How not to die while having fun hiking in Hawaii

Tsunamis, hurricanes, molten volcanos, and big-scale earthquakes are all part of the weather forecast at times in Hawaii. But Mother Nature’s big events, thankfully, take few lives these days.

Yet, about once a month, it seems, someone dies on land or in the sea while recreating in the tropical paradise that is Hawaii. Most of these tragedies, and a litany of accidents, happen on postcard-days to people who are not really aware of the danger. The good news: The risk of harming yourself is virtually zilch if you play it safe.

Here’s some tips for safer hiking in Hawaii.

1. Bring retracable hiking poles. As is the case when using swim fins when in the ocean, hiking poles give you a leg up (pun intended) while navigating on land. Coming down narrow, rutted, rocky sections of a typical ridge trail can be tricky, especially when rain makes the red earth slick.

2. Stay on the trail–and only hike on an established trail. Bactrack to a known point if you lose the trail. This rule, usually meant to protect flora from too many footprints, in Hawaii protects hikers from getting swallowed up by the jungle. The terrain is way too steep and choked with greenery (or piles of lava, or earthcracks, let’s say) to make off-trail hiking anything but bad idea. If it is possilbe to hike somewhere (that is also not on private property), a trail will already exist.

3. Don’t rock climb. Even good climbers will have a problem on the crumbling, unstable escarpments in the Islands—even when these cliffs are free of snarls of plantlife. Erosion happens in real time.

4. Don’t cross a fast-moving stream. Downpours bring flash floods to narrow valleys. Cars even get swept to sea from quite a distance inland. So, avoid hiking in heavy rain, and if you do get caught on the wrong side of the stream, wait it out: the water will subside. If hiking in a valley with a rising stream, get to high ground, pronto.

5. Stay back from big surf while hiking ocean bluffs. Surf fluctuates during the day, and big surf can roll in that is not otherwise associated with a storm front. Keep your eye on the waves, and stay well back of any rocks or reefs that are wet.

6.  Be alert for drop-offs (keep the kids in tow). On mountain hikes, ferns and shrubbery are so dense that they appear to be solid ground, when in fact the plants are diguising a  clifface. You have to go out of your way to make this hazzard dangerous, but it is routinely possilbe on lush trails.

7. Equip your daypack and take it with you, even when you may not plan on taking a long walk. Trails have a way of inticing you farther than planned. Be aware of time. If you get caught out at night, with no adequate light to hike by, stay put. The higher elevations of all the islands, but particularly Maui and the Big Island, can be cold. On Mauna Loa, for example, heatstroke and hypothermia are possible within a few hours (though neither is likely with proper outerwear).

8. When entering the ocean, the over-arching safety maxim is, “If in doubt, don’t go out.” The same can be true for hikes. If a hike starts to creep you out for some reason, back off.

Trailblazer Travel Books are full of safety tips to keep you safe on your Hawaii vacation.