By Johnathan David
As the summer months approach, hiking trails across the United States will undoubtedly see an increase in foot traffic and while hiking is a well-loved activity by many, it comes with a few risks.
Hikers sometimes risk encountering a snake while on the trail, and this can be especially dangerous if the snake is one of the four types of venomous snakes found in the country.
Here are the five most common mistakes that first-time hikers make when it comes to venomous snakes.
Mistake #1: Being Unprepared
One mistake first-time hikers often make is going into the hike unprepared. Encountering a potentially venomous snake or getting bit by one is far more likely to occur if the hiker lacks knowledge about the terrain and the animals that are native to the area they are hiking in.
An easy way to prevent being caught off-guard by a snake on the trail is to do sufficient research before the hike. The National Park Service has a useful interactive map that displays different trails across the country and provides important information about each trail. Additionally, most hiking trails post information about the trail including details about the terrain and the native plant and animal species at the trailhead.
Mistake #2: Straying from the Trail
Snakes are generally shy creatures and will avoid human interaction as much as possible. However, hikers can still catch snakes off-guard, potentially resulting in a venomous bite. A common mistake hikers make is traveling off the beaten path and into snake territory.
The best way to avoid accidentally running into a venomous snake is to stick to the trail, as snakes are usually found in locations off the main trail. While this is largely dependent on the species of snake, many snakes can be found in the sand, in hot and rocky areas, or in tall grass. It is in the best interest of hikers to stick to the trail unless it is absolutely necessary to stray from it. In that case, it’s a good idea for hikers to bring along a hiking stick to use to check the ground in front of and around them.
Mistake #3: Dressing Poorly
The most common location to suffer a snake bite is on the ankle or the lower half of the leg, as these are the parts of the body that are in closest proximity to the snake. One of the biggest mistakes a first-time hiker can make when it comes to snakes on the trail is dressing poorly.
In order to prevent a snake bite, especially one that could be venomous, hikers should follow these guidelines for dressing properly for a hike:
• Avoid wearing sandals or open-toed shoes
• Avoid wearing shorts or pants that expose the legs and calves
• Wear long pants
• Wear thick, sturdy hiking boots that cover and go above the ankle
Mistake #4: Approaching Snakes
A majority of snake bites that occur while on a hike are the result of a hiker getting too close to the snake. To reiterate, snakes are shy creatures that will avoid humans and will only attack if it is out of defense. A big mistake first-time hikers make is forgetting how dangerous snakes can be and approaching them while on the trail.
As a rule of thumb, hikers should keep at least three feet of distance between themselves and any snake encountered on the trail. Most snakes can only strike as far as about half of their own body length, so three to four feet of distance should be sufficient. While it may be tempting to get a closer look at the snake, especially for a first-time hiker, it’s best to give the animal its space.
Mistake #5: Self-Treating a Snake Bite
Movies and TV shows seem to suggest that, if bitten by a venomous snake while on a hike, the best thing to do is to try to suck the venom out of the bite. However, attempting to self-treat a snake bite is actually one of the biggest and most consequential mistakes a first-time hiker can make.
While snake bites are not extremely common, they can be potentially deadly. If bitten, Everything Reptiles recommends adhering to the following guidelines:
- Remain calm and keep the bitten area below the heart to reduce the flow of venom.
- Monitor the individual’s vital signs such as their heart rate, breathing rate, and temperature.
- Watch the site of the bite – if it changes colors, it’s likely that the snake was, in fact, venomous.
- Seek medical attention immediately.
Along with these tips, it’s important for hikers to try to make note of the snake’s features, such as its coloring, size and shape. This will help medical professionals most effectively treat the bite.
Although getting bitten by a venomous snake while hiking is unlikely, it’s still important for hikers to take the correct precautions to keep themselves as safe as possible. By researching hiking trails ahead of time, dressing properly and knowing what to do in the unlikely scenario of a snake bite, first-time hikers can expect a safe and fun-filled hike.
Johnathan David is the editor-in-chief at Everything Reptiles. He brings decades worth of herpetoculture experience caring for Geckos, Skinks and Frogs.