Whether you ramble among fynbos or trek across mountains, be a responsible hiker for yourself, the environment and others. By Ron Swilling

On a recent hike, our group came across someone who had not a drop of drinking water, was without a hat and had no idea where he was or how to get to his destination. We all simultaneously had a brief spurt of panic. As avid hikers, we are aware of how easily a situation can turn, especially on a mountain. For the remainder of our walk through the sensational fynbos, the topic of conversation was, you guessed it, sensible and prudent hiking behaviour.

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Namaqua National Park by Rudolph de Girardier

Be prepared

  • If joining a group, choose a hike suitable for your fitness level. Rather under-estimate your fitness than overestimate it.
  • Make sure you have sufficient water, at least one-and-a-half to two litres a person, as many serious incidents occur when dehydration sets in.
  • Always carry something warm to put on as temperatures can fluctuate and weather can change rapidly. It is usually cold in the shadows on the forest floor, a chilly wind may be blowing on the mountain top, or cloud may come in.
  • Look at the weather forecast before you set off, and carry lightweight raingear, including rain pants. This can also be donned in wind or mist.
  • Apply sunblock and wear a hat.
  • Wear comfortable, sturdy walking shoes or proper hiking boots.
  • Carry enough food or snacks to see you through the full duration of the hike.
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Garden Route National Park’s Knysna Section by Rudolph de Girardier

Tread lightly

  • The natural world is sensitive, so keep to the demarcated paths and walk in single file. Although it is tempting to bundu-bash or take shortcuts, paths are there for good reason, not least to lead you into areas by the safer routes and to minimise damage to the environment.
  • There is much wisdom in the old adage: Take only photographs, leave only footprints. Do not remove or damage anything along the route. Take everything home with you that you carried in, including toilet paper, cigarette butts and fruit skins. Leave the trail as pristine as you found it.

Respect

  • Hikers are out to enjoy the natural world and its soundtrack. Keep your voice down, and your phone and music off.
  • Give uphill hikers right of way and be considerate to others at all times.
  • Never feed wild animals or birds and always keep your distance from wildlife.
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|Ai-|Ais/Richtersveld Transfrontier Park by Alistair Daynes

Safety precautions

  • Let someone know your plans and notify them on your return. Don’t ever hike alone.
  • If you get lost, do not split up. Rather try to retrace your steps.
  • Remember that climbing down is more difficult than climbing up.
  • Choose a hike leader and walk at the pace of the slowest member.
  • Carry emergency numbers and a whistle to attract attention.
  • Leave valuables at home.
  • Take a map along if you are unfamiliar with the area and check the route beforehand.
  • Take note of the time the sun sets, the tides if relevant, and gate times if in a reserve.

With that all out of the way, there is only one thing left to do… Enjoy!

Main picture by Rudolph de Girardier