Every year we read or hear about hikers or hunters having to be rescued or even worse. You can bet that when these folk left home, the last thought on their mind was having to fight for their lives in a situation they just would not be prepared for.
Being prepared for an outdoor trip means more than taking along a first aid kit. Assuming the worst means you should be prepared to spend at least one night outdoors without shelter. Then, if your day trip turns sour, you are ready for the worst.
Typically, it is major trips and expeditions that are well planned with emphasis on survival. This is natural in some sense, as you are already planning to be outdoors for an extended period of time. It is the weekend warrior going for a Sunday afternoon hike, that can end up in the most trouble as in these situations, no thought is given to wilderness survival. After all, it is just a little afternoon hike, right? Wrong !
Now here are two assumptions people make: 1) “I have a cell phone and/or GPS – I will be ok.” Without cell coverage, or problems locating satellites, or even flat batteries, you may end up with no help at all. 2) “I am a couple of miles from a town and civilization.” You can get very lost in under two square miles and that is assuming you are not injured. Consider how long it will be before anyone even starts looking for you. Guaranteed it won’t be until dark!
Here is a simple and sensible checklist for a day outdoors, doing any activity:
* Know the terrain – This is especially important if you are in an area that that you are unfamiliar with. Understand how wet or dry it is. How steep or wooded. How many trails, and where the nearest human habitation is. Know the surrounding area too in case you find yourself wandering far off course. You can get all this information from readily available topographic maps.
* Know the climate and weather – This is critical. Weather changes account for some of the highest number of deaths in the outdoors. Some areas can have major weather changes in a matter of minutes, without warning. This can involve lightning storms, sudden snow storms or even rapid drops in temperature or simply rain. With the ubiquity of the web, local weather is easy to find.
* Correct dress – Following on climate, you should dress appropriately in layers. You should also pack in extra clothes to accommodate any sudden weather changes. Just as a little insurance. You can always shed clothing if it gets too hot, but you cannot add clothes you never packed. The reason for dressing in layers is that you can remove or add as conditions change. You also want to avoid sweating when the air temperature is cold as your inner layer becomes damp and will chill when you slow down. By dressing in layers you can avoid this.
* Tell someone – Tell someone where you are going and how long you will be. This sounds obvious, especially if you are going hiking near home, but is very important. If you leave and nobody is home, just leave a note or a message on your own answering machine. Try and leave a map if possible, but otherwise a description of where you will be. A search and rescue team armed with accurate coordinates will be able to find you quickly. The same team being told “he’s in the woods somewhere” may never find you!
* Survival Kit – Create a survival kit that is compact and can fit into your pack easily. Take it with you whenever you go out. Leave the items in the survival pack. That way, you just need to pick up and go, without having to worry whether it’s all in there.
Example Survival Pack: Band-aids, Bandage/tape, Pain Killer, Antiseptic Cream, Needle, Tweezers, Magnesium Fire Starter, Waterproof Matches, Pocket Knife – swiss army, Fixed blade knife, Mini Flashlight, Rope/cording, Duct Tape, Compass, Space blanket, Mirror, or old CD, Whistle, Flare (if you have room), Glow Sticks, Candy bar.
The items listed above should fit easily into a small tupperware or bag. This is just an example and you should tailor it for your own needs, terrain and time of year. With a survival pack of this kind, your odds of survival increase dramatically. Do not forget to take along some water, it may be tough to find some clean water under stress.
No matter what you take with you and how well you prepare, your brain is still your best defense. Take the time to study basic survival skills or take a course. Knowledge can keep you alive. The information included in this article is just the beginning of what you should know.
Be safe and enjoy the outdoors.