Hiking safety: everything you need to know before heading out to the mountains

by Jerneja Fidler Pompe

I love mountains. I love the energy, the solitude, the vastness, and the wildlife. And I love the challenge. Finding yourself without getting lost. Firing a passion without getting burnt. While I strongly believe everyone should venture out to collect their own experiences, there are ways to minimise the risks.

Plan your hike

With more than 10,000 marked hiking trails and 352 mountains over 2,000 m, Slovenia welcomes anyone from experienced alpinists, mediocre hikers to young families. But unless you’re hitting a familiar trail, you’d better prepare for the hike in advance. Choose the right path and learn about how long and how technically demanding it is, what gear you may require, check the weather forecast, and pack the essentials. Hike in company and let someone know where you're headed. Ideally, travel in a group of three people or more as this allows one person to stay with an injured hiker, while the third goes for help.

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Apt for the route?

After picking a mountain, select the route that suits you best; check the estimated time, elevation gain, technical difficulty, required gear, and snow conditions. Seriously, do not overestimate your abilities. I’d spent years walking the same easy trails before I decided to try out technically more demanding routes. So when I finally did take on my first two-day trek or via ferrata, I knew I was ready and thus enjoyed every second of it.

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Gear up

In addition to the essentials, you will also need basic gear either for hiking, via ferrata, or mountain climbing. In fact, you’ll need a quality pair of shoes and clothing (dress in layers) regardless of the sport, also thick socks and an extra pair in case of bad weather, a jacket, gloves and a hat, as well as extra clothing. While there are numerous stunning trails in Slovenia that don’t require a helmet, high mountains usually do. Beside the much-needed helmet, you’ll also need a climbing harness and a via ferrata set if you’re doing a via ferrata. And finally, make sure you recharge your cell phone before hitting that dusty trail.

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Packing the essentials

Every kilo in your backpack is exactly how many kilos on your back? I’ve always been good at maths, yet this puzzle remains unsolved to the day. Seriously, do not overpack (or underpack for that matter) as the last thing you’ll want to carry uphill for several hours is a super heavy backpack. Essentials for day hikes include navigation (a map and a compass), water, snacks, a first aid kit, a rain jacket regardless of a good weather forecast, a headlamp, a sunscreen, sunglasses, and a hat. You might also want to make sure your backpack has a rain cover or pack your stuff in plastic bags if it doesn’t.

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Winter essentials

The minimum you’ll need is mini crampons, but more likely the whole pack of safety essentials: full-sized crampons, an ice axe, a helmet and avalanche safety gear including a beacon, a probe, and a shovel. The nice-to-have winter accessories are definitely gaiters and an avalanche airbag backpack, while also winter apparel like snow pants, warm socks, base layers, a hat, gloves, and winter hiking boots shouldn’t be missing. Winter aside, you might be surprised at the amount of snow which persists up there even until mid-July. To be on the safe side, check the current snow conditions for the route you’re taking and pack crampons and an ice axe if you pass steep snow-covered terrain.

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Yet, having the right gear in your backpack is far from enough. It’s the skills and knowledge of using it the right way that will make the real difference up there.

Hiking with kids

If you’re still in the phase of passing love for mountains onto your kids or looking for bigger challenges, here is the cool thing about Slovenia: it is packed full of picturesque trails perfect for families with kids. Slemenova špica, the Triglav Lakes, Kokrško Sedlo, Vogar above Lake Bohinj, just to name a few. While easy trails do the trick with small kids, bigger kids usually mean bigger challenges. But before heading out towards more demanding trails or via ferratas, make sure you bring a climbing harness for you and your child, and to attach them before you enter the precipitous spots.

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Sunrise hikes

Those ridiculously amazing sunrises and sunsets; like a spectacle of their own, seeing one cannot leave you unaffected. Nevertheless, a safe sunrise hike, at its core, relies on knowing the trail well. Yet a good sense of direction in the dark is a different story than during the day as you can easily get lost or have a nasty fall. A tip for the wise: to enjoy sunrise-lit mountains up close, extend your hike to two days, and have a good night sleep in a comfortable mountain hut.

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Guided adventures

Rocky peaks have fuelled hiker dreams for centuries. There is, as always, a catch: can you climb it safely? There’s a thin line between fearless and careless, but can you tell you’ve crossed it until it’s too late? As much as we like doing everything on our own, there might be situations where we owe it to ourselves and to our loved ones to accept the fact that we need help. Mountains, particularly in winter, are a place for skilled mountaineers. You want to climb them anyway? Do it safely with a mountain guide.

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Jerneja Fidler Pompe

An adventurer, a dreamer, an explorer. A real mountain enthusiast. A blogger.

More about Jerneja Fidler Pompe

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