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How To Hike Safely In Hawaii and Other Helpful Tips

There have been a lot of bad press surrounding the Hawaii hiking community, as of late. Over the last three days, there have been four reported incidents of hikers in distress and and two of those incidents resulted in death. 70-year-old Paul Yoon fell between 20-50 feet from the scenic lookout at Mariner’s Ridge on Saturday and 23-year-old Elizabeth Tarpey fell roughly 300 feet from the steep and narrow Puu Manamana trail the following day. In another incident, a 33-year-old man and 13-year-old girl experienced minor injuries from an off-the-beaten path waterfall trail in Manoa, known as Waiakeakua. And on Monday, seven hikers had to be rescued from the Kaau Crater trail in Palolo when they were run off the trail by wild pigs. All four of these trails are non-sanctioned hiking trails.

So how can we prevent future incidents and deaths on Hawaii’s beautiful hiking trails? The simple answer is that we cannot. Accidents do happen while hiking. Sometimes, these accidents are beyond our control. However, you can take certain measure that will help you to hike smarter. Here is a list of tips that Marvin and I compiled in light of the recent events.

Tip 1: Bring Essential Gear.

  1. Proper hiking foot gear (depends on the terrain)
  2. Backpack to hold your gear
  3. Water (this depends on the length of the trail, 2-3 liters should be adequate for many half-day hikes)
  4. Cell Phone
  5. Essential apps for your iPhone
  6. GPS (dedicated or app on your iPhone)
  7. Extra Batteries (flashlight, phone, GPS; Mophie juice pack for your iPhone)
  8. Sunscreen
  9. Hat
  10. Flashlight/Headlamp
  11. Rain jacket
  12. Emergency Mylar Thermal Blankets (Space blankets)
  13. First aid kit
  14. Pocket knife
  15. Mirror (for signaling)
  16. Water purification tablets or UV pen (in case you run out of water, you can treat stream water)
  17. Topographical Map
  18. Firestarter/matches
  19. Trekking poles (can be used to test the ground or as a crutch if your break your leg)
  20. Whistle
  21. Rope/webbing
  22. Food (snacks, lunch)
  23. Extra food (something to much on, if you need to spend the night)

Tip 2: Never hike alone.

Hiking alone* is one of the worst things that you could do, especially if you are a newbie (though experienced hikers are not immune to accidents). If you were to get into trouble, then what would happen? That cell phone might save you, sure. But what if that cell phone fell out of your bag while you tumbled down and now you are immobile? You would be screwed. Always hike with a partner. You can take extra precautions by hiking with someone that has completed the trail before and knows what to expect. Be sure that this person gives you a breakdown of the hike before you start the trail.

You might also want to consider hiking with an organized group, such as the Hawaiian Trail and Mountain Club. The HTMC offers hiking excursions every weekend, complete with coordinators that have hiked the trail before, probably many times before.

*There are always exceptions. In fact, we’ve highlighted two such exceptions on this blog in the past. See Chase Norton and Ahnate Lim. Again, remember that experience does not make you immune to accidents. Accidents can happen and they can happen to anyone.

Tip 3: Review the latest trail information before hiking.

Blogs, like Exploration: Hawaii can be a good, up-to-date, resource. When perusing blogs, make sure you take into consideration when the hikers completed the hike and the conditions that they hiked in. What was their fitness level? How long did it take them to complete the hike? What obstacles did they encounter?

We try our best to document our hikes as best as possible. We also provide trail distances and time estimates as best as we can. Check out our hikes page after reading our disclaimer. Also consider picking up Stuart Ball’s book, The Hiker’s Guide to Oahu.

Tip 4: Avoid hiking in bad weather conditions.

If it’s raining, don’t hike. The trails will be slippery and muddy. The clouds will make visibility difficult. And of course, there will be no view when you get to the top. Hiking in the rain, well, it sucks. Don’t do it. Don’t risk it. This past weekend was a particularly wet one. What happened? Four incidents and two deaths. Stay away from the mountains when it’s raining and go watch Man of Steel instead.

It was raining extremely hard on this day. I shouldn't have gone out hiking. But, note the rain jacket. Essential gear!

It was raining extremely hard on this day. I shouldn’t have gone out hiking. But, note the rain jacket. Essential gear!

Tip 5: Always tell someone where you will be hiking.

Leave your hiking itinerary with someone, anyone. Make sure that they know when you expect to be back home. When you have completed your hike, let them know that you’re done. At the very least, post a photograph of your post meal hike on Instagram so that they know that you are okay. I know that my wife always breathes a sigh of relief when she’s sees my post hiking meals because she knows that I am okay.

When you are doing hiking, let your person know....by posting your post hike meal on Instagram!

When you are doing hiking, let your person know….by posting your post hike meal on Instagram!

Tip 6: Stay on designated sanctioned state trails.

This might be the most difficult tip to follow, mainly because some of the most beautiful hiking trails on the islands are unsanctioned, non-state maintained trails. That said, those who are new to Hawaii’s hiking trails should really consider sticking to the hiking trails maintained by Na Ala Hele. Alternatively, you can take a look at our hikes page. Hikes marked with number 2 are state maintained trails that we have completed.

Manana Ridge is a rough, rugged, and challenging trail that is maintained by the state.

Manana Ridge is a rough, rugged, and challenging trail that is maintained by the state.

