How to Stay Alive While Hiking


By Madge Slack

I don’t know if you have noticed, but Utah is a strange place. We are supposedly a desert and yet, there are green mountains and it rains and snows. Also there are all these national parks, mountains, ski resorts and lakes, but they all have different temperatures and rules. Here’s the truth: Utah is an insane place to live because it will literally rain in your front yard and be sunny in the back at the same time. We have a plethora of outdoorsiness to enjoy and people die doing so. Every. Single. Year. So don’t. Die, that is. Here are some helpful tips to surviving Utah, geographically at least.

The Basics

This is where you hear the voice of your mom forever in the back of your head. For once, don’t ignore her.

Water it Up

The biggest hiking tip is to stay hydrated. Really nasty things happen to you when you get dehydrated in the desert. Basically there are four stages. First, you get really thirsty. You stop sweating and you no longer have to pee. Then you start to get dizzy because you stopped sweating and are now overheating. If you remain conscious, you will notice your skin shrivel and your heartbeat slow as your blood thickens. Next, your body decides which organs are essential. Your kidney, for example, is suddenly not. Your body allows these organs to die in an attempt to keep you alive, but if you don’t drink water, it fails and then your essential organs also stop getting blood flow and you die. For a more detailed explanation you can search the effect of dehydration online.

The Sun is Only Kind of Your Friend

Speaking of dying from overheating, this is where sunscreen comes into play and lightweight clothing. Sun burns are not cute. Not when you are tanning by the pool and less so in the mountains. Here is how sunblock works: there are two kinds of sun damage, UVA and UVB. UVA ages you; think wrinkles. UVB burns you; think skin cancer. UVB is what your SPF number is protecting you against. An SPF 30 means you are burning 30 times slower than if you weren’t wearing sunscreen. If you also don’t want to age you need an SPF with Broad Spectrum coverage. Higher SPFs technically work slightly better, however, we are literally talking about single percentages and people wearing higher SPF’s tend to be a little less careful with their sun exposure. Realistically, get a 30 SPF with Broad Spectrum and apply every hour and a half or so.

Let’s Get Some Shoes

Footwear. The military is right when they say boots are more important in an emergency situation than anything else. Footwear is essential when you are traversing mountains and slot canyons alike. This is where things can get a little tricky as your destination determines your footwear. Firstly, as a person who has spent a lot of years hiking in my tennis shoes, while doable, this is not the best. I also have Chacos which are awesome. They are great for hiking through rivers and climbing rocks in the mountains. They are less great for burning hot sand, snow and really pebbly paths as you have to stop every five seconds. For really serious mountain hiking and camping try some hiking boots or shoes. They are extremely durable and there are waterproof versions — assuming the water is not deeper than your ankles — and they can actually be pretty stylish. You also don’t care as much about style when you lose your footing and are falling down a mountain (yes, this really happens). If you are an amateur or causal hiker these aren’t essential, but they are great to have if you can get them or as an alternate when your mom refuses to get you a Nintendo Switch for your birthday. Moms don’t typically reject hiking shoes as a gift option. 

These are the three main things to keep in mind when hiking. We have tons of fun trails all over Utah and the national parks are great. Don’t let falling down a mountain stop you. Lots of people have survived. Really, it’s not like the movies where they fall off a cliff and die, although that is an option. When you fall down a mountain in Utah you probably just roll about 100 feet over very rocky ground and hit a few bushes. You’re a little beat up, but mostly fine and you have a great story to scare your mom with.

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