When you are exploring trails in the backcountry, most snakes will try to avoid a potential encounter with you. However, hiking snakes will do everything in their power to protect themselves when the need arises.
Avoiding snakes completely, after donning your hiking pants, may not be possible – if a hiker goes off into the woods enough, he/she will eventually end up running into a snake. Understanding the critters and knowing how to manage an encounter with them can keep you safe once you put on your hiking boots. The guidelines in this article will help make your outdoor adventures snake-friendly.
Understand Different Types of Snakes
Hiking snakes can be classified into 2 main types – non-venomous and venomous snakes. If you will be hiking in the United States, some of the venomous snakes you may encounter include coral snakes, water moccasins, copperheads, and rattlesnakes.
Contrary to popular belief, the head shape and color are generally not reliable indicators of whether the snake is venomous or non-venomous. Also, relying on the internet to determine the types of hiking snakes may not be the best idea.
Prior to your adventure, when you are learning how to avoid snakes while hiking, check with the national or state park ranger or a local biologist to figure out the species you may encounter after packing your backpack and leaving the house. Additionally, consider carrying a regionally appropriate field guide – this is more ideal than guessing the snake species.
Where You Are Likely to Find Hiking Snakes
Before we show you how to avoid snakes while hiking, it is essential that you know where you are likely to encounter snakes. While you can find snakes anywhere, understanding the snake ecology should help take the guesswork out of where you may encounter the critters.
Being ectotherms, snakes depend on external heat sources. For this reason, there is a very high likelihood of finding a snake stretched across the trail in the evening or early in the morning.
During the hottest part of the day, snakes will seek shelter from the sun – you are most likely to find snakes resting under limbs and rocks.
Depending on the species, you may find the snakes nestled in leaf litter, rock crevices, in tree canopies, and the edge of creeks and streams. To meet their resource needs, snakes tend to travel via the trails, riparian corridors, and ravines.
How Snakes Behave When They Encounter a Predator
Regardless of whether the snake rattles, hisses, or huffs, most snakes will be scared of you – always keep in mind that you are smarter, bigger, and warmer.
When faced with a predator, the majority of the snakes will flee. However, if they writhe around, coil up in the S shape, or rattle, they are probably scared and are trying to tell you to leave them alone. Some species, like the hognose snake, will play dead.
How to Avoid Snakes While Hiking
To avoid snakes when hiking in the summer, you will need to use the following tips:
1. Watch Your Step
Not all snakes will behave in a way that warns you. Therefore, your best bet will be to always be mindful of where you are putting your feet and hands. If you will be hiking at night, ensure that you can see clearly – carrying a headlight may be a good idea. When stepping into a tall brush, pause for a moment and always look around before taking the next step.
2. Wide Berth
Most snakes will slither off when they feel the vibration caused by your steps. If you spot a snake, stopping where you are and giving it time to move on is the best response. If the snake fails to move on, let it be and simply move around it.
Do not throw rocks, prod the snake with a stick, or even try to pick the snake up. This will only agitate the snake and probably trigger a defensive response.
If you cannot find a bypass around the snake, stomp from a distance. Always keep in mind that most snakes have the potential to strike a distance that is half their body length – always give yourself triple or double this distance. Your goal should be to encourage the snake to move on its own terms without being viewed as a threat.
3. Wear the Right Clothing
Most snake bites are usually to the lower leg area followed by your hands. If the trail is overgrown, consider donning hiking gaiters. Also, instead of wearing sandals, consider wearing hiking shoes or boots when exploring the wilderness. To protect your hands, consider wearing tough hiking gloves. While the clothing may not protect you from the bites, they could reduce the amount of venom injected.
Responding to a Snake Bite
If you get bitten by a snake, the first thing you will need to do is try to remain as calm as possible – avoid panicking. If the snake is still in view, identify its species. If you cannot, make a mental note of the markings on the body – knowing the species can help with treatment. Back away from the snake to avoid further bites.
If you have been bitten by a non-venomous snake, your primary concern will be the secondary infection. To avoid secondary infections, use your first-aid kit to wash and dress the wound.
If bitten by a venomous snake, avoid making a tourniquet – this could cause damage to the nerves. Do not try to suck the venom out – this won’t work. Also, sucking will transfer the venom to a different part of your body. Avoid cutting yourself at the bite to increase the blood flow.
While keeping the heart rate down to slow the spread of the venom (keeping calm should help with this), return to your car as quickly as you can and drive to the closest hospital. If possible, call ahead and enquire about snake antivenin since not all hospitals are equipped to treat venomous bites from snakes.
Globo Surf Overview
While avoiding hiking snakes completely may not be possible, avoiding their bites is possible. The tips we have outlined in this article should show you how to avoid snakes while hiking.
The best way to avoid conflict with snakes on the trails is to make sure that you do not end up being viewed as a threat. Always give snakes time to leave on their own terms. Otherwise, circle around them if they are not willing to leave the trail.
- Hiking Snake Bite Prevention, Hikingdude.com