Hiking Preparedness – Are You Really Prepared For Your Next Hike?
Every day people are heading up local trails to hike and enjoy the natural beauty B.C. has to offer. Many people, experienced and novice a like, do not give much thought as to what they should bring, or how to properly prepare for a hike. It is human nature to think that nothing is going to happen; why? Because nothing has happened in the past, so why would it now? Another common mistake people make is their reliance on their cell phone to get them out of trouble and “save” them if anything should happen. In urban areas help is simply a 911 call away. Once that call is made a multitude of resources will come to your aid in a matter of minutes. The backcountry is another story because quite often there is no cell coverage. Even if you were fortunate enough to call for help, it will take time for help to reach you. Search and rescue must be called, there could be a delay in pin pointing your exact location and then there is the actual time it takes for help to physically reach you … this all comes into play. Being realistic in thinking that a call for help could be necessary will ensure that you take the necessary steps to leave for your hike prepared. It’s quite simple … you could possibly get lost, injured or suffer exposure to hyperthermia (Heat stroke, heat exhaustion or heat cramps) or hypothermia (Lowering of body’s core temperature).
There are some simple things you can do to prepare before your hike, so that in the event of a mishap, you will be ready to deal with the situation accordingly.
Trip planning – Know the hike you are going to do, difficulty level, expected time to complete, current road conditions, do you need a 4x4 to reach the trail head, and what parking is available? Weather forecast should also be included in this planning, especially if hiking to higher altitudes. Above the treeline weather can change dramatically, and suddenly, even on a hot summer day. I have personally witnessed the weather at 5000ft change from 30 degrees C to 10 degrees C in a matter of minutes with a wind chill temperature that was estimated at 0 degrees C. One minute I was wearing shorts and a t-shirt and the next I was wearing my mountain parka, a toque, a pair of gloves and zipping the legs back onto my hiking pants.
Trip notification - should be left with a responsible person with details that include: Trail name, parking location, number of persons in your party, time of departure, expected time of return and SAR (Search and Rescue) time – time search and rescue should be notified. Ensure you notify your contact person when you return safely to your vehicle.
Conditioning – Ensure you are physically fit to complete the hike. If it is your first hike of the year, perhaps plan a shorter hike until your body has adapted to the new activity. Also be aware that conditioning in a gym, although excellent for health and fitness, does not replace the actual activity you are doing. A marathon runner does not swim to train for a run; just as a hiker should not train on an elliptical to hike. All non-hiking conditioning will be beneficial. My advice is to take shorter hikes until your muscles get used to the new activity before planning longer more strenuous hikes.
Footwear – Wearing the proper foot wear is something that is often under appreciated. Your choice of footwear should be appropriate for the type of hike you are going on. Wearing running shoes may be appropriate for a relatively flat hard compact trail, whereas hiking on snow covered slopes running shoes would be completely inappropriate. Any time you are hiking in the alpine, above the treeline, you should have a sturdy pair of well fitted hiking boots. You may have to cross snowfields and will need the extra support and stiff soles to kick steps to maintain your footing, at the same time reducing foot fatigue. Also in areas where there is talus, the sharp edges of the rocks may easily cause a foot injury. I have actually seen people hiking in flip-flops.
There are 10 essentials that should be taken on every hike – these items should be carried on every hike, no matter how short. I will list the top 5:
Water – Ensure you have enough clean drinking water for the duration of your hike; or ensure that you can top-up with water that will be safe to drink.
Extra Food – Emergency food should be carried on every hike in the event of delays in returning, injury, becoming lost, etc. This would be food items in addition to your lunch/dinner, for example, energy/protein bars are often a good choice.
Shelter – A simple lightweight shelter should be carried in the event you must spend the night outdoors. If you decide to take a late afternoon hike and become injured, Search and Rescue may not reach you until morning. You must be prepared with a simple lightweight shelter to maintain body warmth and protect yourself from the elements.
Flashlight or headlamp with extra batteries – You never know if you will be caught out after dark so a reliable light source is essential. The new LED lights last a long time but I would still recommend a spare set of batteries just in case.
Whistle – Everyone should carry a whistle on every hike. If you need to signal for help, or even another member of your hiking party, a whistle will be heard much farther and will use less energy than your voice.
Additional items that should be carried include: Sunscreen, insect repellent, sunglasses, hat (wool toque in winter/ sun hat in summer) and hiking poles.
Hiking can be an exhilarating activity because you are outside surrounded by nature, away from the noise and pollution of our urban environments. When you hike prepared, you will not only enjoy your trip more, in the event of a mishap, you will be prepared to deal with it and return home safely.
Trip notification Plan: Can be e-mailed to a responsible person.
Hiking web site with detailed trail descriptions, maps, photos, current trail conditions and a user message board.