Hiking

01 Overview

Hiking, backpacking, climbing, and mountaineering, whether on rock, snow, or ice, range in difficulty and distance. British Columbia is home to mountains and trails for all skill levels. While there is some risk for physical injury while hiking, there is evidence that these injuries can be prevented.

(see Section 04 - Prevention)
Athlete silhouette
View Common Injuries by clicking the blue dots on the silhouette

Ankles are a common site for sprains and strains—half of ankle sprains occur on loose rock fragments (scree) and on downward slopes.

One in 3 injuries involve the head and spine—the higher the fall, the greater the severity of injury.

In cold weather exposed skin is vulnerable to frostbite, with 25% of cases occurring to the hands.

The feet are the second most common site for frostbite.

Exposed skin is vulnerable to sunburns and frostbite.

02 Injury Statistics

Injuries among hikers vary based on conditions, environment, and skill level. Half of all injuries are from sprains and strains to the knees, ankles, and the back, the latter of which are most commonly caused by falls, slips, and overuse. Other injuries include skin irritation (abrasions and blistering), acute joint pain, sunburn, tick bites, dehydration, and heat exhaustion.

Curious about the research on injuries?

It is estimated that...

03 Risk Factors

Risk factors for injury are environment- or equipment-related.

  • Climbing Surface

    Climbing surface is a greater factor than fall height in determining severity of injury. Travelling on mixed terrain (rock and snow/ice) is particularly hazardous. Half of all ankle sprains occurred on loose rock (scree) and/or on a downward slope.

  • Equipment

    Inappropriate type of footwear for your level of activity, including the wrong size and inadequate lacing, may increase your risk of ankle sprain. Hiking or walking sticks or poles are often used to improve stability and reduce muscle soreness.

04 How can I prevent injury?

Some muscle soreness or joint pain is expected when increasing your level of physical activity. However, it is important to listen to your body for persistent or worsening pain, and to know when to rest. Learn more about how to prevent injuries when hiking.

  • Participant & Parent

    Talk to your mountaineering club or organization, if applicable, about the prevention strategies below and how they might be incorporated into training and policies.

    Strength Training and Neuromuscular Training Program

    Adopt strength training exercises designed to prevent injuries to the ankle and other body parts. The Oslo Sport Trauma Research Centre has developed exercises that specifically help reduce the risk of injuries. This resource includes videos and PDFs for download.

    Learn more about exercises to help prevent ankle injuries.

    For more exercises, visit http://fittoplay.org/.

    Managing Concussion

    One in 3 injuries sustained while hiking involve the head and spine, which can include concussion. It is important to be aware of concussion signs and symptoms and know what to do if concussion is suspected. The Concussion Awareness Training Tool (CATT) is an online resource for hikers and parents to learn more about how to recognize, prevent, and manage a concussion. CATT also includes resources on how to respond to a potential concussion situation, as well as detailed Return to School and Return to Sport protocol.

    Other Considerations (about this section)

    Education
    AdventureSmart is a national program providing information to keep you safe while participating in outdoor recreational activities.

    Learn more about hiking safety.

    Lightning Safety Education
    Know what to do in the case of lightning. The “30–30” rule states that there is a danger of being struck by lightning when the interval between seeing lightning and hearing thunder is less than 30 seconds (flash-to-thunder time). You should not continue hiking until 30 minutes have elapsed after seeing the last lightning and hearing the last thunderclap. The best place to shelter during a lightning storm is in a hut or mountain refuge, away from open doors or windows. If caught in the mountains, stay off ridges and summits and stay away from single trees, power lines, and ski lifts.

    Sport-related Physicals
    Hiking and mountaineering can be a physically demanding activity and some pre-existing conditions may increase the risk of injury. An annual sport-related physical evaluation ensuring fitness to participate can help to reduce risk of injury. KidsHealth provides information about what sports physicals are, why they may be appropriate and where you may go to get them.

    Learn more about Kids Health Sports Physicals.

  • Coach & Teacher

    Hiking can be a great activity to do on a field trip with your class.

    Talk to your club, organization, or school about the prevention strategies below and how they might be incorporated into training and policies.

    Strength Training and Neuromuscular Training Program

    Adopt strength training exercises designed to prevent injuries to the ankle and other body parts. The Oslo Sport Trauma Research Centre has developed exercises that specifically help reduce the risk of injuries. This resource includes videos and PDFs for download.

    Learn more about exercises to help prevent ankle injuries.

    For more exercises, visit http://fittoplay.org/.

