It’s important to stick to the following suggestions for your own safety and so that the Israeli towns and villages affected by the hiking trails are not damaged by visitors:
Sunshine – Water – Walking – Night – Nighttime accommodation – Dangerous animals – Insect bites – Military practice area – Arable land, pastureland – Waterways – Winter hiking – Flooding – Heat waves – Caves – Natural and cultural heritage – Keeping the place clean
Israel gets a great deal of sunshine. You should protect your skin against the sun, especially on your head. It’s worth wearing a wide-brimmed hat or a traditional Arab headscarf which protects your head from getting hot. It’s also worth using additional protection, such as suntan lotion, UV protection sunglasses, etc. In the summer it’s also a good idea to wear long sleeves.
It can be life-threatening to leave without enough water, for this reason it is not recommended. For shorter walks it’s enough to take 1.5 litres per person but for one day hikes – even in winter – you should take 3 litres, and 6 litres in summer. If you spend the night on the ground, or you go hiking in the desert in the summer, you will need even more water: for each hour of walking 1 litre per person. It’s important to drink a lot, even if you’re not thirsty or it’s after sunset. Actually, the same goes for nighttime too!
If possible, don’t stray from the designated path both for your own safety and to safeguard the land and the unspoilt countryside. You should proceed cautiously in line with the terrain and tread particularly slowly and carefully on steep slopes, near cliffs and on slippery, rocky terrain.
Don’t throw rocks and stones because that doesn’t just put you in danger but also animals and those below you.
Hiking order: hike leader in front, deputy at the back. The hiking speed is adjusted to that of the fellow-hikers (4 km/h on average).
The distance between hikers will depend on the nature of the terrain (flat unoccupied area, a rocky slope liable to collapse, areas where you risk being hit by protruding branches).
Within half an hour of leaving you should carry out a “vehicle check” (sorting out clothing and equipment, getting undressed, adjusting backpack straps and shoelaces).
5-10 minutes’ break approximately every hour.
A longer break of 1-2 hours 1 or 2 times a day.
When hiking up a mountain you should take deep breaths, saving oxygen.
You should proceed slowly and cautiously on slopes. Don’t overtake each other, don’t push and shove and do not fight.
In certain places it is dangerous to proceed in groups. For this reason it is prohibited to overtake one another.
In order to ensure that the group proceeds together you should signal to the hike leader if you wish to stop (’forced rest’, health problem, toilet break).
Avoid walking at night if possible. If you get stuck on a steep, rocky part after dark you should stop immediately and be prepared to stay there until sunrise. It’s worth taking a good battery lamp and plenty of batteries with you for nighttime lighting and, if necessary, for use as a flashlight.
A few things to consider when choosing the camping site:
- In protected areas and national parks you can only pitch a tent in the designated areas, but we can happily sleep anywhere without a tent;
- The tent should be exposed to the sun in the morning (the heat wakes you up and dries out any dampness);
- It should be in an area sheltered from the wind;
- Only pitch a tent in a safe area: it is not permitted to do so in military practice areas (a bullet might end up in your bum while you are asleep). You should also avoid lightning, falling rocks, areas prone to flooding or affected by coastal erosion, and falling branches (eucalyptus trees can actually be life-threatening)…;
- You should pitch your tent in the flattest place possible, but do not pitch a tent in hollow ground;
- You should clear the area before pitching your tent (rocks, stinging plants);
- Before taking down your tents you should clean them thoroughly.
Don’t sleep too close to the fire. It’s worth keeping a distance of at least 5 metres.
Avoiding bugs and reptiles: if you can, try to sleep at a distance from piles of rocks and leaves. Bugs and other unpleasant things may be hiding underneath them.
If you leave your shoes outside, it’s advisable to cover them with your socks so that different kinds of insects and scorpions don’t climb into them overnight.
Don’t leave food or rubbish outside at night because it can attract wild animals, especially jackals, wolves and foxes, and they may tear apart any bag that smells of food.
Venomous snakes are the biggest danger in Israel. In order to avoid unpleasant encounters with them, don’t move rocks, tree trunks or other objects which could be hiding snakes or scorpions. These animals attack when they feel they are under attack like this. For this reason it’s worth being relatively loud so that they have time to hide before you get closer to them.
You see a snake? Stay far away from it and wait until it moves away. If you are bitten by a snake, stay calm. Don’t move (this only accelerates the circulation of the poison around your body). Wait for your fellow-hikers to get help and then get an antidote in a health centre. In the unlikely event of being bitten by a mammal (fox, dog, rodent, etc.) you must get a rabies shot.
For most people insect bites are not particularly dangerous, apart from some localised discomfort, but some people are allergic to bee and wasp stings. These people should bring appropriate medication with them and they should inform the hike leader of their condition. Take into account that during the summer there are higher concentrations of wasps near springs and streams (especially in the Golan).
Everyone winces at mosquito, wasp, bee, horsefly, spider or ant bites, which can cause short-term pain and a mild reddening of the skin. Insect bites are usually no more dangerous than this in Israel. Sometimes “poisonous” insect bites cause inflammation. They are “poisonous” because pathogens can enter the area of the bite from the insects or the surface of the skin. The pathogens then find the ideal environment and temperature which encourages reproduction and infection.
