photo of rainy day hiking

Be Prepared!

Top Issues

It will help you to read the whole section below, but here are the main things people get in trouble with. Please take these suggestions to heart, so you can be more comfortable and have a good time on our hikes.

It's important for your personal safety and enjoyment, and for the group, that you take responsibility for your own needs, and provide yourself with the information and simple equipment that you will need. It will prevent emergencies and stop trouble before it gets started.

Clothing and Gear

Outdoor clothing for a walk on a trail and comfortable for sitting in for the meeting is all you need. It's a good idea to bring something to sit on, like a jacket, a small tarp, or a poncho. Outdoor temperatures change, and your body temperature will change as you first exercise, and then sit. So, layers are a good idea, so you can adjust and be comfortable. Check the forecast; if rain is possible be sure you dress for the weather. Heavy rain will cancel the trip, light rain or snow we hike anyway, as long as conditions are safe.

Day Pack

A small day pack can come in very handy, with a little snack, two liters of water, a trail map, some insect repellant, sunscreen, and a light jacket. No need to take too much.

Hat and Sunglasses

Both are useful and fashionable. Sunburn is the most common injury for hikers, and too much UV light is not good for the eyes. An ounce of sunscreen prevention prevents a pound of wrinkle-cream and skin cancer cures.


A road map in the car can really help you out. It pays to check the route before you leave; we try hard to provide accurate directions, but mistakes slip by once in a while. A map just makes more sense to some people than words. Trail maps are usually free or cost a buck or two. Never enter the backcountry without a trail map on your person.

Signage is not always what it could be, and the group tends to spread out on the trail. Some will trail behind, some like to race ahead, and you need to be able to find the way for yourself. If you are one who likes to race ahead, be sure you know where to stop. Sometimes we lose people because they overshoot the meeting site.


People get by with sneakers or hiking sandals but sturdy, comfortable walking shoes, light hiking boots or cross-trainers will give you good service. We stay on the trails, but there can be rocks, mud, loose footing, a bit of scrambling, stepping stones or logs over creeks. Some ankle support, good traction, and protection for the soles can prevent sprains, bruises, blisters, falls and twisted ankles, etc. Avoid brand-new footgear, break in your new shoes before you hit the trail. Flip-flops are for the beach or pool, not the trail. Unlaced sneakers lead to falls and injuries.

Trekking Poles

Trekking Poles can prevent injuries from falls and protect the knees, hips, and feet by taking some of the load off of them. They're especially good for stream crossings or steep downhill trails. Models with canted grips molded to the shape of the hand are more ergonomic and comfortable.


If you bring your camera, you can share your experience and help the Wild Recovery website, without disturbing the environment at all. Sometimes you see things that are so incredible you wouldn't believe them unless you had a picture. Please respect our Traditions by honoring the anonymity of the group members, and don't photograph your buddies unless it's ok with them.

Water and Snacks

Be sure to bring water, at least one to two liters, and especially be sure to bring enough for your kids. You never know how delicious a drink of plain water can be until you get really hot and dried out. It helps to bring a snack, too--- trail mix, dried fruit or fresh fruit, power bars, etc. You will burn some calories on the trail. It is very smart to eat breakfast before you hit the trail, and if you show up with coffee you will be a very popular person.

For some reason many people show up without water, or complain that they don't want to carry it because it's bulky and heavy. But, you need water. The body has different needs sitting in an easy chair watching television for two hours than it does hiking up to a ridgetop on a warm day. We're somewhat past bailing these people out by carrying extra water for them. We've learned that a measure of suffering prevents a repeat performance.

Personal Needs

A few tissues or baby wipes (there are no ladies' rooms) can make you more comfortable. A few simple first aid supplies may prove useful: band-aids, antiseptic, windex (gets off poison oak). Better yet, stay out of the poison oak.

Trail Radios

If you have an FRS radio (walkie-talkie) you are welcome to bring it . We use Channel 1 with no code and try to have at least one radio at the front of the group when we are hiking and one near the rear. The radios help us stay on contact to ensure our common welfare and group unity.

Know Before You Go

Behavior Statement

Our personal behavior in the parks reflects on the group and the fellowship as a whole, and may affect whether we're welcome to come back. So far, we've built up a good reputation and the parks are glad to see us and happy to help us when we need it. You can help protect this valuable asset of goodwill by your own good behavior. There aren't a lot of rules, and they're usually there for a good reason.


