Safety Basics

trailsignDo you know what the leading cause of death is in the backcountry?  Keep reading to find out.

Your brain is your #1 survival tool!





          C.   CARRY A SURVIVAL KIT.


When faced with any situation out of the ordinary where you feel your safety and well being may be in jeopardy, use the S.T.O.P. approach.  Stop. Think. Observe. Plan.

Safety begins BEFORE you hit the trail. Part of this is in the preparation. You can be confident that your personal well-being will be protected by choosing hikes that are within your range of ability, doing some advance research on what the hike will entail, knowing about water sources on the trail, and making sure to carry plenty of water and other essential equipment. It’s also important to know some basic first aid and emergency procedures (more on that later).

Let’s start out with a few basic common sense pointers:

1.  Don’t hike alone.   But if you must, don’t appear to be alone while hiking. If you are hiking alone, and encounter an uncomfortable situation with other hikers on the trail, let them think you’re waiting for someone to catch up. Trust your instincts. If someone on the trail makes you feel uncomfortable, keep moving quickly. Don’t engage in trail conversations that reveal personal information about where you’re parked or where you’re going.

2. If you insist on hiking alone, don’t select a hike that may put you in a precarious position that will make you wish you had a hiking partner to send for help. Instead, pick a trail that you expect will have some traffic in an area where someone will be able to see or hear your signal for help.

3.  Always let someone know where you’re going and when you plan to return. Sign in at trailhead registers when they’re available.

4.  Don’t leave valuables in your car and don’t leave belongings unattended on the trail.

5. To avoid injuries, watch your footing at all times. Keep control of your pace on the downhills; going too fast can lead to your face being planted in the dirt.

6.  Always stay on developed and maintained trails unless you’re a very experienced hiker who is very proficient in back country navigation skills; it’s easier than you realize to get lost.  It also helps you support the ethics of “Leave No Trace.”

7.   Be aware that each hiking venue has its own safety issues, which can change dramatically in different seasons or under different weather conditions. For example, in the desert there are flash floods & lightening storms; in the mountains there is hypothermia or severe wind. Know what to expect in the area that you’re hiking, and be prepared for anything that might come up.

8.  Know and follow the rules in the particular area where you’re hiking.  It will always make your visit more enjoyable. It’s really a drag to get back to where you left your vehicle and find that it has been towed because it was illegally parked. (Especially when you were looking forward to one of those cold brews you left in the ice chest!)

9.  Check the weather forecast before hitting the trail. You don’t want to get caught up on the San Francisco Peaks in the middle of a lightning storm, or stuck on the wrong side of a raging flash flood which is tearing through that dry wash you crossed earlier.

10.  Always carry some emergency equipment with you (see Emergency Kit Contents). Hopefully you’ll never need to use it, but if you do end up needing it, not having it could make a big difference.

11.  Do not roll or throw rocks and other items from high places; other visitors may be walking below you, and you seldom see hikers wearing hard hats in the wilderness.

12.   Stay a safe distance away while observing animals.  Wildlife may appear to be tame, but may attack if threatened.

13.  Know symptoms of altitude sickness.  Some people are more affected by altitude than others. If you begin to feel light headed or queasy due to altitude, slow down and take frequent breaks, drink lots of water, and turn back. One can usually acclimate to a higher altitude within a day or 2.

14.  Conserve your energy. This is especially important on a long hike. You don’t want to get several miles out into the wilderness and find that you don’t have the stamina to get back.

15.  If you can talk while you are walking, you are walking the perfect speed. When you huff and puff, your body does not get enough oxygen to function efficiently. Your energy reserves get used up very quickly, and it creates a lot of waste products that make your legs feel heavy and may make you feel sick. Walking at a pace that allows you to be able to walk and talk will help guarantee that your legs and your body are getting the oxygen that they need to function efficiently. You will be better able to enjoy your hike, and you will feel much better when you reach its end. It may seem like you are walking too slow, but at an aerobic pace (sometimes baby sized steps when the trail is steep) your energy reserves will last many times longer, and you will reach your destination feeling well.

16. Don’t drink ground water. It can make you really sick. If you don’t want to carry as much water as you’ll need for the entire trip, then carry a filter or purifying tablets.

17.  While on the subject of water, you should know that dehydration is a serious condition that results from not drinking enough water while hiking. It cannot be emphasized enough to carry ample water with you when you hike. When your water is half gone, your hike is half over. It’s time to turn around. It’s always a good idea to leave some extra water in your vehicle to rehydrate when you get back in case you ran out of water on the trail.

18.  Watch and listen for rock falls and slides, especially during and after downpours. Do not stand around at places where rocks have obviously fallen there before.

19. If hiking near a stream and it is necessary to cross, follow these steps:

  • Wait for everyone in the group to arrive at the stream before making a determination to cross.
  • Avoid walking through a flowing stream on foot where water is above your ankles.
  • When walking through or on rocks or logs over a stream, loosen pack buckles so if you fall you can easily get away from your pack and it will not drag you under
  • Wait for everyone to cross before continuing (in case the last person needs assistance).
  • Use a stick or pole for stability

 If you said that trips and falls are the #1 cause of deaths in the backcountry, you’re right!  If you wish to avoid this, be sure to look at this article.

More/Optional Info:  Sometimes your route will take you to a place that requires some scrambling, which is best described as a cross between hiking and rock climbing.  It entails going up or down a relatively steep grade with the use of your hands.  Here are some great tips to ensure your safety when negotiating this type of terrain. 

WHAT GOES UP MUST COME DOWN.  Sometimes we get ourselves into a tricky spot.  If you find that you must get yourself out of such a situation, here is a technique that you may find very useful:  How to Downclimb



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