Taking Care of Yourself On the Trail (or Giving Your Loved Ones Peace of Mind)

NPR posted an article about hikers leaving the trailhead utterly unprepared. If things go south, could you take care of things? Would you need help, or could you deal with problems on your own?

I am seeing this more and more frequently: one or two people, heading up the trail, with a tiny pack, carrying only what they’d need for a long walk in the county park. It’s okay if you don’t carry high end backpacking gear. But you absolutely have to be prepared to spend an uncomfortable night in the woods.

The NPR article also assumes that a hiker can use a cell phone from the trail. That’s not always the case out here in the West. For example, if you start a hike off of I-90, you can easily climb a ridge and then descend to the other side, to eat your lunch by a lake. But at that point, you’ll most likely be out of cell range. Consider a personal locator beacon, such as the SPOT. This is used when a person is in danger…broken leg, completely lost, hypothermia, etc….after a person has exhausted other options. But try your cellphone first.

Besides communication (consider it the 11th essential), make sure you have the 10 essentials. I am *more* than happy to consult on these…the last thing I want is my friends to get into trouble in the backcountry!

Here are some inexpensive ways to fill out your Ten Essentials kit. Once you get them, just leave them in your pack (well, except for the food and water).

  1. Navigation (map and compass…bringing a GPS app is fine too, and you won’t need cell signal, but have the map and compass as backup)
    1. Maps: Get them for free at Caltopo.
    2. Compass and loud whistle: Coghlans Four Function Whistle is very simple, but it will get the job done. $4
    3. Also ***make sure*** you leave your hiking plans with a friend or loved one
  2. Sun protection (sunglasses and sunscreen)
  3. Insulation (extra clothing, AND a warm hat, AND a raincoat…this is the Northwest)
  4. Illumination (headlamp/flashlight AND extra batteries)
    1. Headlamp, if you don’t already have one: Energizer Headlamp $15
    2. Batteries: Carry one extra set, in a ziploc bag.
  5. First-aid supplies (that you know how to use)
    1. This Lifeline model is a good one. I’d only add a small bag of Benadryl, in case of sudden allergic reaction. If you’ve got this stuff at home, just put it in a ziploc bag and you’re good. $10
  6. Fire (Lighter AND stormproof matches AND a firestarter)
    1. Lighter: Grab a Mini bic at the grocery store checkout stand, for a couple of bucks
    2. Stormproof matches: This Stormproof Match Kit comes in a case and last forever. $9
    3. Firestarter: Murphy’s Law says it will be raining. Use InstaFire to get the fire going. $8
    4. ***Don’t forget to put it out…dead, cold out…when you leave.***
  7. Repair kit and tools (like a pocket knife)
  8. Nutrition (extra food)
  9. Hydration (extra water)
  10. Emergency shelter (this large size space blanket can fit two people) $8
  11. Communication
    1. For day/weekend hiking, the SPOT is fine. It’s on sale at Cabela’s now, for $90. Yes, it’s pricey, but it’s an insurance policy. If you hike once per month, that’s only $7.50 per month, plus the $20 monthly subscription fee…less than you’ll spend on gas and an after-hike meal.
    2. For better coverage, better communication with Search and Rescue, and lower overall cost (with a larger up front cost), I strongly recommend the Garmin inReach. This is my go-to when I’m doing long distance hikes. Search and Rescue prefers this device.
    3. Cellphone…try this first
    4. The compass/whistle above

Please be safe out there.

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