Advice on How to Keep Safe While Hiking

Montrose Search and Rescue Team member Mike Leum outlines ways to avoid trouble in the hills.


A recent spurt of hiking activity was to be expected with the improving weather and Eaton Canyon Falls in Pasadena has certainly enjoyed such a uptick in activity. Unfortunately, the increased hiking has led to an increase in search and rescue activity, as numerous hikers have found themselves stranded or hurt around Eaton Falls, including a teenage girl who suffered severe injuries after a 30 foot fall from a hillside recently.

In order to promote safer hiking, assistant director of the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department and Montrose Search and Rescue Team member Mike Leum imparted his tips to hikers and touched upon key points that many hikers overlook.

“Go with somebody,” Leum stressed. “If you’re alone, something as innocuous as twisting your ankle can become a huge problem. If you’re alone there overnight in cold temperatures, you can die of exposure.”

Leum suggested going with a party of three, although two would certainly be better than being alone.

“The good thing about going with three people is that if one person gets hurt, the second person can stay with the injured person while the third goes for help.”

Leum added, aware that some hikers may scoff at the suggestion, “I can’t tell you how many times I hear, ‘Well, but they’re experienced.’ I don’t care how experienced you are, if you’re alone and something happens, you’re in a world of trouble.”

A second key point that Leum emphasized was telling someone what your plan is before you go hiking. The worst case scenario is that a hiker would be lost, yet no one in his or her family would even know they were hiking or where, and know where to look or inform the authorities.

“Tell a family member and give them the details. Tell them ‘We’re hiking at this trail. We’re going to park the car here. We should be back by this time’ and so on.”

The third point was to know the terrain or find someone who does.

“Take maps with you and become acquainted with how to use them.”

Having the proper equipment, such as maps, has been a mainstay of hiking philosophy. The Mountaineers, a hiking and mountain climbing club, created a list of the “Ten Essentials” in the 1930s. These “essentials” include items that most hiking authorities suggest hikers bring while out in the wilderness. They include a map, a compass, sunglasses and sunscreen, extra food and water, extra clothes, a headlamp or flashlight, a first aid kit, a fire starter, matches and a knife.

The list can of course be supplemented with other items, including a repair kit, insect repellant and a tent or tarp.

Leum stressed taking advantage of technology, too.

“Bring a cellphone. Twenty percent of our activations come from people contacting us from their cellphones. Even if you don’t know where you are currently, just telling us where you parked your car can be all we need to find you.”

However, Leum made a very important postscript to that tip.

“Keep the cellphone turned off until you need it. When you’re in the woods, the phone will roam to find service and drain the battery. Over half the time we get a call from someone’s phone because they’re lost, we lost contact with them because the battery dies.”

Other technological equipment that Leum suggests taking includes GPS and a SPOT device.

“The GPS is useful, but like the maps, you have to know the terrain and how to use the device. There aren’t often many straight-line scenarios out in the woods. It’s important to know where you are and where you want to be.

“The SPOT devices are useful as they can send out prewritten text messages via email or a normal text message to people that you designate online.”

The device also will relay the coordinates of its location to the proper authorities if users utilize the emergency features.

To recap: Go with other people, preferably at least three; tell others what your plan is; know the terrain; take the proper equipment and know how to use it.

Lastly, take with you one of the most overlooked of the hiking essentials: common sense.