Check first before you bring your dog, many parks don't allow them on the trails, including all California State Parks. Other parks welcome them, including many East Bay Regional Parks. Call the park, check the trail map, or visit their website to find out.


For the protection of the group and Narcotics Anonymous as a whole, we ask that you do not smoke during the hike or the meeting. Accidents can happen and park rangers take fire very seriously. Help us protect Wild Recovery so we can continue to carry the message to the addict who still suffers.


Is it too obvious to say, watch where you put your feet? Trails can be steep and rocky, the footing can be loose, the edges of cliffs can be unreliable, stepping stones bridging streams can prove slick or wobbly. Cutting switchbacks is very hazardous for falls, as well as creating a path for trail erosion. So please, stay on the trail.

Poison Oak

If you're not familiar with this plant, study the picture of it on this page. People will be glad to point it out. Washing right away can help if you touch it, or use an alcohol wipe or windex, within two hours of exposure. It really pays to keep your eyes open on the trail, poison oak can mooch over from the edges. Poison oak can take a wide variety of forms, from ground cover to shrub to bushy thicket to a mass growing sixty feet up a tree trunk, and its leaf shape is also variable. It turns flame orange to red-purple in summer and fall , and loses its leaves in winter. Its nude, light gray branches, with a distinctive pointed tip and sometimes berries, can still cause a rash. Deer eat it, but that is their problem. Dogs and children that are allowed to rummage through the underbrush can transfer it to their owners, and that could make it your problem.

Ticks and Lyme Disease

It is good to check yourself for ticks, and check others around you, every so often. Ticks are easy to brush off if detected within the first hour. However, they like those dark, secret places and will head for them. Think that one over, ladies, before you see just how short your shorts can get; longer clothing can help you out here. If you need to use tweezers, grasp the tick by the head and twist, like a bottle cap, without crushing it. Be sure to get the head out. Insect repellent will keep them off you in the first place (or discourage them from biting), and if you stay on the trails and avoid contact with their habitat (like grasses), you are less likely to get them.

There are several kinds of ticks in Bay Area parks. You are more likely to see the bigger ones, but it's the smaller ones (that look like a speck of dirt) that are the vector for Lyme Disease, a very serious bacterial illness. Lyme often reveals itself with a bulls-eye rash surrounding the bite and flu-like symptoms, though a fair amount of cases show different, or no obvious symptoms. It can be treated with antibiotics. See your doctor if you know you have been bitten and discover this kind of rash; it is a critical ID sign and Lyme Disease can be very hard to diagnose otherwise. Fortunately, in our area it's only about 10% as common as it is on the East Coast, thanks to the Western Fence Lizard. This creature has an agent in its blood that cleanses the nymph stage of ticks, which feed on it, of the Lyme Disease bacterium. So even if you're bitten by the tick, the chances are much less that you will be exposed to Lyme on the West Coast. There is a vaccine for Lyme Disease, though it is not risk-free. This is another good reason to wear boots and socks when hiking, watch where you sit, and check for ticks about once an hour.

West Nile Virus

Arriving in California in 2003, West Nile Virus is transmitted by mosquito bites and can cause a type of encephalitis, an inflamation of the brain, in some people. Most people who have it don't become especially ill beyond flu-like symptoms, but it can be fatal. A vaccine is in development. Meanwhile, it is worth your while to avoid being bitten by mosquitoes. Protective clothing can help (mosquitoes are said to be particularly attracted to the color blue), and repellants such as DEET are useful. Some research indicates that DEET is not so good for pregnant women. There are other repellants. Avoiding mosquito habitat, such as swampy areas or bodies of water like ponds and lakes, can help.

Brake Burnup

When going downhill on those mountain roads, use the low gears to slow down the car and only apply the brakes every so often. Riding the brakes can cause them to heat up, smoke, glaze, catch fire, or even stop working. Putting your auto transmission into the 2 or 1 setting will not damage it.


Good rule of thumb: leave wild animals alone, and give them their space. In most parks, all wildlife is protected anyway. Baby rattlesnakes are born fully venomous, but without rattles, and can resemble a garter snake. Do not try to touch or pick up a snake. It pays to watch where you put your feet, and stay on the trails. Snakes are not likely to bother you unless you step on them or try to take their food away. A snake does not need any help from you to eat a lizard.

