SAFE hiking in the mountains

Tips and advice for staying safe in the mountains

Safety and a fun experience are top priorities in the mountains. At its core, safety means the adherence to important rules of conduct and instructions, as well as accurate tour planning and adequate equipment.

As an outdoor sport, hiking in the mountains offers great opportunities for health, community and adventure. Following recommendations by Alpine clubs makes hiking in the mountains as safe and enjoyable as possible.

10 recommendations for your hiking/mountaineering tour

1. Health in the mountains

Hiking in the mountains is an endurance sport that is good for the both the heart and the circulation, as long as the participants are healthy and realistically assess their physical shape. While hiking, avoid time pressure and choose your pace so that nobody in the group gets out of breath.

A few simple steps help you reduce your risk:

  • Keep fit by regularly participating in physical activity (at home).
  • Avoid overdoing it, especially on the first day.
  • Start slowly and avoid strenuous exercise (Walk & Talk method).
  • In hot, humid summer weather, choose a shady, cool tour destination.
  • Water shortages and hypoglycaemia can be avoided by regular food intake.
  • If you have the flu or a cold, stay at home and take care of yourself.
  • Take warning signals such as persistent shortness of breath, racing heart, chest pain or nausea seriously: stop hiking and training or, if necessary, contact emergency services.
  • Should you be affected by cardiovascular, respiratory and/or metabolic diseases, consult a sports physician before starting an exercise program.

2. Thorough planning

Hiking maps, guide books, experts, and the internet provide information about hike length, altitude difference, difficulty and current conditions. Always tailor tours to according to group fitness! Pay particular attention to the weather forecast, as rain, wind and cold increase the risk of accidents.

Hiking in the mountains is not the same as walking. Careful preparation is critical for ensuring a safe mountain hike and protects you from unpleasant surprises. The following checklist will help you gather the relevant information:

Tour Current conditions Equipment Weather Group
Are you well informed about the difficulty, distance and altitude? Are there any old snow fields along the route? Do you have proper footwear for the tour? Is the weather forecast appropriate for the planned tour? Do all group participants know one another?
Does the tour require a good head for heights and sure-footedness? Are you well informed about the trail conditions? Do you have clothing to protect against cold, wind and rain is in your backpack? Are thunderstorms to be expected during the course of the day? Is everyone in the group up to the challenge of the mountain hike in terms of health and fitness - including the descent back into the valley?
Should you wish to return early, are there alternative trails or routes? When is the last cable car to the valley? In case of emergency, have you packed a first aid kit and a mobile phone? Is there a cold front approaching? One capable of producing snowfall in the mountains even in summer? Are all group members sure-footed with a good head for heights?
Are there places to stop for food or to refill water? Have you packed a bivouac sack and headlamp for hikes lasting several days? Is precipitation to be expected? If so, is there a danger of slipping? Are there any children with you?
Should an accident occur, do you have insurance? Have you installed and tested the Tirol Mountain Rescue emergency call app on your Smartphone? If temperatures are hot, have you selected a shady route? Have you informed third parties about your tour destination?
Plan your time appropriately! Set off early - The risk of thunderstorms usually increases rapidly from midday in high summer; twilight comes early in autumn!

3. Be fully equipped

Pack appropriately for your chosen tour and make sure your backpack is light. Always pack appropriate protection from the rain, cold and sun as well as a first aid kit and mobile phone (Euro-emergency call 112). For better orientation, consider using a map, apps or GPS.

Check list

  • Backpack: volume approx. 25 litres
  • Hiking boots: see point 4 for recommendations
  • Hiking poles: Properly used, hiking poles help provide relief to the joints and support balance. On the other hand, our natural balance and coordination ability may be negatively affected. Ensure that your telescopic poles are reliably locked.
  • Clothing: Wear/pack outdoor clothing appropriate for the weather incl. a change of clothes
  • Sun protection: high-quality sunglasses, sunscreen (protection factor ≥30), lip protection, hat
  • Waterproof gear: rain jacket/poncho, umbrella, rucksack protection
  • Warm clothing: insulated jacket, cap, gloves
  • Drinks and food: Sufficient drinking water, fruit/cereal bars, trail mix or simply something that tastes good...
  • First aid kit incl. aluminium rescue blanket & bivouac bag (headlamp)
  • Mobile phone: Make sure the battery is sufficiently charged (emergency), if necessary carry a power bank with you
  • Map : Hiking map on a scale of 1:25 000 or 1:50 000 (tourist panorama maps are too imprecise), tour description and info material
  • Documents: ID card, insurance card, cash

