I'm Afraid To Go Backpack Hiking

Whether it’s because we tend to live more indoor lives than past generations or watch too many TV reality shows about survival in jungles, the fear of nature seems to be a trend in all ages. If wild animals and bugs or snakes make you think of time out in the wild as creepy, don't worry, you’re not alone. With a little information, you can eliminate your fears and apprehension of the wildlife within nature and fall in love with hiking and camping. It has been amazing to hear friends that believed hiking was definitely not for them when actually it was. They had spent so much time being nervous about nature, which ended up being something they craved more and more. Let's examine common fears of the great outdoors.

Backpack Hiking Is Incredible

What I love most about hiking and the outdoors is breathing that clean air. It both energizes and soothes me. It's sad to think today's children and even many adults would rather sit in the house and be entertained by video games than experience the world outside. I used to be amazed at city kids that never saw a real cow in a pasture. Now, I am shocked when a kid doesn’t know what a real lake or forest looks like, other than in a school book. Having never seen a live rabbit, deer or squirrel seems unbelievable. Fear in adults can create apathy and fear in our children.  Sometimes fear keeps us safe, which is a good thing, but imagine if you showed your friends and children how glorious hiking can be, they would pick up on your enthusiasm and want to join in the fun.

Start By Learning

Everything new in life starts with a first. Find a hiking guide or a friend who enjoys backpack hiking and just spend an hour on a random trail. Start with your ears. Acclimate yourself to the sounds around you. Whether it's birds, or the breeze making tree branches sway, or maybe the sound of your footsteps on the ground crunching leaves or sticks. Never having heard a hawk, a bobcat or a coyote, could be alarming at first. But once you know what you're hearing, it becomes much less scary. You will, over time, relish the sounds of the wild over the daily typical noises you hear in your neighborhood. The first time you may have heard a squirrel fight, you were probably petrified until you realized what was making the noise.

Now, take everything in with your eyes. Mountains can be daunting when you think of the climb to the top. Yet with a trail that gradually leads to the top with rest spots along the way, your hiking expedition seems doable. A huge hawk could appear like he was waiting for you to approach, it makes your heart skip a beat until you realize all he was doing was enjoying some sun or looking for much smaller prey like a chipmunk. Can you see how your thoughts control your feelings in regards to real danger as opposed to something perfectly normal within nature?  Some fear is good, but most is crippling to those seeking adventure. Being afraid is stopping them from the enjoyment.

Facts Not Myths

It's hard to comprehend how snakes, spiders and field mice, despite the difference in our size compared to them, they could possibly be more scared of you than the reverse. But it's true, they want nothing to do with you. They won't chase you. They’re not going to stalk your tent, or covertly plan to follow or torment you. Reassure yourself by reading up on the behavior of wild animals that house in the area you will be hiking before you go out, use the information to alleviate your fears. Get facts from forest rangers, trail guides and experienced hikers. Their information is more powerful than an overactive imagination.


Knowing how to minimize the risk of an encounter where bears roam will make you feel in control. Store your food items in a bear canister, make noise with your hiking poles or a long stick as you walk. Have a strategy when hiking in bear country so that panic doesn't overrule your knowledge and understanding of the animal.


Only in movies do bats drink human blood or fly in your face. They only swoop down to eat insects.  Don't handle one and rabies is not an issue.


If a storm moves in while you are on the hiking trail and you see lightning, it can be scary. I was afraid during my first few encounters. Get away from water, toss your metal hiking poles and backpack, if it has a metal frame, 100 feet away from you. Seek shelter under a large group of trees rather than a lone isolated tree. In open areas, find the lowest point and move there quickly.

Snakes Petrify Me

Believe it or not, snakes are very timid. They can feel the ground tremble and will hide when they realize humans are approaching. Use a long stick or your hiking pole and tap the ground as you walk. Make sure you don't lift up any big rocks or large potential pieces of firewood, since this is where they like to hide. Tap any rocks with a lengthy trekking pole FIRST before you move them.  Only walk through tall grass if you have to, and then watch your step and tap the ground ahead of you as you proceed. Wearing high-top hiking boots can protect from a bite if it happens. Not all snakes are deadly. The terms venomous and poisonous are often used interchangeably, but they are actually different.  Poisonous means that the toxin will absorb through the skin, such as if you pick up the snake. (Who would do that?)  Venomous means the toxin has to get into your body through a bite.  If you follow these rules, then you’ll probably see the snake before you do something like step on it or mistake it for a stick and grab it. The snake will probably slither away. If it doesn’t, then just walk around it, giving it a wide girth and continue on your way.

Not to scare you, but knowing is great prevention. Most venomous snakes will give you a warning before striking.  Snakes have really bad eyesight so they use their tongues for eyes.   They lift up their heads and stick their tongue out. Their tongues can detect odors in the air and use them to figure out where you are.  The reason their tongues are forked is because the tongue sends signals to both sides of their brain.   Rattlesnakes will coil before they strike.  Some snakes (both venomous and non-venomous) will also make hissing noises or shake their tails before striking.

If you spot a snake and it is about to strike, do NOT run!  Remember, the snakes are giving you a warning before striking. If you run away or jump back from a snake that feels threatened, you’ll just scare the snake more and it may strike out at you.  Instead, remain still without make any sudden movements and slowly back away from the snake.  If the snake is coming towards you, it probably means that it hasn’t detected you.  If you stomp the ground, the snake will detect the vibrations and will change direction.  Or you could just stay completely still.  The snake won’t even know you are there.  It might slither right over your feet.  So long as you remain motionless, it won’t strike you!

Live The Outdoor Hiking Experience

The great outdoors isn’t some terribly dangerous place where malicious wild animals lurk around every corner waiting to kill you. But if you are heading into nature and have no clue about how to act in it, then your fears are justified.  You could end up doing something careless out of ignorance, but I don't advise just heading out without some basic tips and information that will lead to a great experience instead of an "I'll never do that again!" scenario.

Don’t let fear stand in the way of enjoying something new.  Confidence creates empowerment which leads the way to full enjoyment of backpack hiking.  You can take measures to minimize your risk of an unpleasant encounter by taking reasonable precautions. Don’t put your hands and feet in places you can’t see, and check your boots before putting them on. In the unlikely event that you’re bitten or stung, know the proper first aid. Understand that fear in the outdoors is part of your experience and nothing to be ashamed of.  Face your fears instead of becoming paralyzed by them. Don't take your first few hikes alone until you are comfortable in where you hike and the surroundings.   Happy hiking!

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