Recognizing and Responding to Emergencies on the Trail

Hiking is an exhilarating way to explore the beauty of nature in the Adirondacks and beyond, but it’s not without its risks. Being prepared for emergencies is as crucial as having the right boots or a map. Knowing what to look out for and how to respond could save your life or someone else’s. Let’s talk about some common emergency situations hikers might face: hypothermia, heat stroke, heart attacks, and strokes.


What to Look Out For:

  • Uncontrollable shivering
  • Slurred speech
  • Clumsiness or lack of coordination
  • Fatigue or lethargy
  • Confusion or memory loss

What to Do:

  1. Move the person to a warm, sheltered area.
  2. Remove any wet clothing and replace it with dry, warm clothing.
  3. Insulate the person from the cold ground.
  4. Warm the center of their body first (chest, neck, head, and groin) using an extra layer of clothing, blankets, or body heat from another person.
  5. Provide warm beverages if the person is conscious and able to swallow; avoid alcohol or caffeine.

Heat Stroke

What to Look Out For:

  • High body temperature
  • Altered mental state or behavior
  • Alteration in sweating
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Flushed skin
  • Rapid breathing
  • Racing heart rate
  • Headache

What to Do:

  1. Call for emergency help if possible.
  2. Move the person to a cooler environment or at least to shade.
  3. Remove excess clothing.
  4. Cool the person with whatever means available: soak their clothes with water, fan their body, apply cold packs or wet towels to the body, especially to the head, neck, armpits, and groin.

Heart Attack

What to Look Out For:

  • Chest pain or discomfort
  • Shortness of breath
  • Cold sweat
  • Nausea or lightheadedness
  • Discomfort or pain in the jaw, neck, back, arms, or shoulders

What to Do:

  1. Stop hiking immediately and rest.
  2. Call for emergency help if possible.
  3. Keep the person calm and lying down in a comfortable position.
  4. If the person has prescribed medication for heart conditions (like nitroglycerin), help them take it.
  5. If the person becomes unconscious and you are trained to do so, start CPR.


What to Look Out For: Remember the acronym F.A.S.T.:

  • Face drooping
  • Arm weakness
  • Speech difficulty
  • Time to call emergency services

What to Do:

  1. Call for emergency help immediately.
  2. Keep the person calm and safe; do not let them eat or drink.
  3. Note the time when the first symptoms appeared.
  4. If the person is unconscious and breathing, position them on their side to help keep their airway open. If they are not breathing, begin CPR if you’re trained.

In any emergency, after ensuring the safety of yourself and the person affected, seek professional medical help as soon as possible. Preparation is key, so consider taking a wilderness first aid course to better equip yourself for handling such situations. Always let someone know your hiking plan and expected return time, and carry a charged phone or a satellite communication device when venturing into remote areas.

Remember, the wilderness is unpredictable, but knowledge and preparation can make all the difference. Stay safe out there.

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