To be prepared or not to be…well that is up to you. For me, preparedness is everything especially when it involves my family. Here are our Top 5 Safety tips to bring on a hike in Colorado.
Since my time in Colorado, I have seen family after family embarks out on a hiking trail to only look confused and/or exhausted, but lacking in some proper equipment. I get asked frequently, Do you know where this trail ends? or How far is this trail? or Do you know which way leads back to parking?
Is It Safe To Hike In Colorado?
Colorado is home to an astonishing 5,683 miles of hiking trails! From Mountain biking and hiking trails to 4X4 and paved trails, Coloradans like to get outside! Many people new to the area or new to hiking might be wondering if it’s safe to hike in Colorado. I have some good news, YES! It is safe to hike in Colorado (relative to most things). Now, with that said, like all things, there are inherent risks that you must be aware of.
Wildlife In Colorado
Generally, hiking trails in Colorado near the front range of Denver, Colorado Springs, Fort Collins, etc, are well-trafficked to the point that wildlife stays away. There have been some mountain lion attacks in the past few years, although generally, these were adolescent male lions on their own for the first time and starving to the point of desperately looking for a meal on two legs. Read about a recent mountain lion attack in a popular Fort Collins Hiking Trail.
Colorado is home to some wildlife that could become aggressive if threatened or cornered. Mountain lions and Black bears are the to most common types of predatory encounters in the Colorado backcountry. In addition, it’s not uncommon to encounter coyotes and moose while out on the trails. While a moose is a large beautiful animal, it’s still a wild animal. Moose are known to be aggressive when people approach, so, if you see a moose, admire it from a distance. In general, wild animals want nothing to do with you and will probably run away before you ever see them.
Let People Know Your Location
Too often, when inexperienced hikers head out on the trail, they fail to see the importance of letting a friend know your location, just in case you get lost or need help. I mean, let’s be honest, if you did get hurt, injured, or lost, how is anyone going to know where to find you or even where to start looking? It can be as simple as texting the trailhead to a friend, or as advanced as carrying an active GPS with you (not your phone as the service cant be relied upon).
Rapidly Changing Weather
Always carry a contingency jacket, gloves, and beanie with your when hiking in Colorado, specifically in the fall and early spring. During these transitioning seasons, the weather in the mountains becomes a bit unpredictable and a nice 80-degree day hike might turn into a 45-degree hail storm in a matter of 15 minutes. I usually have a light rain jacket, a pair of gloves, and a beanie, just in case, the weather decides I need a cold shower.
Should You Carry Bear Spray When Hiking in Colorado?
First things first, there are no grizzly bears in Colorado. However, Colorado is home to some 12,000 black bears. Traditionally, black bears are not aggressive to humans and when encountered, most of the time black bears will run away. With that said, there is always the possibility that you may cross the path of a mother bear a short distance away from her cubs.
If you do get in between a bear and her cubs, the mother could get very aggressive and potentially attack. I have come across bear cubs when hiking, fortunately, the cubs scurried off and I went along on my way. I never saw mama, but rest assured, she was nearby and it could have been bad. I recommend carrying bear spray, not so much that it’s needed, more so, if you do need it, it’s good to have it.
What To Bring With You Hiking In Colorado
As much as I want to include water and food in this list as they are important safety items, I wanted to assume those as universal knowns and instead focus more on equipment for this list. For each item identified below, I will also provide what I carry to give you some ideas. And yes, you should always have food and water with you on any adventure…and enough for the party!
5. Water filtration system
This is an item on the list that serves as a backup precautionary item. Sure you may have brought enough water, but you just never know…and to be fair, there may be someone on the trail that is in serious need of some water as well, and if near a viable water source you could be their lifeline while still ensuring you have enough as well.
Just recently, we left the house with no intention of going on a hike. We wanted to go and drive the Gold Camp Road in Southern Colorado Springs. The drive itself yielded spectacular views and we were enjoying it so much that my wife said we should stop and go on a hike.
We came upon Seven Bridges Trail and after talking with some locals, decided while we did not have everything with us, that we could go out and take on this hike as a family. If you are looking for places to camp in Colorado check out Off Grid Essential founder Mikes article Where to Camp in Colorado.
Now we all four had our Hydroflasks that were filled with water, but 2 miles in and all of our water was almost gone. The sun was out, it was a little warmer than we had anticipated, and the elevation was drying us out fast.