For multi-day hikes, you will also need: sleeping bag liner (possibly hut slippers), toiletries, &towel, personal medication,
charger for mobile phone

4. Suitable footwear

Sturdy hiking/mountaineering boots protect and relieve pressure on the foot, improving sure-footedness. Ensure yours are a perfect fit,
have an anti-slip tread and are waterproof and lightweight.
The right boot is an important safety factor - but also a key factor for a positive experience hiking in the mountains. The wide array of hiking boots available allows you to adapt your footwear preference to your individual needs:

  • For forest roads and easy hiking trails,, sturdy sports shoes with a treaded sole are suitable.
  • For mountain trails, ankle-high hiking boots with a profiled sole are recommended.
  • For difficult mountain paths on which hard old snow fields or gravel heaps are to be expected, the boot/shoe’s sole must have a certain torsional stiffness. Heavy, crampon-proof mountaineering boot are not recommended: hiking does not take advantages of the benefits of this boot type.

5. Sure-footedness is the key

© Georg Sojer

Falls resulting from slipping or stumbling are the most common cause of accidents! Note that maintaining too high a pace or tiredness can severely impair your sure-footedness and concentration. Take special care when descending and be aware of falling rocks!

Tips for sure-footedness

  • When ascending steep paths, we recommend consciously hiking at a slow and steady pace. Short steps save energy.
  • About 2/3 of all accidents during hiking happen during the descent as a result of fatigue, loss of concentration, coordination and reaction speed. When it comes to steep descents, slightly bending the knees, leaning the upper body somewhat and a rounding the back all help to bring our body's centre of gravity over our feet. Take plenty of breaks if the descents are long and overly strenuous.
  • Deliberately slow the hiking speed for passages where there is a risk of falling.

What to do in case of an emergency?

Call the emergency service!

more

6. Stay on marked paths

© Georg Sojer

The risk of losing your bearings, falling rocks, and falling increases in pathless terrain. Avoid shortcuts and return to the last known trail section once you have strayed from the path. Steep old snow fields are often underestimated and very dangerous!

Oftentimes shortcuts or alternate routes end up in rough, difficult terrain. Falling, getting lost or sometimes even a life-threatening night in a bivouac are the result. Accident statistics show that these emergencies occur particularly often in the autumn months when the days are already noticeably shorter. Likewise, at this time of the year and especially on the shady side of the mountain, mind the icy and slippery paths.

Exercise caution on old snow fields
where there is an acute danger of slipping and falling! Especially when the snow surface is soft, you may create tracks in the snow with your shoes. “Spikes," which are quickly and easily mounted on the hiking boots, reduce the risk of slipping. Caution: snow fields are more difficult to walk on when descending and crossing in comparison to ascending.

Different weather conditions alter the terrain every day. Properly assessing the safety of a given hike is at the sole discretion of each individual!

7. Regular breaks

It is important to take time to relax, enjoy the landscape and socialise. Food and drink are necessary for maintaining performance and concentration. Isotonic drinks are the ideal thirst quenchers!

Keep in mind that hiking is not a competitive sport. Performance and competition, hecticness and stress stay have no place on the trails! By taking a short drinking break about every hour, we keep our circulation "on the go" and we can combine the supply of fluids with the enjoyment of nature. Additionally, if we treat ourselves to a muesli bar about every other break, we prevent a drop in performance due to hypoglycaemia. Even during the descent, it is best to take regular, short breaks to recover and maintain concentration.

8. Responsibly caring for children on a hike

We all know that variety and playful discovery are important for children. In passages where there is a risk of falling, an adult is only capable of looking after one child. Tours in exposed terrain that require long periods of concentration are not suitable for children.

"Our children do not accompany us into the mountains, we accompany our children." This formula is the ideal foundation for a safe, eventful day. As your proceed, it is important to allow enough time for active breaks and discoveries along the way. Forest roads are boring for children! Instead, look for interesting paths without overstraining them and ideally plan a loop hike with alternate exit trails if possible. A delicious snack and carrying a teddy bear in your own backpack may help provide motivation. If you are carrying small children in a child carrier, make sure that they are sitting comfortably, have enough to drink and are protected from wind, cold and the sun!

9. Small groups

Small groups ensure flexibility and allow for mutual support. Prior to setting out, inform a responsible person of your intended destination, route and planned time of return. Stay in your group. Solo hikers beware: Even a small incident can become serious situation.

A group of 4 to 6 people are ideal when hiking in the mountains. For groups of 8 people or more, mountaineering tours quickly become chaotic undertakings. Moreover, the experience and recreational value also decreases within large groups. Absolute musts in the mountains: Staying together in the group, being considerate of weaker participants, and showing a willingness to suspend a tour if necessary.