    Managing Concussion

    One in 3 injuries sustained while hiking involve the head and spine, which can include concussion. It is important to be aware of concussion signs and symptoms and know what to do if concussion is suspected. The Concussion Awareness Training Tool (CATT) is an online resource for coaches and teachers to learn more about how to recognize, prevent, and manage a concussion. CATT also includes resources on how to respond to a potential concussion situation, as well as detailed Return to School and Return to Sport protocol.

    Other Considerations (about this section)

    Education
    AdventureSmart is a national program providing information to keep you safe while participating in outdoor recreational activities.

    Learn more about hiking safety.

    Lightning Safety Education
    Know what to do in the case of lightning. The “30–30” rule states that there is a danger of being struck by lightning when the interval between seeing lightning and hearing thunder is less than 30 seconds (flash-to-thunder time). You should not continue hiking until 30 minutes have elapsed after seeing the last lightning and hearing the last thunderclap. The best place to shelter during a lightning storm is in a hut or mountain refuge, away from open doors or windows. If caught in the mountains, stay off ridges and summits and stay away from single trees, power lines, and ski lifts.

    Sport-related Physicals
    Hiking and mountaineering can be a physically demanding activity and some pre-existing conditions may increase the risk of injury. An annual sport-related physical evaluation ensuring fitness to participate can help to reduce risk of injury. KidsHealth provides information about what sports physicals are, why they may be appropriate and where you may go to get them.

    Learn more about Kids Health Sports Physicals.

  • Official & Administrator

    Talk to your teachers, club or organization members, or school about the prevention strategies below and how they might be incorporated into training and policies.

    Strength Training and Neuromuscular Training Program

    Adopt strength training exercises designed to prevent injuries to the ankle and other body parts. The Oslo Sport Trauma Research Centre has developed exercises that specifically help reduce the risk of injuries. This resource includes videos and PDFs for download.

    Learn more about exercises to help prevent ankle injuries.

    For more exercises, visit http://fittoplay.org/.

    Managing Concussion

    One in 3 injuries sustained while hiking involve the head and spine, which can include concussion. It is important to be aware of concussion signs and symptoms and know what to do if concussion is suspected. The Concussion Awareness Training Tool (CATT) is an online resource to learn more about how to recognize, prevent, and manage a concussion. CATT also includes resources on how to respond to a potential concussion situation, as well as detailed Return to School and Return to Sport protocol.

    Other Considerations (about this section)

    Education
    AdventureSmart is a national program providing information to keep you safe while participating in outdoor recreational activities.

    Learn more about hiking safety.

    Lightning Safety Education
    Know what to do in the case of lightning. The “30–30” rule states that there is a danger of being struck by lightning when the interval between seeing lightning and hearing thunder is less than 30 seconds (flash-to-thunder time). You should not continue hiking until 30 minutes have elapsed after seeing the last lightning and hearing the last thunderclap. The best place to shelter during a lightning storm is in a hut or mountain refuge, away from open doors or windows. If caught in the mountains, stay off ridges and summits and stay away from single trees, power lines, and ski lifts.

    Sport-related Physicals
    Hiking and mountaineering can be a physically demanding activity and some pre-existing conditions may increase the risk of injury. An annual sport-related physical evaluation ensuring fitness to participate can help to reduce risk of injury. KidsHealth provides information about what sports physicals are, why they may be appropriate and where you may go to get them.

    Learn more about Kids Health Sports Physicals.

  • Health Professional

    The role of health professionals in preventing injuries while hiking or mountaineering has two main components:

    1. Providing ongoing education to hikers, parents, and teachers on effective injury prevention programs such as balance and resistance training; and
    2. Ensuring that injured participants are completely healed and fit-to-perform before returning to activity to prevent re-injury or chronic injury.

    Strength Training and Neuromuscular Training Program

    Adopt strength training exercises designed to prevent injuries to the ankle and other body parts. The Oslo Sport Trauma Research Centre has developed exercises that specifically help reduce the risk of injuries. This resource includes videos and PDFs for download.

    Learn more about exercises to help prevent ankle injuries.

    For more exercises, visit http://fittoplay.org/.

    Managing Concussion

    It is important to be aware of concussion signs and symptoms and know what to do if concussion is suspected. The Concussion Awareness Training Tool (CATT) is an online resource to learn more about how to diagnose and manage a concussion. CATT also includes resources on how to respond to a potential concussion situation, as well as detailed Return to School and Return to Sport protocol.

    Other Considerations (about this section)

    Sport-related Physicals
    Hiking and mountaineering can be a physically demanding activity and some pre-existing conditions may increase the risk of injury. An annual sport-related physical evaluation ensuring fitness to participate can help to reduce risk of injury. The American Academy of Pediatrics provides information about preparticipation physical evaluation.

    Learn more about Preparticipation Physical Evaluation.