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Never Fear: The Phobias

Use this step-by-step guide to beat 7 common backcountry fears. Plus, ideal hikes for overcoming–or avoiding–the source of your scare.
Panic snakesPhoto illustration by Stephen Beneski


If you quake at the thought of slithering and crawling creatures, you’re not alone. Recent research suggests that we’re biologically predisposed to the fear—an evolutionary throwback that likely helped protect our ancestors from dangerous wildlife. True, a small fraction of snake and spider species can be harmful, but we’ve moved past the Paleozoic: There’s no reason a fear of rattlers should keep you off the trail.

The Real Risk
Snakes and spiders each cause only five to 10 total deaths annually; scorpions, just one.

The 3-Step Fix

  • Fact: Despite what your pounding heart suggests, snakes and spiders are much more scared of you than the reverse. They want nothing to do with you. They’re not going to chase you. They’re not going to stalk you through camp. Reassure yourself by reading up on their behavior.
  • 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.
  • To state the obvious: It’s not smart to top your exposure ladder with a cobra-handling session. Work up to holding a harmless creature—a tarantula, say, or a boa—at a zoo, nature center, or pet store.

The Big Test
Saguaro National Park is home to western hognose snakes, coral snakes, six kinds of rattlers, black widows, brown recluses, tarantulas, and scorpions—plus the gila monster, the country’s only venomous lizard.

Safety Zone
The cool climate on Vermont’s Long Trail ensures that poisonous snakes, scorpions, and tarantulas stay far, far away.

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1 Comment

  1. t-j-f

    I am so sick of fear peddling. I really am.
    I’m sick of the media and politicians shoving it down our throats as well as hearing about it in incessantly in the hiking communities.
    If people are afraid then they should just freaking hide. Stay inside. Don’t leave the house. I couldn’t care any less.
    But I wish the rest of us didn’t have to be brought along to the Fear Dome and then have to deal with the aftermath.
    Oh wait. I actually do know why.
    Fear sells.
    And it disgusts me.

    Profile photo of t-j-f

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