Hiking Safety

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Mountain Safety Guidelines[1]

  • Never climb alone. Four is an ideal size for a party.
  • Choose a route according to ability, fitness, experience etc. of the party.
  • Go with someone who knows the way, or carry a guide book, map or description of the route from a person who has done the route.
  • Until you know your way around keep to the straightforward routes on well used paths. Follow the same route down, or one you know well. Heed signs advising of danger and do not take short cuts or go down unknown ravines.
  • Tell someone exactly where you are going (up and down routes and expected time of arrival back) and stick to this route and plan.
  • Every party should have a leader. The larger the group the greater the need for one. Keep together and travel at the pace of the slowest. Do not split the group and go in different directions.
  • Always go prepared for bad weather and therefore take proper weatherproof clothing (wind and rain proof), torches – with spare batteries and globes, good footwear – strong boots or shoes with non-slip soles, food, a flask of tea or some beverage, a rucksack to carry spare clothing, food etc. so as to leave your arms and hands free.
  • Watch the weather and time – turn back in time particularly in case of threatening bad weather, route taking longer or route difficult to follow.
  • Stay put in case of trouble. Do not try to force your way down in darkness, mist etc. Find shelter – especially out of the wind.
  • If you get lost or find yourself in an area that looks unsafe, retrace your steps – do not push on into the unknown. If you cannot find the path you left look for a safe route – preferably down broad open slopes – making sure at all times that you can retrace your steps.
  • Should someone have an accident, keep calm, stay together as a party until things are sorted out and ascertain to the best of your ability exactly what the injuries are and attend to them where possible. Do not move the person unless it is necessary to do so for safety reasons. Do not rush off immediately to report an accident. Fifteen minutes or so spent observing reactions and making the person comfortable is time well spent. It happens quite often that even if someone is knocked out temporarily they are not seriously injured and after a rest are able to walk down.
  • Someone should always be left with an injured person and it is imperative that they remain with them until the rescuers arrive.
  • For safety it is preferable to send two persons for help. On their way down they should identify landmarks so that they are able to describe the exact location of the accident or to guide a rescue party to the scene.

PDF version

Scouts Mountain Safely Guidelines.pdf

Hiking Safely[2]


Every party must have a capable leader. Party members must support one another and the leader. The leader must know what equipment each member takes. He or she must arrange, check and allocate party gear and keep the members informed about the routes and trip details. In parties larger than four, appoint a tail hiker to safeguard against stragglers. Keep the party together.


When planning your trip, make sure it is within the capabilities of every member of the party. Learn about the area thoroughly from maps and photographs and from people who have been there. Let local experts or other reliable people know what your plans are. Obtain necessary permits and/or landowner's permission well in advance. Fitness is essential for enjoyable and safe hiking.

Food and Equipment

Make sure your food is satisfactory, sufficient in energy value and appetizing. Concentrate on lightness with variety. Take sufficient warm clothing, together with outer garments to protect against rain, wind and snow. Have an adequate first aid kit and know how to use it. Carry your survival kit at all times. Check the condition of your gear. To be comfortable and safe, you must have good food, adequate clothing and sound equipment.

Party Strength

A safe number for a party depends on the nature of the country to be traversed. Four is the minimum number for safety. The speed of the slowest member determines the speed of the party. Make stops regular but not prolonged, at well selected intervals. Move steadily with rhythm for economy of effort. Make an early start each day, to allow plenty of time for any eventualities. Don't relax proper safety precautions, especially at the end of a hard day.

Route Finding

Before setting out, study the map of the country to be traversed. Map and compass should always be carried. Better progress will be made by following a ridge or a valley floor. A leading spur will provide travelling from the valley to the tops. In untracked country use a compass with a map, keep the party together and move purposefully. Be observant.

Camping and Fire-fighting

Choose camp site carefully on well drained land. Avoid land likely to flood in heavy rain. Look for shelter from prevailing winds. If you have no tent, shelter under overhanging rocks or fallen trees. A simple bivouac can quickly be made from a plastic sheet – one should be contained in your survival kit. Keep matches in a watertight container and carry a small piece of candle. Know how to light a fire under any conditions. Keep food and personal gear in light plastic bags. A carefully chosen, well prepared camp site adds enjoyment to safe hiking.

River Crossing

All river crossings must be carefully considered. Choose the easiest available ford. If the river is in flood and dangerous, camp and wait rather than attempt a crossing to maintain a time programme. A high-level route may alleviate a crossing. A river crossing may be made with mutual support but a rope should always be carried as a safeguard in river work. It is essential to use a recognised safe method for all river crossings. Avoid over-confidence.


Exposure can be your worst enemy. Learn to recognise symptoms of exposure in behaviour and speech. Beware particularly of wind, especially in fog or rain. Recognise local weather signs and allow a wide margin of safety. Be alert and concentrate on what you are doing on snow, ice and work. Avoid exposure by travelling out of wind wherever possible. Wear adequate protective clothing and eat plenty of snacks and sweets. No alcohol should be consumed. When any member of the party shows signs of exposure, make a shelter away from the wind or get to lower ground.

PDF version

Scouts Hiking Safely.pdf

See also

Outdoor activity regulations and procedure


  1. Issued by the Search and Rescue Committee of the Cape Town Section of the Mountain Club of South Africa
  2. Acknowledgement to 'Scouting'