How to Hike Safely while Deaf and Hard of Hearing on Nature Trails

What is it like hiking on the trails and exploring nature as a deaf and hard of hearing person?

Many people with hearing loss love to explore long walks in nature or travel their minivans across the country on dirt roads. Sometimes, it might mean that we have to travel alone.

We’re disadvantaged when animals make noises to signal they’re around. We won’t be able to hear those subtle clues at a distance until the animal crosses paths. By then, it’s too late if we have nothing in preparation.

However, traveling alone or without a hearing companion may mean that we could be putting ourselves in situations where we might get hurt. And I’m not talking about humans attacking us. It’s others in Mother Nature.

It’s hard not to watch an online video of someone having a close encounter with bears during the fall outdoors. As animals like bears prepare for the winter season, they’re seeking food anywhere they can, and it’s no surprise that they’ll do anything to get food, even if we look like we’re in their way.

Bear or animal attacks may be rare, but our brains don’t know the difference when we see a large animal around us for the first time. It’s a mix of surprise and fear at the same time.  We want to protect ourselves as much as we can.

While most expert deaf and hard of hearing hikers would say that not hearing the sound of nature isn’t their most concern, rapidly changing weather is. For the amateur hikers who haven’t built enough confidence in our ability to handle whatever nature calls for us, we need help. 

This article will break down everything you need to know to get ready for a trail hike when not being able to hear things could set us back.

Things we won’t hear in nature

Mountain Bikers

Some trails allow slow walkers, hikers, and bikers to share the same path. If you and a biker are heading in the same direction, they will most likely be coming from behind you. 

When you unintentionally veer away from the right side or left side, you might find yourself in the way of other bikers. They will let you know, but when you can’t hear them, they immediately think you’re a snobby person who’s ignoring them. They have no clue that you are deaf or have hearing challenges.

How to fix this.

Sign on vest or clothing indicating that you’re deaf

Some people would suggest that you were a sign or logo that indicates you are deaf. The sign could be located on your back for the visibility of others behind you. 

This may work for someone bikers who are visual and exploratory. Unfortunately, humans need to be taught what to look out for. Most people do not think they need to look at people’s clothing or displays for signs or information about the person. Signs on a reflective safety vest may help, but one might assume it is just a safety vest without reading the labels.

We are constantly bombarded with images and information daily, our brains look for ways to automate tasks so that we don’t have to check everything like it’s the first time constantly. We know where to look when we are driving for signs. A label that someone is deaf isn’t what most people know to check.

Wearable rear mirror

Sometimes, we have to take ownership and find ways to look after ourselves. Many bikers are in the same situation as us. Unable to hear from behind what they should be looking out for.  Many of them are also interested in listening to music and podcasts when riding.  

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Several bike mirrors can be wrapped around your wrist. A bike eyeglasses mirror can be a hack to use while walking. You will see what is in front and behind you as well.

Avoid Bike Trails

Ideally, it is much easier to avoid trails that allow for multimodal travel. You might find it best to stick to walking trails only and avoid dealing with riders from behind.

Falling trees

People with hearing can pick up the “snap, snap” sounds or a sound like a bomb or an explosion. This is a signal that a large tree is about to fall.

During severe weather storms, you want to take shelter and avoid being exposed to fallen trees. That also accounts for the days after a storm trees may continue to fall. 

Death by a fallen tree may be rare, but no one should be caught under one when it happens. Wind storms are common reasons for death from fallen trees, but snow or ice storms are equally. Most of the time, people in vehicles or homes are caught under a tree, which is important for campers where they station their vehicles while out in nature.

How to fix this.

Look for saggy roots

Slushy and swampy wet soil is a good indicator that the roots have a chance to upheave themselves. When there aren’t any dry roots on the ground, there is nothing firm to hold the tree down. 

Avoid leaning trees

Trees that are slanted are slanting because it’s going south anytime soon. Even low-hanging branches can be a clue. Avoid sitting or settling near these trees.

Avoid areas with many fallen tree

Even when there is no wind storm, an area with many fallen trees can result from a plant infestation. The tree may be invested and not have enough life to continue standing.

Look at the trees for signs

Look at the tree bark and root area. Look for signs of fungus, mold, or insects growing  Also, seek to find missing barks or exposed roots tangling around the bark or trunk. Look at the leaves. If there isn’t much left, this signifies a dying tree.

Animals nearby

Animals make lots of noises communicating with each other and out loud. Some are within the human hearing range; others are negligible to someone with hearing. But for the sound that could be heard, it’s still a miss for people with hearing loss.

Many experts will tell hikers that listening is important for safety.  People are warned not to listen to music or podcasts outdoors. This advice doesn’t help the rest of us, we have no hearing to base on.

How to fix this.

Animals that can harm humans, like bears and rattlesnakes on the trail, maybe rare sightings, but to not be startled by any animal, it would be important to know that you are near one through visual clues.

Seek fresh markings on tree barks or utility pole

Animals like bears like to scratch or bite the tree trunk or pole. Sometimes, it’s to mark their territory. The tree barks will look worn out and damaged. At times, the tree will be slanted by the weight of the bear.  

Look at the ground for animal tracks

Animals walking on the trail will leave engraved prints that don’t look like human shoes or footprints. You want to see if you see any tracking to see if an animal has been around.

Using a flashlight to spot glowing eyes

Some animals’ eyes will glow in the dark with flashlights. If you plan on hiking when the sun sets, you can pick up the animals in the bush and trees with glowing eyes by having a flashlight and beaming lights in the bush or tree area.

Spot furs on the ground or on the tree

Sometimes, bears like to scratch their back using the tree bark. The movement will remove their fur and leave them around the tree and also on the tree bark. So, any clump of fur on the tree bark or near it indicates an animal is around.

Identify animal droppings

Like humans, animals all poo but may not have a private bathroom. You’ll see it in nature. You can be a poo expert and learn which poo comes from what animal. But just know that a poo indicates an animal is nearby.

Step on large rocks or falling logs 

Snakes can be hiding under the logs or rocks. Snakes avoid the hot sun to cool. If you step over the log with a snake, you are putting yourself in close proximity.

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By stepping on the log, you avoid close contact. If you see a snake, stay ten steps away to avoid them from lunging at you if they are afraid.

Some sounds are impossible to prepare

Some things may be impossible for us to know, like hearing an injured hiker calling for help. That’s why carrying a safety kit with you while venturing out in nature is important. You want to be able to help yourself more than rely on others to help you in time.

You must prepare for an emergency and carry first aid and safety kits with reflective mirrors, whistles, compass, and more. Your cell phone might not work or operate well, and others might not be able to hear you. Let others know where you are going and when you expect to return.

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