The next time you go hiking, consider taking a drone with you. It’s a practice that’s getting more popular among hikers, as these unmanned aerial vehicles can be used to take stunning photos and videos of the scenery — but from a bird’s eye view. They can even be used to scope the trail ahead to get a better idea of what to expect and how to proceed safely.
In short, bringing a drone when you go hiking is a great idea, as you can use it for both documentation and safety purposes. To do this safely, though, you’ll need to know the six things below first.
Before Your Hike
Before you even consider taking a drone on your next hike, make sure you consider these variables days in advance:
Choosing the Right Drone
There are lots of options nowadays when looking for a drone thanks to drone technology becoming increasingly popular. And the demand will continue to rise more as drones become better and cheaper.
That said, choosing high-quality drones is easier if you have specific criteria in mind when it comes to image quality, flight time, navigation capability, and price. For hiking, consider a drone with a gimbaled camera that’s at least 20MP and with HD video shooting, over 20 minutes of flight time, and autonomous flight modes for easy navigation. Look for a lighter (less than 3lbs) and foldable drone as well, for portability.
Fortunately, there are models like the DJI Mini 2 Drone Fly More, which is reasonably priced at $599 but is ultra light and foldable, and features a gimbaled camera, 4K video, and 31 minutes of flight time.
Even more affordable is the $499 DJI Mavic Mini, a pocketable drone the size of your palm but with 2.7K video shooting capability and 26 minutes of flight time. Whatever your criteria is, take your time choosing the perfect model so you can buy a drone you can take on hikes for years to come.
Registering Your Drone
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) requires all drone owners to register their machines unless they weigh less than 0.55lbs. You can register either under Part 107 or under the Exception for Recreational Flyers for $5 per drone. Both will be valid for three years and will require you to complete a form asking the following: your full name, email address, physical and mailing address, debit or credit card details, and your drone’s make and model.
To start, visit the FAA’s User Identification Tool to understand whether you’ll register under Part 107 or under the Exception for Recreational Flyers. Once you determine the type of flyer you are, you can register online on the FAA website.
The FAA will then send you either a digital copy of your drone registration certificate or a physical one. If you receive the former, print it out as you’ll need to bring your FAA certificate every time you fly your drone.
Knowing Where You Can Fly Your Drone
Even with FAA certification, you’re prohibited from flying in certain locations. In particular, you can’t fly your drone near airports, as it could collide with incoming airplanes and cause an accident. National parks, national recreation areas, and wildlife areas are also no-fly zones to protect you from any incidents like crashes.
National forests, however, are mostly open, along with public lands under the Bureau of Land Management and some state parks and hiking trails. So, it’s worth considering checking out the state’s best campsites, such as the Trails of Tears and Blanchard Island.
You can verify whether you’re able to fly your drone by calling the county board or state rangers in charge of the hiking trail you’re about to hike. Additionally, ask if there are any other regulations you need to adhere to, like maintaining a flying under 400ft or obtaining a permit where necessary.
During Your Hike
Here are three more things to know, this time during your hike:
Study Your Surroundings
By observing everything around you, you’ll be able to avoid areas your drone shouldn’t be in, like a sensitive location that’s being rehabilitated. By doing this, it will also help you avoid flying your drone into areas where recovering it will be near on impossible or dangerous in case it crashes. Some of these areas include canyons, raging rivers, and waterfalls. This way, you’ll be able to keep yourself and your drone safe throughout the hike.
Drones can cause animals a lot of stress, so you must give them lots of space. Remember, your drone can startle an animal and cause it to panic, thus exposing it to predators or putting it at risk of getting hurt. That said, it’s best to keep your drone at least 200 yards away from any animals, and you can ensure this by studying your surroundings. This will ensure that you enjoy flying your drone without hurting any helpless animals.
Finally, keep in mind that drones aren’t for everyone! Therefore, be respectful of and considerate to other hikers and avoid flying your drone close to them. They probably want to enjoy their hiking experience as much as you so give them the opportunity to do so in peace.