This summer, a hiker on the Pacific Coast Trail died after a tree fell on him, while a woman on the Colorado Trail died when a tree came down on her tent. Fluke, one-in-a-million tragedies? Maybe not, writes Taylor Gee at Outside. Stats on such deaths are hard to come by, but anecdotally at least, it seems that hikers need to pay more attention to the risk. “A lot of forests are suffering, whether it’s from pine beetles, other invasive species, or diseases that are causing trees to die off,” Wesley Trimble of the American Hiking Society tells Gee. In California, for instance, an estimated 129 million trees have died from bark beetles or drought since 2010. Maintenance crews often clear trails of downed trees, but they don't have time to focus on "snags," the name for dead trees still standing.
Hikers need to be more aware of "snags," particularly those that have begun to fall but are hung up in nearby trees or branches. The concern is biggest when setting up camp for the night. “There are campsites that people have used for years and years, but people never look up," says Trimble. “I honestly don’t think enough backpackers and hikers evaluate that risk.” Hikers also might want to ditch earbuds on windy days, to better hear cracking trees, and they may want to avoid burn areas altogether on windy days. Gee isn't trying to scare away hikers, noting that the odds of being hit by a tree are still small. "But a basic awareness of the danger is an easy way to make those odds even smaller," he writes. Read the piece here. (Read more hiking stories.)