Some areas here have old mines from 50 years ago. Dangerous areas are often surrounded by barbed wire and have warning signs. However, because of soil erosion we can't be sure where the dangerous areas are, so the general advice is something like "don't visit suspicious areas".

In contrast to general advice, I would like to understand in which situations I can ensure my safety while hiking inside or near old mine fields. For example, hiking on solid rock slabs seems very safe, while inside an overgrown valley seems very unsafe.

I know nothing about warfare, so please excuse me for these basic questions:

  • Do I have to step on the mine for it to explode?
  • If not, what is a safe distance I should keep?
  • At which depth are they usually buried?
  • Any natural features where there is absolutely no point to place mines (e.g. scree)?

I am mostly interested in desert areas with scarce vegetation.

  • 3
    I think the primary question here is: Where are you going? The probability of stepping on a mine in downtown NY is probably orders of magnitude smaller than on the ukrainian east border.
    – PMF
    Commented Jan 11, 2023 at 16:47
  • 1
    Do I have to step on the mine for it to explode? They are generally designed not to be set off by wildlife, or they would be ineffective. Commented Jan 11, 2023 at 17:51
  • 4
    Loads of kids who have been used to find mines have lost legs because they did go of with a (too) small weight. And old ones are even less predictable. They are starting to use rats to find them these days, as those are the only ones light enough.
    – Willeke
    Commented Jan 11, 2023 at 20:06
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    @MartinF - There is no requirement to give explanation for votes on Stack Exchange. By default, votes mean what the tooltip says when you hover over it. Some folks give an explanation if they want. I personally think this is a very misguided question, and as you'll see from RockPaper and my posts, there is no answer to the specific question asked.
    – Rory Alsop
    Commented Jan 15, 2023 at 21:26
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    Agree with the query about motivations for downvotes. If you gotta ask... you gotta ask. If the OP is seriously in a situation where they are in an environment where this question is relevant - hint, probably not downtown NYC - then why DV it? If they don't know minefield protocols, then this is as good a place as any to ask, providing the answers are solid. Commented Jan 19, 2023 at 21:32

2 Answers 2


Having lived in an area with minefields for a number of years, which was only cleared recently, 40 years after the conflict, I had to deal with hiking and travelling near minefields frequently.

I can answer your headline question with:

Avoid mines by avoiding minefields or areas suspected to have mines in them!

For your specific sub-questions

  • Do I have to step on the mine for it to explode?

Not necessarily - they are unpredictable, and not built to be consistent - they are built to kill and maim, so tolerances are not really important

  • If not, what is a safe distance I should keep?

As far away as possible. Shrapnel or even bits of gravel around them can be propelled significant distances at high velocity!

  • At which depth are they usually buried?

There is no usual - some may be scattered from helicopter, some may be rolled onto the ground, some may have a covering applied, and some may be buried.

  • Any natural features where there is absolutely no point to place mines (e.g. scree)?

See my above point about being dropped from helicopter - you may find ones in scree so don't assume any area is safe.


Bottom line: You can't really ensure your safety while hiking inside or near old mine fields. Such areas are best avoided if you value your legs... and what's attached to them.

Old mines can be triggered by a variety of circumstances. They might have been designed for a specific weight trigger, but after decades of decay, you can't reasonably expect any mine to be operating within design specifications (and they often don't operate within specs even when they are brand new).

Sometimes growing roots or shifting/tumbling rocks can even trigger them. Expansion/contraction of land substrates due to changing temperatures can also result in mine detonations.

Any area with undetonated mines can also have tripwires that are attached to explosives.

Furthermore, warzones are often contaminated with a wide range of environmental toxins. Quite a few explosives contain toxins, and others are powerful enough to release contaminants from various natural materials. If depleted uranium shells or armours were used during a conflict, radiation may also be present. Undocumented remnants from chemical warfare may also be present.

Every year, many people sadly continue to die from wars that ended decades ago. If possible, avoid exploring such areas.


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