Imagine yourself on the trail with a group of friends. You are 7 miles into the wilderness, and you have no cell phone reception. Do you know how to react if someone has an allergic reaction to a bee sting or falls and hits their head? What if storm clouds roll in despite the perfect weather forecast? (Queue lightning in the distance.)
Mother Nature is inherently unpredictable, and as soon as we step foot on trail, we put ourselves at risk. Once you’ve caught the outdoor bug, and casual hikes turn into full-day peak bagging hikes and overnight backpacking trips, the most important skill you can learn is prevention. Here are some helpful tips I’ve learned from my experience as a backcountry guide to get wilderness ready.
Before Your Hike
- Get Practice: The goal is to prevent wilderness emergencies before they happen, but when you have a real life threat, you need a plan. We recommend taking a Wilderness First Aid Course to practice lifesaving skills in fake scenarios.
- Set Expectations: Whether your hike is easy or challenging, ensure that everyone in your group knows what to expect, including mileage, climb in elevation, trail condition and weather forecast. Buy a topo map and print trail directions. Don’t rely on your cell phone, which has a battery life. If the trip will be challenging, you may want to plan some shorter conditioning hikes to get in shape.
- Fuel Up: Just like any athlete, begin hydrating and fueling your body the day before your hike.
- Check Your List: The night before your hike, go down your packing list and check it twice. Always carry the 10 Essentials to avoid ending up in a freak hail storm without rain gear or running out of water on a river hike during a heat wave. (I learned both lessons the hard way.) Bring an extra layer to prepare for unexpected changes in weather and trekking poles to navigate steep or uneven terrain. If you hike solo or often, you can bring an inReach or SPOTdevice to send an SOS message in case of emergency. Make sure your phone and devices are fully charged.
- Get to bed early!
During Your Hike
- Have A Plan: At the trailhead, take a couple minutes to review the route with your group on your topo map in case you get separated. This is a good time to check-in with everyone about water, provisions and gear and to review Leave No Trace principles.
- Assign Roles: Before you begin, assign a leader and a sweep to keep everyone together. It can be helpful to give each leader a walkie talkie to communicate if the group gets too spread out. If an individual is struggling to keep up, allow them to set the pace. Switching things up can be very motivating with a supportive group. No one likes to feel left in the dust!
- Stay Fueled: Maintain hydration and electrolytes throughout the day. Expect to drink more water on a hot day or at high elevation. We say “cheers” in my hiking group to encourage everyone to drink up. Wear sun protection, and take breaks as needed.
- Be Aware: Be aware of your surroundings, and check-in with each other. If a member of your group is not feeling well or storm clouds begin to roll in, even if you’re only a mile from the summit, you must make a difficult decision: go forward or turn back? Just remember, the summit will still be there next weekend.
Join Shoestring Adventures November 3-5 in Los Angeles to learn Wilderness First Aid at historic Sturtevant Camp! Ticket includes 3-year certification, gourmet camp meals, charming cabin accommodations, zip-lining, and more. No prior experience required. Please find more information here. Use the code HIPCAMP and receive $50 off your ticket!
Alyx Schwarz is the founder of Shoestring Adventures, offering guided weekend activities for anyone who wants to experience this outdoors. Follow Shoestring Adventures on Instagram or at www.shoestringadventures.com.