiful, but it can also be humbling and unforgiving. Many of the risks can be eliminated or minimized if you use these essential outdoor adventure safety tips.

Related content to read next:

How to Avoid Getting Eaten Alive by Mosquitoes & Ticks (for Hikers!)

Best Place to Buy (and Sell) Used Outdoor Gear: Geartrade Review

Best Sleeping Bag Alternative: Rumpl Nanoloft Blanket Review

Be sure to check out my list of recommended outdoor and adventure travel gear!

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Text: How to Stay Safe While Outdoors - 20 Essential Tips
Image: Women with her back to the camera on the left side of the frame wearing a backpack and holding a map. Behind her is a desert scene with green brush and mountains in the distance.
Text: Outdoor Adventure Safety Tips - A Prepared Girl's Guide. 20 Tips!
Image: A woman walks through tall grass wearing a backpack and carrying a walking stick. Behind her is a large hill and in the sun setting in the top right of the frame.

18 thoughts on “20 Essential Outdoor Adventure Safety Tips

  1. Pingback: Top 10 Anniversary Destinations to Consider in the U.S.

  2. Johnny says:

    Such a great list of recommendations. Love this list of tips! You have created such a smart list of essential things. Thank you so much for sharing this.

  3. This Big Wild World says:

    Thanks, Farrah! Yes, I’d love to take the NOLS course someday to sharpen my skills as well.

  4. This Big Wild World says:

    Thanks, Karen! It’s like insurance – you hope you don’t need any of this gear but if you do, you’ll be thankful to have it. I hear what you’re saying on the open field. I would definitely prefer forest, but if you’re in a prairie with limited options it’s better to be in the open than near the only tree in the area. Low ground is preferred if that’s an option for sure.

  5. This Big Wild World says:

    Great idea, Josy! That would definitely give you some extra peace of mind. Glad to hear you assessed the situation and decided to turn around. Now you’ve got an excuse to go back, right? 🙂

  6. Farrah says:

    These are all really great tips! I really want to do the wilderness first aid course with NOLS someday. *-* (and I need to be better about packing a first aid kit!!)

  7. Karen says:

    Very complete list of ideas about keeping safe. Some outdoor enthusiasts don’t think about safety until something bad happens. This post is a great way for outdoor people to plan ahead and prepare with regard to safety. I’m not sure I’d go in a wide-open field during a lightning storm–perhaps if there was a low spot in the field I would.

  8. Josy A says:

    Great post Susan!

    I have been considering buying one of the locator devices with emergency help satellite transmitter (like spot/ inReach mini) as we are out in the wilderness so often. We do normally leave a trip plan for big adventures, but not always…I should get better at that!!

    I feel like we are pretty good at turning back when we don’t feel safe. That has happened last weekend when we gave up just 30m from the lake we wanted to visit (noooo!) We were in a snow covered bolder field and decided falling in an unseen gap was just too dangerous out there! Still, it is hard to make that choice when you reeeeally want to see the pretty views!

  9. Kristen says:

    This is a really great list. I’m always amazed when people approach wildlife at National Parks and things don’t end well. They are WILD animals 🙂

  10. This Big Wild World says:

    Eek! I can imagine that was a bit scary! Glad you were in the forest during the lightning. It’s one of the best options when you get stranded like that.

  11. Krista says:

    Love the tip about checking the weather. It’s always the last thing I check or I forget about it and then get a shock when I arrive at the destination.

  12. Megan says:

    Great tips! We were recently hiking through a national park. The weather forecast was clear, as was the sky. By the time we got to the very top of the mountain, a thunderstorm rolled in fast. It was really scary! Luckily we were in a well forested area, so I guess it’s the best thing we could do. These are great tips to know for all sorts of safety!

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