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Hiking safety tips: how to hike safely
If you’re planning a hiking trip in the UK or anywhere in Europe, there’s plenty to consider before you leave. Before you get going it’s important to make sure that you’re prepared for your journey. Depending on your intended route, hiking can be a physically demanding activity, for which it’s essential that you ensure that you have all of the necessary equipment as well considering any risks that could cause problems along the way.
Hiking and COVID-19
In Autumn and Winter the national tourism agency is encouraging people to take more domestic holidays. Hiking is a good outdoor activity as it allows you to get fresh air and exercise while maintaining a safe distance from people outside of your household.
The current regulations mean that you are allowed to travel so long as there are no local restrictions in the area where you live, or the area that you are travelling to. If you live in an area with "very high" tier restrictions, you should avoid all non-essential travel. Always check the official guidance on local COVID alert levels, as well as the current restrictions in your local area.
If you are travelling abroad to go hiking, check the Foreign Office advice on your destination, and be aware that you may have to quarantine on your return.
COVID-19 hiking advice
do not go hiking if you feel unwell
always check local restrictions before you travel
Hiking safety and health tips
In this article we’ll cover the following:
essential equipment you might need before you go
important information about ticks and other illnesses for which hikers are at a higher risk
Before you leave, make sure you have all the right gear. Depending on what time of year, or which country you’re travelling to, you will need different clothing or extras depending on the weather conditions.
You should have at least these basic items before setting off:
a map of your route
first aid kit
multi-tool pocket knife
If you’re going for a short hike on a well marked route, you probably won’t need a compass, but you should always check out a map of your journey. If you’re in a rural area, be wary of leaving the path, as you may not have phone reception.
Be sure to also check the weather before you leave, and pack accordingly (raincoat, extra layers, sunscreen, etc.).
When hiking during summer you might need mosquito and/or insect repellent.
If you’re doing a longer trip through a sparsely populated area, you might want to consider some kind of tracking transmitter or Personal Locator Beacon just in case you get lost.
Hiking health risks
Hikers in Europe are at a higher risk of certain types of illnesses that are transmitted by insects or ticks. In most cases, insect or tick-borne illnesses are mild and do not require treatment. In some cases these illnesses can be severe and develop to become life-threatening. To avoid getting sick while hiking there are a number of measures you can follow.
Ticks are small creatures that feed off the blood of mammals, which are prevalent in many countries across Europe, particularly during the summer months. Hikers usually come into contact with ticks after brushing against long grass, after which ticks will then crawl on skin or clothing until they find a suitable place to attach and feed.
They are dangerous because they can carry infections, which you can catch if they bite you. The faster you remove a tick, the more likely it is that you can avoid infection. It is important to remove ticks as soon as possible, as this can prevent the transmission of some infectious diseases. It is important to check your body for ticks after outdoor activities.
Apart from being unpleasant to remove, ticks can also carry serious illnesses. Two of the most common tick-borne illnesses in Europe are Lyme disease and tick-borne encephalitis.
Tick-borne encephalitis is an uncommon disease caused by bites from infected ticks. It can sometimes have serious complications.
Tick-borne encephalitis (TBE) can be found in Central, Eastern and Northern Europe, as well as Russia.
Lyme disease is a bacterial infection that is spread to humans by a bite from an infected tick. It can be found across Europe.
Symptoms of Lyme disease
Symptoms of Lyme disease usually appear 3-10 days after infection, and the most easily recognisable symptom is a rash. Most rashes appear within the first 4 weeks but it can also take up to 3 months for it to appear. The rash is red and spreads out from the area around the bite. It is usually not itchy or painful but the edges around the rash may feel slightly raised.
Other symptoms can include:
Lyme disease can cause serious complications if it spreads to other areas of the body, such as the heart, nervous system and joints. It can be treated with antibiotics prescribed by a doctor.
How to avoid ticks hiking
It’s important to check whether the area you are travelling to has a high risk of ticks. Ticks are usually most prevalent between Spring and Autumn.
Some measures you can take include:
avoid long grassy areas, keeping to footpaths where possible
wear loose fitting clothing that covers your ankles and lower legs, and tucking your trousers into your shoes
Check for ticks regularly, and remove them as quickly as possible. The sooner you remove ticks, the better it is to prevent infection. You can buy tweezers specifically for removing ticks, or tick removal tools from most vets and pet shops, and some pharmacies.
When removing ticks:
be sure to use a set of tweezers that will not squash the tick (such as tweezers with thin ends, or tweezers specifically designed for removing ticks)
dispose of the tick once you have removed it
ensure that none of the tick is left in the skin by gripping it as close to the skin as possible
wash the bite area with clean water and disinfect ( with an alcohol- or iodine-based scrub)
If you develop a temperature, flu-like symptoms or a rash that covers your whole body, it is important that you seek medical attention.
Tetanus is a bacteria usually found in the manure or soil of horses and cows. It can live for long periods of time outside the body and infects humans by the bacteria getting in a wound. Tetanus is part of the primary course of vaccinations in the UK, as is given as part of the diphtheria, polio and tetanus vaccine.
If you are taking part in an outdoor activity in a rural area, you may want to get a diphtheria, polio and tetanus booster.