A few days ago, I found myself talking trail with a very nice lady when the subject turned to hiking safety. I have to admit that she brought up a few legitimate concerns that I hadn’t thought of. I’ve always considered myself as safe or safer in the backcountry as I would be in any major city or on any highway in the US. That train of thought is statistically correct but does have it’s flaws. Contrary to popular reality TV programs, danger is not lurking around every corner in the wilds. If something does happen though, you’re a long way from help and often not able to call for it. Being prepared to handle whatever problems may arise yourself until you are able to find help is a necessity. Self reliance, freedom and adventure are after all a big part of the outdoor experience. Mother Nature is a beautiful but heartless mistress and is totally indifferent to your well being. Getting home in one piece is up to you. Here are a few tips I’ve picked up along the trail:
Stay Alert – It’s easy to get caught up in the grandeur of the great outdoors but don’t get so distracted that you loose situational awareness. The best way to stay out of trouble is to recognize it and avoid it.
- Watch where you’re stepping
- Wildlife is fun to watch but keep your distance
- Keep a lookout for dead trees and widow makers
- Trust your Spidey Sense
Have a plan – Put some research into your pre-trip planning. Especially on multi-day trips. Plans often change but at least you have a good starting point.
- Have a good idea of how tough the trail will be
- Know where you will obtain water and how much you need to carry
- Have a general idea of where you will camp for the night
- Check weather forecasts and other relevant websites for alerts
Share Your Plan – Let a responsible friend or friends know where you’re going and what to do if you don’t come back by a certain date.
- Give this person copies of your maps and other planning materials
- Leave clear instructions on who to call if you don’t come back
- Save the social media posts for your return. Posting trip plans could potentially let the criminal element know (a) you’re alone in the woods and (b) your home is left unattended
Come Prepared – There are many items that can make your backcountry experience more enjoyable but I consider these necessities any time I’m more than a few miles from town and in the woods.
- Flashlight or headlamp with extra batteries
- Signaling device such as a whistle. Remember 3 blasts from anything is a recognized distress signal
- Map and compass or GPS
- Plenty of water and preferably also some way to purify water
- Fire kit
- Small first aid kit
Hone Your Skills – All the gear in the world won’t do you any good if you don’t know how to use it. It’s also a good idea to make sure everything works before your relying on it.
- Learn which plants, insects and animals to avoid
- Practice setting up your tent at home instead of waiting until you need it
- Learn to safely start a camp fire without starting a forest fire
- Practice orienteering and/or using your GPS
- Prepare a few meals at home using your backpacking kit
- Don’t go alone until you’re confident with your abilities
Hunting Season – Be extra careful around hunting season. I’m an avid hunter as are many of my friends. The vast majority of seasoned hunters are the most respectful, conservation minded, knowledgeable outdoorsman you will ever meet. Texas is a large place though with very little public land. Those not willing or able to foot the bill to hunt private land are all crammed into a few national forests for a few months of the year. Some are great hunters and some are real Yahoo’s.
- Wear brightly colored clothing
- Avoid trails at dawn and dusk
- Only camp at designated sites
Don’t Over Do It – This is supposed to be fun, remember? Take your time and relax.
- Exhaustion lessens your ability to think clearly and can lead to making poor decisions
- Pushing yourself too hard can lead to injury