IS IT OK TO HIKE DURING COVID-19 (AND WHY I’M STAYING HOME)
Are you itching to get outside? I’m definitely craving the physical and mental benefits of the outdoors right now. Nature is a huge part of my life (hence this blog), and it’s always been my go-to when I need inspiration, guidance, and a little peace of mind. So, you’d think that I’d be spending even more time outside than usual now, right? Well, I’m actually not hiking or traveling at all right now.
Some sources are encouraging us to go outside and hike amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. Of course, getting outside offers a way to clear our heads, but, I believe we need to put our personal needs and desire to adventure aside, while prioritizing the health of others and the greater collective good. And that means minimizing time away from our house.
The last time I went for a hike was right after COVID-19 was declared a global pandemic, and I was surprised, and frankly angered, to see many large groups of people together on the trail (not practicing social distancing), and it got me thinking. How can I be a responsible hiker while abiding by the current CDC guidelines?
Ultimately, the CDC says the best thing we can do right now is to stay home, which is what I’m choosing to do. Not only is my choice driven by a desire to protect my own health and that of my Type 1 Diabetic (immunocompromised) significant other, but the sooner we all act with society’s collective health in mind, the sooner things will go back to normal. I’ve been using this time to find other ways to stay active indoors. And I’ve also taken this as an opportunity to engage in home-based activities I might not have had time for otherwise.
If you’re hoping to hit the trail during this time (assuming we are still allowed to), there are several critical precautionary steps to keep in mind to keep yourself safe and prevent the spread of the virus. In this blog post, I share tips on how to be a responsible outdoor enthusiast and hike safely during COVID-19.
Here’s how to be a responsible outdoor enthusiast and hike safely during COVID-19.
Things to Keep In Mind to Hike Safely During COVID-19
Act Like you Have the Virus
How would you behave if you knew you had the virus? There are increasing reports of young people carrying the virus and having zero or very mild symptoms. Further, the incubation period is 14 days, so you could be carrying the disease and not know it. If you go about business as usual, you could be unknowingly spreading it to others, like our parents or people with weakened immune systems (like my partner). First and foremost, be a considerate person, and act like you have the virus. This mindset should guide all of your choices moving forward.
This is not the time to road trip, as much as you might be tempted to. Stay local. Rural communities do not have the supplies to handle an influx of visitors. Small-town grocery stores and gas stations have limited access to resupply, and they’re experiencing greater shortages due to an influx of non-resident visitors using this “free time” as a chance to road trip.
Even more importantly, these rural communities do not have the medical resources or facilities to handle an outbreak. For example, the town of Moab, Utah only has 3 ventilators and 17 hospital beds. If this small town (home of Arches National Park and Canyonlands National Park) were to have an outbreak, they simply do not have the resources and equipment to survive. Their back-up plan is to airlift patients to major hospitals several hours away.
As of one week ago, the town of Moab had to shut down all non-essential businesses and the national parks, because they had record-breaking numbers of visitors to their national parks despite their requests urging visitors to stay away.
Please, do what you can to reduce the chance of spreading the virus and causing more distress. The best thing to do is to stay local in your town. Besides, some of the greatest gems are right in our own backyard.
Don’t Carpool or Congegrate in the Parking Lot
I know, it’s shocking for me to say that. And, it’s probably the only time you’ll hear me say that. But… it’s the best thing right now. Driving in cars with friends means you’ll be in pretty tight proximity, so it’s advised not to carpool unless you’re driving with the people you live with.
Want to celebrate the hike with a post-trail beer? Go home and have a virtual happy hour. Don’t crack beers and sit on the back of your truck socializing with other hikers.
Practice Social Distancing on the Trail
Social distancing while hiking is just as important as it is in the supermarket. When practiced properly, social distancing works to slow the spread of a contagious disease, in efforts to ensure the healthcare system is able to manage cases as they come.
Your best bet to hike safely during COVID-19 is to only go out with those that live in your household. Because, in all honesty, you’re probably not going to stay 6+ feet away from your hiking partners the whole time, even with the best intentions.
- Keep your distance from others (6+ feet at least)
- Step off the trail to let people pass
- Don’t use this as a time to socialize in big groups – instead, get some exercise and clear your mind
Only Go Out with People You Live With
One more time for extra measure. It’s best to only go out with people who live in your household. You have no idea who your friends have been in contact with or how seriously they’ve been taking this. Many young people are carrying it and have no symptoms, and it’s for the good of the collective to be extra safe right now.
Don’t Pet Dogs (or Let Other People Pet Your Dog)
There seems to be some conflicting advice about whether or not the virus can live on a dog’s skin and fur. The concern here is if the owner has the virus and they kiss/pet their dog, droplets containing the virus might be present on their fur. Just to be safe, avoid petting other people’s dogs right now and try not to have other people pet yours. (I know, it’s tough.)
Know before you go. Most visitor centers and bathrooms are closed now throughout state and national parks. If duty calls and you need to go, know the ins and outs of Leave No Trace. (Learn how to poo’ outdoors in this blog post!)
As I said, visitor centers are closed, bathrooms are locked, and healthcare providers have a lot on their hands right now. Do what you can to prevent accidents from happening. Take extra precautions NOT to get hurt, because if you do, you’ll be putting unneeded strain on the medical system.
Now isn’t the time to take risks and go on the most rugged bike trail, hike, or climb. If you want to hike safely during COVID-19, use this time to go a little slower, enjoy your time outside, and notice the little things.
Climbing is a No-No
Just think about the holds and all the sweaty hands that have grabbed it before you. (Need I say more?) The virus can be transmitted via the hands, so I’d wait it out until everything is in the clear.
This one’s for you, van lifers.
I know many of you are facing tough decisions on where to go. If possible, I urge you to find a safe place to park at a friend or family’s house, where you can have some stability. If that’s not an option for you, please make sure you’re completely self-sufficient to minimize your potential impact on towns you travel through. Take some time to plan out your meals for the next 2-3 weeks, then stock up on food and water. And, make sure your gas tank is full. This way, you’ll minimize the number of trips to the grocery store and gas station.
Go Out in the Off-Hours
You can hike safely during COVID-19 by hitting the trail outside of peak times. A lot of people like to go mid-morning and at sunset. Instead, wake up before sunrise and enjoy a quiet stroll on the trail as the sun comes up. This way, you’ll be done by the time most people are just getting to the trailhead.
Avoid Main Trails
Steer clear of popular trails and look for lesser-known more off-the-beaten-path trails (near your house) to limit the number of people you encounter.
As an avid nature lover and adventurer, the first place I thought of going was outdoors. But, right now, the best thing we can do for the collective good is to stay home and abide by the recommended guidelines.