You should take disinfectant with you on your trip. Sometimes it is the body’s oversensitivity or the toxins which enter the skin when it is bitten that cause disproportionately large watery and serous allergic inflammation, and not the infection itself.
Mucous membrane bites or damage must be treated the most urgently. These are scarier and cause greater pain, and almost nothing can stop the infection or inflammation spreading. The most dangerous are bites in the throat area, which are even more painful and swelling can hinder breathing. If left untreated they can even lead to asphyxiation. You can avoid serious problems by taking soluble calcium tablets with you.
You should compress the inflammation and cool and compress the swelling of the mucous membrane with ice.
Military practice area
Without prior approval from the army you cannot hike in military zones. On these paths you may find remnants of ammunition, bombs and other dangerous materials. Don’t touch these, even if they do not appear to be dangerous! It is not recommended to sleep in military practice zones and near to the green border with the Palestinian Territories (in other words, it’s forbidden: ken hamefaked! “Yes sir!”)
Arable land, pastureland
You shouldn’t stray from the designated paths in agricultural areas (either). If it is not designated as drinking water do not drink from the taps on the ground because the water may be enriched with fertiliser. Without permission from the producer you should not consume fruit from private farms. Do not climb over fences, especially in the Golan Heights, where most of the enclosed areas are full of mines! You should respect private property.
The water in streams is often cloudy and you cannot see if dangerous rocks are hiding on the river bed. Jumping into the water in such places, especially head-first, can easily lead to death. This is especially true in the centre of the Golan Heights, where many hikers have been injured or have died because they did not comply with basic safety regulations.
You should also take into account that in winter cold water can surprise even experienced hikers so it’s worth avoiding those routes.
Winters in Israel are relatively mild but this does not mean they are without danger. You should proceed with great caution and in rainy weather you should avoid rocky paths and routes with ravines or cliffs if possible because of the increased risk of slipping.
You shouldn’t go hiking in foggy weather because you can get lost easily, which exposes you to danger unnecessarily.
On rainy days you shouldn’t go on routes where there is a risk of flooding, especially in the Judean Desert and in the Negev. You should never wade through these strong currents, not even in the car! With the strong current the depth of the water may be misleading.
It’s important to know that the drainage area of many streams is very large and floods can take you by surprise suddenly even in sunny weather! For instance, you should avoid the northern part of the Judean Desert when rain is forecast in Jerusalem, because all the rain from there can fall on you without any prior warning. There have been many tragedies like this.
There are certain designated areas from where you can observe these amazing natural phenomena in relative safety, but don’t get too close to the flood channel here either!
If possible, avoid hiking during a heat wave. If the temperature is approaching 30 degrees it’s worth staying at home.
Generally we take a break during the hottest part of the day (between 1pm and 3pm) when we can rest and sleep in the shade. It’s worth starting the hike early in the morning and making the most of the pleasant weather before sunrise. On flat terrain you can also hike when there is a full moon. In this way you definitely won’t get sunstroke.
When the weather is very hot you must drink much more than usual and should continuously check for symptoms of dehydration or heatstroke.
Symptoms of dehydration: weakness, headache, reddened skin, etc.
Symptoms of heatstroke: confusion, hallucinations, heavy breathing/wheezing, rapid pulse, later: loss of consciousness, cramps. The heatstoke mortality rate can be up to 90%!
If you suspect you have dehydration or heatstroke you should seek medical attention as soon as possible.
Do not go into unfamiliar caves without a guide who knows them. You should use a torch and not candles because they contaminate the cave with soot and wax. You should take lots of batteries into bigger caves (such as the Alma cave, the Haritun cave and the Sodom mountain cave) and you should check that they all work. Decomposition is slow in caves, so it’s particularly important to make sure that you don’t leave any rubbish there (especially not organic waste). Some caves are infected with “cave fever” (sometimes ones which are right next to the designated route) and it is highly recommended that you do not enter these.
Insect-eating bats hibernate in certain caves. These rare mammals are protected and harmless. During the winter months (October to March) it is forbidden to enter such caves. These include the following caves:
Galilee – Sharach cave, Namer (tiger) cave, Alma cave, Huta6, Barniki
Judean Desert – HaTeomim (twins) cave
Mount Carmel – Oranit cave, Sfunim cave
You should refrain from visiting non-frequented caves (especially in winter) which also may contain rare insect-eating bats.
Natural and cultural heritage
Be happy but not rowdy. Birds should sing in the countryside, not tourists!
Do not cause damage to the landscape or natural environment. Refrain from bothering animals living in the wild. Don’t tear out plans (especially not protected herbs). You must not take away or damage fossils or other valuable geological formations. Don’t cast or paint anything onto rocks, tree trunks or old buildings. You mustn’t collect antiques for yourself.
Both when out among nature and when in towns and villages you should travel quietly so as to disturb local residents and the natural environment as little as possible.
You should respect local customs and be respectful of the local environment.
Ask for locals’ permission when taking photographs or making videos.
Keeping the place clean
You should not leave your rubbish behind, especially not plastic bags and bottles because animals can choke on these. You shouldn’t discard cigarette ends either because they can cause fire. Don’t bury or incinerate your rubbish. Instead you should take it with you and throw it away in bins designed for that purpose.
When relieving yourself you should keep a distance from the hiking trail. If possible you should incinerate the toilet paper before covering the excrement with soil or rocks.
Important: Everybody goes hiking at their own risk!