Tip 7: If your gut tells you to turn around, then turn around.

The other week, I underestimated the amount of water that I needed for a 10-mile hike. We turned around, despite being very near to the end. Why? Because we knew that we didn’t have enough water for the strenuous last leg of the hike. We could have trudged on, and summited, but then what would we drink on the way back? Our gut told us to turn around, and so we did.

Tip 8: Use common sense and pay attention.

Use common sense. Pay attention to your environment. Be aware of every step that you take. Don’t go near the edge just so that you can get that daredevil photo for Facebook. It’s not worth it. Be aware of your energy level. If you are feeling faint then maybe it’s time for a snack. Eat something. Remember, when you summit, you have only completed half of the trail. If you are very tired before summiting, then you may consider turning around early.

Tip 9: Understand your environment.

There are multiple sources of danger on these trails. On both sanctioned and unsanctioned trails, there is a possibility of running into wild pigs. Do not corner them or interact with piglets and you should be out of harm’s way. Accordingly, there are also chances of running into hunters on trails. Generally hikers and hunters get along, but be aware that hunting dogs may not get along with your pet dog. Also, wear bright clothing so you are easy to distinguish from a distance.

There are various obstacles on the physical trails themselves and sometimes there will be ropes to help you. In some cases, the ropes may be weathered and potentially dangerous to rely on. Always test the rope before using and never assume it can support your whole weight. Consider bringing 60-100ft of webbing on all hikes. They are light and can support an elevator when in good condition. Also acknowledge your limits. Do not climb something if you feel uncomfortable about climbing back down, because there may be instances where you will have to turn around unexpectedly.

If you happen to end up doing a gulch hike, take note that crossing streams becomes exceedingly dangerous as rains increase and flash flood conditions appear. Test the water first and reconsider crossing if the water has turned brown. Webbing may also become important on these hikes as they can make stream crossings more manageable. Also consider special footwear, such as spiked tabis and addition of crampons, when encountering slick terrain in these type of hikes. And regardless of whether you are in a flash flood condition or not, there is always the concern of falling debris you will need to be vigilant of. This becomes important towards the end of gulch/waterfall hikes as the area narrows.

Hawaiian wild pigs are not as friendly as Porky Pig. Be careful.

Hawaiian wild pigs are not as friendly as Porky Pig. Be careful.

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About Coty

Founder of Exploration: Hawaii. Adventure, Minimalism, Vinyl, Typography, and Coffee + Matcha. A single space after a period, please.

8 comments

  1. In addition to your advice let me through in my two cents…

    Advil- If you sprain something Advil should reduce the swelling and buy you some time and mobility. Learned that the hard way and limped in agony for 5 hours on what would have taken less than 2.

    Know your exit- if you’re not hiking the same trail out you came in make sure you’re familiar with it. Late at night in the dark is not a good time to start an unfamiliar trail. I’ve followed this rule and it’s kept me out of trouble when I finish later than I expect.

    Set a turn around time- Keep track of when you started and the most conservative estimate for a turn around time is to simply figure for every hour in it will take an hour out. Of course breaking for pictures, climbs, sight seeing will mean a faster return in most cases which is why that’s the most conservative method. Obviously the turn around time can be adjusted based on terrain covered and time spent not hiking.

    Some of the things I do are pretty off the beaten path where if I was hurt it would be weeks, months, or even years before someone found me. I bought a personal Emergency Locator Beacon / Personal Locator Beacon that works with the Cospas-Sarsat satellite system. Unlike a cell phone, it works almost anywhere there’s a view of the sky. Pricy but if I ever have to use it I’m sure it will be worth every penny.

    Leave detailed plans with a trusted person or persons of where you’ll be. A simple description like Lanikai Pillboxes is fine for some trails but completely inadequate for others. Leave a brief summery of route and realize that rescuers are often less informed than your fellow hikers. Trail names may not be enough to find you unless they are very well known. If you plans change, update the trusted person one the new one immediately via a phone call and and email. Posting pictures to Facebook, Instagram, etc can also help others track your progress.

    Safe trails.

    XJ

  2. Great tips, XJ. If you don’t mind, I’d like to add these to the original post as they are great additions, for both novice and experienced hikers. You carry a beacon? Geez! How much did that cost?

  3. As I recall it was about 200 bucks, not much really when I add up the rest of the stuff I’ve bought over the years.

  4. Hiking in the rain is fun when you know what your doing. Some of us don’t just hike for the views. It’s not about the destination, the journey is what makes it special and meaningful.

  5. Absolutely, Keali’i. However, many people don’t know what they’re doing when hiking in the rain. This guide was written more so for the experienced. Some tips will be applicable to some and not others. And I do get what you’re saying about the journey being special, and if we can make that journey even safer then that’ll increase the chances that you make it out of the trail and can reflect on just how special that journey was.

  6. The day after rain can be dangerous also. I turned back on a hike in Waimea Canyon (Kauai) because the light rain the day before made the surface very slippery. I hike alone frequently, but that means you need to be more cautious than usual and don’t go off trail!

    • Good points, Marilyn! Rain can definitely increase the level of danger, whether you’re doing a waterfall/valley hike, or a ridge hike. If conditions look like they are making a turn for the worse, it’s almost always (there are exceptions) best to turn around.

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