Planning on heading out on a hike? Great!
Just one thing I’d like you to do first. Look in the mirror. You are looking at the person responsible for your own safety. Got it? Good.
Any good Girl Scout knows that the hike starts before leaving the house. Whether it’s a quick trail run, bagging one of the local peaks or a multi-day backpacking trip, preparation is the key to having a safe and fun time in the wilderness.
Here’s what you should have before stepping onto the trail:
Common sense — Most often, it’s not a person’s equipment that saves their bacon. It’s their experience and good judgment in the use of their equipment and training. Having the right gear is one thing, knowing how and when to use it is quite another. Get the training and information you need before you go.
Wilderness first aid training — That moldy prepackaged first aid kit from REI stuffed in a crevice in the bottom of your pack won’t magically ward off bad luck. Carry the basics and know what you have; then make sure you know how to use everything you carry.
If you’re going to routinely be doing anything more than casual strolls, it’s very a good idea to take a wilderness first aid course. (Check out wildernessoutings.com right here in Idyllwild).
Map and navigation experience — Always bring a map of the region. Even if you don’t need it for yourself, you can use it to point lost PCTers in the right direction Make sure you know how to read and orient the map. At the very least pick up a map from the local ranger station to familiarize yourself with the route you’re taking.
Pre-pack your backpack with the ten essentials — If it’s already packed, you can’t forget it! I know you’ve heard it over and over, but it bears repeating. Say it with me now: Map and compass, sun protection, extra food, extra water, extra clothes, light source, first aid kit, fire starter, knife.
Overnight options — Contrary to what you see on TV, rescues usually take multiple hours to coordinate, even when one is lucky enough to have a helicopter available. If you’re injured, you might be stuck in one place for a long time through nasty weather extremes. Bring the bare minimum for staying safely (if uncomfortably) overnight in the wilderness. The right gear can make the difference between a merely unpleasant night and a deadly one.
A hiking partner — A cell phone does not replace a hiking partner. Hiking into the back country alone, especially in winter, can be dangerous. Batteries can go out, certain areas do not get reception, and you may drop, damage or lose your phone. Keep a list of your favorite bitious hikes.
Personal necessities — Rely on a medication prescription? Throw a few extra pills in a Ziplock baggie in your daypack. Wear contacts? Make sure and bring extra contacts and a set of glasses. I’ve had contacts tear and glasses break. Trust me, it’s not fun trying to make your way down the mountain while only seeing a vague blur of the trail ahead of you.
Know the conditions and bring the right gear — Check in with the weather reports, other hikers and the ranger station. The front desk of the U.S. Forest Service ranger station usually has the scoop on the most recent trail reports from your friendly Forest Service Volunteer Association wilderness rangers and equestrians.
Know when to turn back — The peak will not wash away in a rain storm, but you might not fare so well. There’s nothing more risky than continuing in conditions for which you’re not prepared, even if it doesn’t seem “that bad” at the time. Set realistic goals, for example a five-hour round trip to San Jacinto Peak from Humber Park is not likely.
Let someone know before you go — No one will know you’re missing if they don’t know you ever left. Even for trail runs, I always text a friend what trailhead I’m heading up and my approximate ETA. A twisted ankle doesn’t have to turn into a night alone in the wilderness.
Remember, others may come out to help you save your bacon, but ultimately, you are the one responsible for your own safety. Have a safe and fun time in the wilderness!