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:

  1. Remain calm and keep the bitten area below the heart to reduce the flow of venom.
  2. Monitor the individual’s vital signs such as their heart rate, breathing rate, and temperature.
  3. Watch the site of the bite – if it changes colors, it’s likely that the snake was, in fact, venomous.
  4. 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.

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jack roderick

Several years ago, I attended a lecture on snakes and snake bites at The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. I am certain the speaker said, “the first thing to do if bitten by a snake is to get to medical service as quickly as you can. If the quickest way is to get back to your car to seek medical help, do it. Time is the most critical factor”.

Andrew

They are not as common on the trail as one might think, especially if it a popular hiking trail. We have maintained and hiked hundreds of miles of the Appalachian Trail in Tennessee and Virginia and have never seen a venomous or poisonous snake. People have seen them occasionally at the edge of the trail so pay attention to large trees on the edge that they can coil next to. Also, like the article says, becareful off the trail and avoid rock piles and brush piles as they provide cover for snakes.

Taryn

Snakes are Venomous not poisonous…

If you bite it and you die it’s poisonous, however, if it bites YOU and you die it Venomous…

To be Venomous an animal must have a way of injecting Venom into the body as such with the fangs of SNAKES.

You may want to update your title, it’s hard for those of us in Wildlife & snake education to take it seriously when you call a snake Poisonous!

Here is the link to our group, Check it out 😁
https://www.facebook.com/groups/1362393983923607/

Susan F

Always be vigilant, even on the trail! We had a rattlesnake cross in front of us in Great Smoky Mountain NP, something ominous looking in Wind Cave NP, Rocky Mountain NP and Volcano Heights trail outside of Albuquerque. I’m sure there were others lurking in our adventures.

Rocky Graziano

wouldn’t you want to put the bitten area above heart level to slow the venom not below? Above would slow it down below would be easier so faster flow ,or do I have it backwards

HGoff

so – I’ve always wondered about the “seek medical attention” part – and also the “see if the bit area changes color… What if you’re 3 miles from your vehicle and get bitten. if you’re with others, does someone hike back and ??. Do you hike back with a bite?? what happens if the bite area changes color?? is there anything you can do?? what about the commercial bite kits – do they work.

there could be a lot more depth to this article – especially for a group that’s going to be hiking more than the average couch potato. lets have a follow up at the 200 level.

Gene Bjerke

As a certified nit-picker when it comes to word usage, I found the controversy over “poisonous” vs. “venomous” surprisingly silly. “Poisonous” means containing poison; “venomous” means capable of delivering a dose of poison. It seems to me that if something is venomous, it must contain poison — so it is both (or either).

Dan A. Nedrelo

Not an expert. A writer. Why a Asian Temple Viper for a NA article????

James Brown

They are not POISONOUS

Marty

Stupidly wandered about 20 feet from the road to take a picture of a blooming desert flower when for the first time ever I heard a rattle. Beat a hasty retreat!

Jim

This author writes the most common area to be struck is the ankle or lower leg. Because I live in Rattlesnake country I stay informed and nearly every article I’ve read says the hand is the area most struck. Some from rock climbers but most from folks messing with the snake.

Timothy Childers

Yeah first of all lets get it right. Venomous. Not poisonous.

Irv

The rattlesnakes that I hate the most are those that are hidden just off the trail. They wait until I’m a foot past and then sound-off. Since they’re behind my ear, it’s hard to tell where they sound is coming from and whether or not I should keep moving, or freeze until I locate them.

Bobbie

WOW ..have already seen a few this spring..copperheads are common in my area. Terrified of any snake.

Ardis

They are venomous, not poisonous.