10. Respect for nature and the environment

© TVB Wilder Kaiser
Location signage

The following help to protect the mountain environment: Do not leave any rubbish behind, avoid noise, stay on the paths, do not disturb wild or grazing animals, leave plants alone, respect protected areas and finally, use public transport or car pooling.

"Respect protected areas and sanctuaries harbouring plants and animals!" Observe animals only from a great distance and do not pursue them under any circumstances. "Do not enter areas of afforestation or young trees." Keep quiet and do not shout. Dogs: Please
use doggie waste-bags and dispose of them in the next available rubbish bin in the valley to avoid polluting pastures and nature. Help to keep the hiking trails clean!
Rubbish: Nature
is a precious. Please keep the mountains clean and do not leave any rubbish behind! After all, rubbish remains behind even long after you have gone!

Grazing animals – sharing Austria's mountain pastures

10 rules of conduct for dealing with grazing animals:

  • Avoid contact with grazing animals, do not feed animals, keep your distance.
  • Keep quiet, do not scare grazing animals.
  • Mother cows protect their calves, keep dogs well away.
  • Always keep dogs under control and on a short lead. If an attack by a grazing animal is likely, immediately let your dog off the lead.
  • Keep to the trails across mountain pastures and meadows.
  • If a grazing animal is blocking the way, go around it leaving the greatest possible distance.
  • If a grazing animal approaches, remain calm, do not turn your back and go round the animal.
  • At the fist sign that the animals have been disturbed, leave the pasture as quickly as possible.
  • Respect fences. If there’s a gate, use it, then close it properly again and cross the pasture quickly.
  • Treat the people working here, the natural environment and the animals with respect.

The Alpine trails system in Tirol

Difficulty classification

Trails Characteristics Target group Demands
Hiking trails - Easy - Wide and low gradient trails in the valley and adjoining forest - Dangerous sections are usually well secured or signposted - Marked and signposted Walkers, no Alpine experience - Outdoor/sports shoes - Weather appropriate clothing/shoes
Red mountain trails - Moderate difficulty - Such trails are often narrow and steep and feature some exposed places (danger of falling) - Have short secured sections or short sections with use of hands to support balance - Are marked and signposted Surefooted, experienced mountain hikers - Good physical condition - experience in the mountains is necessary to identify and assess risk in Alpine terrain/mountain trails - Mountain equipment - Good weather conditions
Black mountain trails - Difficult - Mostly narrow and steep - Very exposed (risk of falling) - Have longer secured sections or climbing passages - Are marked and signposted Surefooted mountaineers withAlpine experienceand a goodhead for heights - Very good physical condition - Mountain experience is necessary to identify and assess risk in Alpine terrain/mountain trails - Mountain equipment - Alpine safety equipment sometimes needed - Good weather conditions
Alpine routes - Pathless or with steps or climbing tracks - Free, unsecured Alpine hiking and climbing terrain - Glaciers - Usually neither marked nor signposted Surefooted mountaineers withhigh-Alpine experienceand a goodhead for heights - Excellent physical condition - Extensive mountain experience to recognise, assess and avoid alpine dangers - Climbing or glacier equipment - Safety and orientation equipment - Good weather conditions

The difference between mountain trails and hiking trails

Signage - Tirol’s mountain trail concept

Signage:
Hiking trails are signposted according to the Tirolean hiking and mountain trail concept with yellow arrow signposts and white location boards.

Contents of the signposts:
Difficulty; destination information; logos of theme trails and pictograms; walking times; trail number
Content info on simplified signposts:
Difficulty; destination
Table of contents on the location boards
Geographical name of the location; altitude in m; GPS coordinates; Alpine emergency no.

Estimated hiking times
Rule of thumb for estimating hiking time (for a medium sized group of 4 to 6 people): approx. 300 metres of altitude per hour for the ascent, approx. 500 metres of altitude per hour for the descent, approx. 4 kilometres horizontal per hour. The
hiking time is calculated separately for the difference in altitude and the horizontal length. The value of the smaller walking time is halved and added
to the larger value.

Example calculation for ascent time: A mountain trail of moderate difficulty extends over 1,200 metres of altitude (= 4 hours walking time) and 8 horizontal kilometres (= 2 hours walking time, is halved as the smaller value). Walking time for the ascent = 4 hours + 1 hour = 5 hours.

Please note that the information provided regarding safety in the mountains is a recommendation only on behalf of the Wilder Kaiser Tourist Association. All information is subject to change without notice.