Outdoor Safety and Survival 29 Mar 2017

It’s almost summer again and lots of city folks who visualize themselves as Davy (or “Danielle”) Crockett are heading into the mountains and forests for vacations with little or no outdoor skills or experience.

Not many years ago, most people lived and worked outdoors. Now we live in cozy climate-controlled cocoons, some on wheels. Vehicles come with built-in GPS systems and radios that call a central monitoring station in an emergency. Nice, but this technology, combined with inexperience and lack of outdoor knowledge, has created a deadly, false sense of security for many people.

Here are ten basic hiking tips based on my 40 years of teaching wilderness survival to military and civilian students and pilots.

  1. ALWAYS leave a travel plan with someone in authority (a Park or Forest Ranger) and someone who cares &8211; preferably a loved one. Then NEVER deviate from the plan without notifying your backup people.
  2. DON’T hike alone. Take at least two people with you &8211; one to administer first aid, and the other to go for help.
  3. When hiking, turn around frequently and look behind you. Things will look different on your way back. If you become entirely lost, stop and establish a campsite. You’ll be closer at that moment to your planned route of travel than if you continue to wander all over creation trying to find your way back.
  4. Carry as a bare minimum a knife, whistle, matches, and flashlight. The whistle will yell “help!” long after laryngitis reduces your voice to a whispery squeak. Three whistle blasts, repeated at intervals, is an international distress signal. NEVER use the whistle except in an emergency. Matches can start a warm fire or produce a signal. If you don’t know why you ought to have a knife and flashlight, you should probably stay home.
  5. Take a charged cell phone, but don’t rely on it entirely. In remote areas you may be too far from an antenna tower to get a signal.
  6. Carry a compass and/or GPS unit with extra batteries. Carry and know how to use a topographic map of the area.
  7. CARRY PLENTY OF WATER, a water filter and/or iodine water purification tablets or crystals. Water from streams, lakes, and even springs, is often contaminated with disease organisms that will make you miserably sick.
  8. Wear boots or hiking shoes that cover your feet and ankles. Sandals, flip-flops, shorts, and bare midriffs mark you as a greenhorn, and are an invitation to mosquitoes and worse. Also, you can’t roll shorts down and lengthen a short shirt or blouse if a sudden cold storm catches you. Carry extra clothing, including rain gear.
  9. Carry a small survival and first aid kit which includes insect and tick repellent.
  10. Know and abide by your personal skill and physical limits. A heart attack or fall from a cliff is no picnic in the wilderness!

SURVIVAL IS AN ATTITUDE! It is the ability to remain calm when everything dictates panic. I once read an office sign saying, “If you can keep your head when everyone around you is losing theirs, you obviously don’t understand the situation.” That may seem funny, but it’s utter nonsense in emergencies. Keep your emotions under control. You are of no use to anyone if you’re running around screaming in panic.

As a National Park Service Ranger and a Mountain Rescue specialist with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, I spent far too much time looking for people in trouble in the woods because they were inexperienced and/or didn’t use common sense. Some folks we found were safe and all was well. Others we brought out in body bags.

Be safe in the fields and forests this season. Use your head. Be a survivor.

Dr. Risk is a professor emeritus in the College of Forestry and Agriculture at Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, Texas. Content © Paul H. Risk, Ph.D. All rights reserved, except where otherwise noted. Click paulrisk2@gmail.com to send questions, comments, or request permission for use.