Words + Pictures by Bastien Perez
Below is my advice on how to avoid getting into a possibly scary or dangerous situation. I’ll sum it up with 10 helpful essentials. But the most important thing is to try and experience. Stay safe and have fun out there!
Printed topographic map
Maps are the safest in terms of navigation: They are not fragile, need no electricity, and provide both backup and the “big picture” about a region that cannot be replicated by written descriptions or a tiny screen. A 1:25000 is the best ration (1cm on the map = 250m on the terrain).
You have to teach yourself how to use a map. It would be smartest to do this before you leave for your next trip. Tutorials on YouTube are great for that.
Referring to a topographic map and knowing your elevation solves half of the navigation equation, day or night, clear skies or foggy. With just one more scrap of data – a trail, a stream, a ridge, or a bearing to a known peak – you can often determine where you are. Today’s altimeter is a cell phone app or specialty watch that can measure air pressure or use GPS satellite signals or a combination of the two.
Robust and easy to use, this essential tool allows you to orient the map and yourself in the surroundings. A compass with a baseplate is essential for taking, measuring, and following field bearings and matching them with the map. Many smartphones, GPS devices, and wristwatches also contain electronic compasses
Modern phones, combined with a reliable GPS app, match the best dedicated GPS units for accuracy and are easier to use. Devices often have extensive libraries of maps, many available for free; download the ones you need before your trip. Together with downloaded digital maps, phones can guide you in the wilderness far from any cell towers. The drawbacks? Phones are fragile and they need electricity. Bringing a fully charged external battery pack is an important precaution. Dedicated GPS devices are more rugged and weatherproof than phones, making them a good choice for extreme environments.
Also, it is important to log the coordinates of the trailhead before you go off on an adventure.
[PLB (personal locator beacon), satellite communicator, or satellite phone]
PLBs and satellite communicators determine your position using GPS and then send a message using government or commercial satellite networks. Satellite phones are reliable in the wilderness, but regular phones, which rely on proximity to cell towers, are not. Unless you are certain you will have a signal, assume that your phone will not function to make calls from the backcountry.
[Extra batteries or battery pack]
Sure, it is helpful to have all these fancy electronic device. But they become useless if the battery dies. Keep your devices charged!
Have on-trail navigation skills
Electronic GPS, paper map…train yourself before going on remote trails.
A headlamp instead of a flashlight gives you light and allows you to go “hands-free”. Don’t forget to bring extra batteries!
3. Sun protection
Many of us are crossing our fingers for sunny days when exploring. Though you must protect yourself against the sun and prevent sunburn and dehydration. Three tools for that: sunglasses – sun-protective clothes – sunscreen.
4. First-aid + ID/health insurance cards
A variety of good first-aid kits are available for purchase in dedicated stores or pharmacies. Like navigation, your first-aid kit is only as good as your ability to use it. Train yourself and consider taking a Wilderness First Aid class.
Don’t forget to bring your ID too. Foot care and insect repellent can be added to the first kit.
5. Knife + repair kit
Repair kit must haves are: A handful of zip ties, rope (extra laces), and a small roll of duct tape. You can also carry a Leatherman type of knife because it includes both a knife and a variety of small tools, but you can check out other lightweight options like a Swiss Army Knife or another type of small pocket knife.
It is important to have the ability to start a fire. You can keep a lighter pack, but you could also carry a small pack of waterproof matches. Be sure to check the lighter regularly, and store it in a dry sack.
Emergency shelter isn’t meant to be comfortable, it’s meant to be portable and packable. To provide enough protection to keep you safe in the event of an unexpected change of plans.
You can bring a blanket and keep it dry in a garbage bag. There are also a variety of emergency bivy sacks available in a lot of outdoor stores.
8. Extra food
The key is to have “real food”–mixing savory and sugary. You can typically bring a sandwich, some crackers/potato chips, and a piece of fruit.
In addition, you can bring a couple of extra bars/gels in the event that you are stuck out on the trail longer than expected. Don’t forget to think about trash management. Bring food that you’ll want to eat, and that will keep you fueled for the day.
9. Extra water
Try to have at least 2 liters capacity on you, for most of the time throughout the day. If you know that there will be good, reliable water sources, consider bringing purification means (ex. a filter or tablets) as a backup.
10. Extra clothes
Depending on the season, you can change this up a bit. For a summer hike, you can typically bring a raincoat and rain pants, as well as a lightweight down jacket. In addition, you should bring a warm hat and thin gloves. It can be chilly at the summit! During cooler months, you might bring a warmer jacket or an extra fleece. In case of an emergency, you should be able to survive the night with this kit. Extra tip: Keep your extra clothes in a waterproof or plastic bag to ensure they stay dry.
The most important point is to know your limits before you go hiking and ask yourself the questions below.
- What happens if I get lost?
- What happens if I have an accident?
- Know where you are and how to get GPS coordinates
- Know the rescue team number and rescue plan
- Be aware of your personal insurance coverage
- Plan your drive + always have more gas in your car than you need
But most of all… HAVE FUN OUT THERE!
There are many amazing trails out there to explore. Don’t let these trail safety tips make you nervous and prevent you from enjoying these trails. Running and hiking can bring a lot of joy. With the right safety precautions, we can limit our risks significantly but still push ourselves in the unknown.
Bastien spent his childhood wandering the mountains, skiing, climbing, biking and running. Not wanting to be confined by the rules of racing, he prefers meandering lesser-known routes and rowdy mountain human powered linkups as a way to stay connected to nature.