It’s been almost a year since our activities have shrunk to the limits of our home due to the Corona crisis. During the past months I often went outside for a hike in my neighbourhood or in one of the parks, forests, or dunes. Making temporary changes to how you hike right now will help keep everyone healthier. How do you keep your distance from other hikers? Where is it safe to go hiking in times of corona? Here are tips and tricks to help you make the best decision for how to get outside right now:
Always, always practice social distancing and follow the guidelines of your local government. Are you feeling ill? Having a headache? Feeling a tickle in the throat? Please stay home. To avoid infecting others, but also for your own sake. We hope you recover quickly.
Where is it safe to hike in times of corona?
Some local governments provide websites where you can see closures. If areas are closed, don’t go. If you go, plan ahead. Choose space, such as quiet local roads where there is limited car traffic or wide forest trails where you can keep your distance from other hikers. Avoid narrow paths and busy hiking trails.
Try to stay close to home and to stick to trails that you can get to and back home from on one tank of gas. Avoid carpooling with friends or family who are not members of your household if at all possible.
Can you manage your own time? Go out early in the morning or late in the evening, when most people are inside. Extra fun: you’ll see fewer people and therefore more animals and birds if you hike in nature. Listen to the birds and watch the rabbits frolicking in the grass. You might even see a deer!
Useful tips for hiking in times of corona
With the tips and tricks below, you can go hiking as safely as possible in times of corona:
Pack hand sanitizer and face covering
If you are afraid of touching gates, stair railings or traffic light push buttons, take a bottle of disinfectant gel (at least 60% alcohol) with you for your hands. Also don’t forget to pack face covering. Wear the face covering while passing other hikers.
Practice physical distancing
When you see approaching hikers, look for a spot where you can get off the trail and maintain 6+ feet/2 meters of distance. If you can’t, be sure to cover your mouth and nose while you’re passing. As long as you’re briefly passing one another, risk of transmission is low, and even lower with your mouth and nose covered.
Trail etiquette states the person going uphill has right of way, but not everyone knows this. If there’s confusion, communicate with each other.
Let other hikers know
If you’re coming towards each other, make eye contact. If you are coming up behind them, start with a polite, “on your right (or left)!” A friendly “excuse me” or a nod will sometimes help to attract attention and clarify your message. Ater passing by, acknowledge them. Say a quick “thank you!” or give a little wave.
Is someone trying to get your attention? Could it be that you’re hiking too close to other people? Stay alert and keep distance.
Go alone or with your household
When you venture outdoors, try to go alone or to only spend time with people within your household. This way it’s easier to keep your distance from other road users. Larger groups are more difficult to pass for oncoming traffic and people with a faster pace. In some countries you are not allowed to walk outside with more than 2 people (like The Netherlands).
Choose the left or right side of the road
If there is no footpath, walk on either the left or right side of the road. Choose the safest side, such as where most people are walking. Cyclists can then pass more easily at a safe distance. When you walk on the left side of the road you can easily keep an eye on the oncoming traffic (in most countries in Europe).
Avoid challenging high-risk activities that could tax search-and-rescue and healthcare personnel, particularly in small mountain towns.
Stop at quiet places
Most of us like to take a break at intersections, signposts, cafes or close to stores. This has always been a nuisance for other passers-by and in these times even more! If you want to stop, then at least stop at a quiet place, so you can easily keep your distance. Don’t forget to pack your lunch and any extra treats.
Restrooms may be closed
Remember that some public facilities may still be closed. Go to the restroom before you leave home, and bring supplies to manage things if nature calls while you’re out there. If you wipe after a pee, go a more sustainable route: get a Kula cloth or use a bandanna. Please leave no trace. Respect public lands and communities and take anything you brought with you on the hike back out, including (toilet) paper, food waste from lunch, and dog poop bags. You’ll need to bring them all the way home with you, since there’s currently no or limited trailhead trash service.
Picnic or camp safely
Picnicking might be okay, as long as you can practice social distancing. Only bring members of your own household and avoid places where people typically gather.
Some camping sites are opening back up. Note that there are some risks involved here. Even if a campground is open, and tents are spaced far from each other, you’re likely to be using shared facilities that still can bring you into contact with the virus.
This all sounds so lonely and a bit depressing, but I think it really helps you to make the best decision for how to get outside right now. Though your chance of getting COVID-19 in the outdoors is low, still don’t forget to bring a mask, take social distancing precautions, and wash or sanitize your hands more frequently.
Stay safe and enjoy nature!
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