The hiking you go out and do can be so healthy, rewarding and exciting, but returning safely is essential to experiencing those benefits. Being fully prepared will make that a reality, and planning your hike start to finish is an easy step that you must do in order to return from your adventure happy and healthy.
Hiking and wilderness safety go hand in hand for obvious reasons. In this article I will cover some of the do’s and don’ts of hiking in remote areas. Things like necessary provisions, knowing your surroundings, correct behavior for wildlife encounters, and more.
Going out into nature and experiencing all it’s splendor is a joyous undertaking, one that provides you with so much beauty and amazement. Being ready will ensure that you have the confidence and desire to explore your chosen outdoor world.
What to bring with you.
Apart from the obvious attire, like clothing and a good pair of boots, there are several other items that could prove vital if needed. Items to consider should be relevant to the environment you’ll be trekking through and how long you plan to spend out there. Anything under an hour and within a few kilometers from society may warrant only a few provisions.
Remember to use your best judgment when your location becomes more remote, because the further out you go the more you should take with you to be prepared. How long you intend to spend on a hike may also determine what you’ll need, but for all intents and purposes let’s cover what you should have for day hikes.
In the 1930s a Seattle based group called The Mountaineers, an organization for outdoor adventurers and climbers, came up with the original list of the ten essentials for people venturing into the wild to be prepared for emergency situations. With the help of technology much of those items have improved dramatically. Here are the ten essentials updated.
1. Extra Clothes: Primarily warmer clothing that protects against inclement weather: wool socks, a sweater and touque, rain pants and a water proof jacket.
2. Extra Water: Minimum daily requirement is one litre. Bringing 2, 3, or even 4 liters could be enough depending on your fitness level and outdoor temperatures. Water weights 2.2 pounds a litre, so keep that in mind.
3. Extra Food: Be sure to have foods containing lots of protein such as jerky, trail mix, and protein bars, 100 grams of protein should suffice.
4. Shelter: Always carry either a bivy sac, small tarp, or a survival blanket. These items are small, lightweight, and provide vital protection from the elements.
5. First Aid: Kits are inexpensive and come in smaller packs. You should also consider bug repellent and ointments.
6. Sunscreen: Lotion, sun glasses, and long sleeves and pants.
7. Knife: There are many handy multi-tool devices that include a knife.
8. Fire: Dry matches, lighter such as a zippo, and or a stove.
9. Flashlight: This could also be a head lamp.
10. Navigation: A smart phone has GPS, compass, and maps for when your in service areas, but you should carry these items in addition to your phone. Make sure your devices are fully charged prior to heading out.
Where are you going?
Venturing out into the wilderness does bring with it some inherent risks. After all, thousands of people get lost in the wild every year after heading into the unknown unprepared. Let’s discuss some of the ways you can mitigate getting lost in the bush.
First and foremost plan your route. Do some research on the area you will be entering, especially if it’s your first time there. Whether your going alone or in a group, let others know where you’ll be and when you plan on returning. Make sure your devices are up to date and fully charged.
Ensuring you have the essentials makes for a safer outing. Remember, it’s better to have and not need than need and not have.
Who you may encounter.
In the wild around the world there are many thousands of animals that may pose a threat to your life. Your best bet is knowing what wildlife exists in the area you plan to explore, and what to do if you were to encounter them. Most are relatively harmless, but many are worthy of avoiding all together.
It would take days to go over all the most dangerous animals to avoid in the wild across the globe, so for the sake of time let’s cover some of the ones closest to home here in beautiful British Columbia.
1. Wolves: The largest of the wolves are gray wolves, whom can weigh up to 40 kilograms and gather to hunt in packs of 40. Human interaction is rare, with only 2 fatalities since 2000. To avoid conflict with wolves: 1) Raise arms and wave in the air, making yourself look bigger. 2) Make as much noise as possible by yelling, and throw objects. 3) Don’t turn your back, and back away slowly 4) Maintain eye contact.
2. Coyotes: They are much smaller than wolves and much more common. As a result, there have been more fatal attacks, mostly with children. Generally they will avoid people. But, in the event of an encounter: 1) Back away slowly and carefully. 2) Throw clumps of dirt or sticks. 3) Be loud and bold. 4) Avoid harming them as that could provoke an attack. 5) Never run from a coyote.
3. Snakes: There is only one truly venomous snake in British Columbia to be cautious of, The Northern Pacific Rattlesnake, which has dark blotches surrounded by lighter coloured circles that runs down its back, followed of course by the rattle. They are most active in the early morning in spring and summer, and can only bite from a coiled position. The best things to do if you encounter one: 1) Freeze, stop all movement. 2) Locate its position. 3) Move away slowly.
4. Mountain Lion: Also known as a cougar or puma, is more closely related to the domestic cat than a lion. They can grow to over 100 kilograms and run as fast as 75 kph. Cougars do not see humans as prey and do avoid us as a rule. However, there have been nearly 30 fatal attacks in the last 30 years, mostly on Vancouver Island and California. If conflict occurs: 1) Make eye contact while shouting. 2) Stand your ground, make yourself look big. 3) Fight back hard if attacked, using weapons if possible.
5. Bears: In British Columbia black bears and brown bears are known to be highly dangerous. The brown bear, also known as the grizzly bear, can weigh as much as 460 kilograms and stand 3 meters tall. Attacks are less frequent, but can generally be more serious than black bear attacks. There are many more black bears than grizzlys, and they live closer to populated areas, therefore attacks are much more common. As with most dangerous encounters with bears: 1) Never run. 2) Avoid eye contact, and back away slowly. If attack is imminent, play dead and protect your head and neck. Always carry bear spray as well for close range, as it is proven to be up to 92% effective, compared to only 62% with a gun. Bear bangers are also effective, work well as a deterant, and should be shot into the air.
Other dangerous situations.
The bottom line is that when venturing into nature, there are many factors that you must consider to stay safe. Knowing what may lie ahead can help, but don’t let danger scare you from enjoying a good hike. The fact is, severe injury or death is very uncommon when hiking. One reason is that very few people go alone. Being prepared is not difficult. It’s as easy as checking the weather, prepping your backpack, and tying your boots.
That being said, not all injuries can be avoided. However, knowing what to do if you or someone else becomes hurt is vital. Taking a first aid course is a good way to prepare yourself for an unfortunate accident in the wild.
The end of the trail
Hiking through the wilderness is certainly a fulfilling experience that can be enjoyed by everyone. Taking the family or a friend will make it a much more enjoyable adventure.
So put your best boots on and find your path!