Not many years ago, most people lived and worked outdoors and were prepared for its dangers, discomforts and challenges. Nowadays, we live in cozy climate controlled cocoons, some on wheels. Vehicles now come with built-in radio and GPS systems that call a central monitor in case of an accident or attack. Home alarm systems dial emergency responders if an emergency occurs. Some make the call wirelessly so burglars can’t simply cut your phone line and leave you helpless. You can even wear a necklace pendant that will notify medical personnel with a push of a button.
These are wonderful gadgets and can be life saving. But, this technology combined with inexperience and lack of outdoor knowledge has produced a dangerously ignorant and helpless populace.
Summer comes with special hazards. First, many families travel away from their familiar surroundings. Second, heat can kill, especially in desert areas. Third, grossly inexperienced people – let’s call ‘em “flatlanders” – often hike in potentially dangerous mountain areas.
Here are some basic hiking tips based on my 30 years of teaching wilderness survival to military and civilian groups.
Last but most important: SURVIVAL IS AN ATTITUDE! It is the ability to remain calm when everything dictates panic. A sign I once saw read, “If you can keep your head when everyone around you is losing theirs, you obviously don’t understand the situation.” That’s humorous but it’s utter nonsense in emergencies. Panic responses are learned. Keep your emotions under control. You are of no use to anyone when you’re running around screaming.
Remember, it doesn’t take much to turn a recreational outing into a disaster. A sprained ankle, insect sting, snakebite or a fall can stop you in your tracks waiting for help to arrive.
Common sense and preparation go a long way in the outdoors but they are too often in short supply. As a National Park Ranger and a Mountain Rescue specialist with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, I spent far too many hours looking for people who didn’t use it. Some folks we found and all was well. Others we brought out in body bags.
Be safe this summer. 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 firstname.lastname@example.org to send questions, comments, or request permission for use.