Giardia and Crytosporidium

These protozoa contaminate many streams and lakes. Coliform bacteria, polio and hepatitis viruses, and agricultural chemicals can also be present and can make you very ill. So, don't drink from streams or creeks. For longer backpacking trips, you can get filter pumps that will make the water safer to drink. Boiling or treatment with chlorine or iodine is also recommended. Over 95% of groundwater resources in the US are polluted these days. Bring drinking water.

Plague and Hantavirus

Bubonic plague is a bacterial illness carried by fleas from infected squirrels, chipmunks, raccoons, etc. Staying clear of wild animals and their burrows is the best way to stay out of trouble; using insect repellant can help make you distasteful to biting insects. The inhaled dust from mouse droppings is the main vector for hantavirus, sometimes encountered when deer mice get into closed-up cabins, woodsheds, etc. These are both serious illnesses, well worth avoiding by using the simple precautions. Bubonic plague is treatable but hantavirus is not, and is often deadly. Think twice before you feed that chipmunk. Besides, potato chips are not really good for them.

Adorable, but not good for either of you.

Mountain Lions

You will be very lucky if you see one, sightings are rare. They are more active at twilight and dawn. Experts advise: (1) Don't run; it triggers chase and attack behavior. This may be one reason lone trail runners have been attacked. (2) Hiking alone is a risk factor. (3) Look big, open your arms, spread out your jacket, make noise, etc. (4) Slowly back away, don't turn your back. (5) They are especially fond of young children. Pick up your child if you see a mountain lion (squat down, don't bend over, and face the lion). Don't let kids run ahead out of your sight. (6) If attacked, fight back fiercely. They're only as big as a German Shepherd. Protect the back of the neck. (7) Report the incident. This is all highly unlikely, mountain lions avoid people and are very seldom even seen from a distance. Still, it never hurts to know what to do, and they do live in the parks where we hike... and even the suburbs we build in their habitat. You are far more likely to see a bobcat or coyote, which are normally harmless to humans.

Feral Pigs

With no natural enemies and a very high reproductive rate, wild pigs' destructive habit of rooting up the ground is often seen in parklands. You may also see their tracks or hear them grunting or squealing, probably out of sight in a ravine. They are normally shy of humans and will take off as soon as they are aware of you. Make some noise. They are large (up to 400 pounds) and tusked creatures, and due caution is just as well. Don't sneak up on them or stand between them and their only exit, and don't get anywhere near a sow and her piglets. Injured pigs have been known to attack humans, and food carelessly left around a campsite will attract them. Many parks have trap-and-shoot abatement programs to reduce the over-population. Stay clear of the traps (large cages) if you see them.

Black Bears

These wild residents of the high Sierra and north woods require some precautions when you go to their habitat. They want an easy meal: your food, and at 400-600 pounds they are strong enough to tear up your car, pack, or tent to get at it. Black bears seldom attack humans, though it's not unknown. Report any aggressive bear incidents promptly to a ranger. The precautions in black bear territory are: (1) Don't leave food, or anything that looks or smells like food, in your car, including items in the trunk. They can open it like a soup can. Black bears have a nose 100 times keener than a dog's. They will also go after aromatic items such as toothpaste, cosmetics, Ben-Gay, chewing gum (even wrappers), or empty ice chests that they can see in you car. In Yosemite, rangers will issue you a $500 citation if you leave food in your car and bears break into it. There are metal bear boxes you can leave your food in safely.

On the trail, take a bear canister. This is a heavy-gauge plastic, fat, tubular container, too big around for a bear to bite. Canisters weigh about three pounds. They can hold enough food for a six-day trip, and can be purchased for about eighty dollars, or rented from camping stores or the US Forest Service for $4.00 plus a refundable deposit. Put all food and aromatic items in the canister and leave it at least 100 feet downwind of your campsite at night. Cooking, eating, and washing should also be done at a distance from the site. Packs should be left empty and unzipped (so marmots and chipmunks don't gnaw through the nylon to get inside). The old-school way of suspending food from a high branch or over a cliff with cable doesn't work anymore, bears know how to get it, and their efforts seriously damage trees. Keeping food with you in your tent is a recipe for a dead tent and a bad scare.

You can often frighten black bears off with noise or by looking as big and threatening as possible.  There is also a pepper spray that is sold for emergencies. Black bears' charges are often a bluff, rangers say. Do fight back if attacked by a black bear (not a grizzly; with grizzlies, play dead). Never try to get anything back that a bear has in its possession, or get between a sow and her cub.