Luckily for us, I always pack a Sawyer Squeeze Water Filtration System in the truck and threw it in my pack before we headed out. The trail runs along a nice stream that proved to be a good source for filling us back up with the water we needed to continue on. A couple of trips down to the stream, which gave my kids a chance to rest a little and play in the water, and we were back on our journey. Grab one, here on Amazon:
4. Space Blanket
This is a multi-use item that is cheap and packs down small. Designed to retain body heat, you can also uses this as a signaling device, shelter from rain or sun, protection from the ground, a sling, tourniquet, etc.
I personally like to carry items that have multiple uses and do not take up a bunch of space. When in the woods, an item like this can help to show motion and reflection, making it a little easier to find you in the event of an emergency. If you get wet and it is cold, simply wrap this around you and try to retain as much of your body heat as possible.
In an area where a fire ban is not in effect and you have the proper skill-set, you could make a fire and use the blanket as way to reflect the heat back to you. Something so minuscule can be a lifesaver! As an avid Amazon shopper, I go with a 4-pack from Swiss Safe that you can pick up here.
Ever hear someone blow a whistle in the woods or on water…you can hear it from a far-off distance. This is a cheap and easy item to carry that can get someone’s attention quickly. A whistle takes very little effort on your part to achieve its effectiveness. It can also potentially be used to scare off any animals. A loud noise could spook off that large predator that you crossed paths with. And let’s not forget how minimal in space this would take up in your pack or pocket for that matter…you could even hand it off to one of the kiddos to carry.
I use the LuxoGear Emergency Whistle that comes in a 2-pack. I specifically like this whistle as it is bright orange and has an orange lanyard making it easy to find in the event I drop it, but also to quickly identify it when searching it out in my pack. Sometimes I will affix it to a loop on my shoulder strap of my pack, just depends on my mood that day.
2. First Aid Kit
Hiking a trail can lead to injuries. Especially when you see that individual who is trying to impress someone go off the beaten path and take on a challenging incline with loose gravel, fall and skin themselves up pretty good…and of course they are not prepared, so you dip into your pack and use your first aid to patch them up.
Or maybe you, your spouse, or your kids lose your footing and take a decent spill. The old “oh just rub some dirt on it” does not always help those situations out. My son slipped on some loose gravel as we were descending and hit his knee pretty good. Luckily I had my first aid kit to allow my wife, who is a nurse, to jump in and bandage him up…yes I could have, but his mom is way more gentle than Dad…just facts!
Regardless of the scenario, it is a piece of mind, knowing that if something did happen, you could help yourself or others out. And you do not need an elaborate setup. It can simply be a ziplock bag filled with some Tylenol or Ibuprofen, some different size Band-Aids, Neosporin, and a cleaning agent or disinfectant.
I carry either the VSSL First Aid Kit or the MyMedic MyFAK…really just depends on what vehicle we take as I keep the MyFAK in my truck and the VSSL in my wife’s 4Runner. We have slightly modified these based on items previously used, but I now carry a hydrogen peroxide pump spray I picked up here from Amazon.
Who carries maps with them nowadays? Even though we should, the majority do not. And in our technologically driven world, access to digital maps is extremely easy. But like the previously mentioned first aid kit, the GPS is a nice thing to have on you at all times when out on a trail. Especially if you are unfamiliar with the area you are hiking in.
It is also nice to know that a proper GPS is at your disposal if you do get lost or end up off the beaten path. Another convenient feature of a GPS is marking waypoints. This allows you to mark a specific location that you either may want to return to or maybe provide to someone else to go and visit.
For me and my family, we have a redundant system for our GPS. My wife has the Garmin Fenix 6 that she wears daily (bought used off of eBay), and I have the Garmin eTrex 30x. I really like the handheld GPS, and the eTrex is light and gets the job done without breaking the bank. You can find one here on Amazon.
Final Word on Hiking Safety in Colorado
Like my father-in-law always says, “it is nice to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it.” When it comes to adventuring, preparedness is everything. Thinking through the what-ifs allows you to consider the unknowns and make decisions on what you should carry with you.
Safety should always come first. All of these items are safety-related and will ensure you have some tools to take care of yourself and those around you if caught in an unfortunate situation. Now, I am not saying go overboard, but these five items can be lifesavers if needed.