Wilderness Safety and the Simplest Ways to be Prepared

Wilderness Safety and the Simplest Ways to be Prepared

Page Type Page Type: Article
Activities Activities: Hiking

A Lack of Safety

I would hope that most everyone knows of the basic "rules" of safety when exploring the outdoors - gather knowledge about where you plan to be and be prepared! Perhaps you pack a couple band-aids, throw in an antiseptic wipe, maybe bring some ibuprofen or acetaminophen for that unexpected muscle pain or headache. Then you find information about the weather, read up on local wildlife and plan ahead for that unforcastable mishap. Whether you're a rock climber, hiker, backpacker or serious mountaineer certain supplies will almost always become a necessity, especially in those critical situations. Even the less critical situtions, for instance, when you or your buddy get a small cut or lets say get stung by a bee (and you just so happen to be allergic to bee stings), require attention and can only be addressed if proper planning and preparations have been made... Regardless of your activity or the amount of time you typically spend in the wilderness, whether it be a day long hike or a week long backpacking trip, there are some supplies that are absolutely essential to ensuring your safety.
Joshua Tree WildernessJoshua Tree Wilderness

Now I do a lot of hiking and backpacking but am most certainly not an expert by any means in any outdoor field. I'm not a medical expert and am far from being a survivalist - sure, I have that survival guide and I've seen the books that explain which fungi not to eat and so forth, but who hasn't? However, as a pilot, safety is a top priority for me. I'm sure some will argue against my qualifications on writing an article about the importance of being prepared and "the kits" which provide us with some sense of well-being. Effectively, these kits asure we'll be primitively "safe" while traveling outdoors. Well, I simply want to bring attention to the fact that safety should be a top priority when traveling into the wilderness. I've met too many people on the rugged wilderness trails in Joshua Tree National Park who don't carry emergency supplies or even enough water for that matter. Joshua Tree is an arid and desolate place far from civilization when you're out on the trails. For those of you who frequent the Mountains of Southern California, how long will it be before the next Riverside Mountain Rescue Unit (RMRU)report detailing the "unpreparedness" of a lost hiker or a climber found injured? Unfortunately, it wont be long... Though these experiences only sample a small portion of the country (Southern California), I feel confident in stating it may be representative of the wilderness experiences of some throughout the entire country.

For those of you interested in reading RMRU rescue reports, visit their website HERE.

I have a friend who offers the excuse of "traveling light" when he makes the decision to disregard safety before traveling a trail or climbing local Mt. San Jacinto. He refuses to pack basic medical supplies and never checks weather conditions. I often wonder if he even knows what a pocket knife is. I find it rediculous that anyone would walk into the wilderness, especially in the western states, and not gather as much information as possible and prepare for a possible downturn in events. My friend...he often hikes alone. What would happen if he were to fall and break his ankle? Cell phones don't always work so don't count on them as a safety measure. And come on, how much does a band-aid and some antiseptic weigh..? The added weight would be negligible. Thousands of outdoor enthusiasts take to the trails each year to find that perfect rock to climb, that trail offering the grandest view or the best place to pitch a tent. Yet far too many, I fear, find themselves without proper medical supplies or emergency equipment.

To clear up any confusion, I'm not talking about equipment in the sense that it is necessary for safeties sake to rope up while climbing a snowy pass on a steep mountain or bring crampons for those icy conditions. Simply, I'm trying to generate discussion about the importance of basic medical supplies and certain safety precautions by way of ensuring safety in the most primitive sense - being knowledgable and mindful and being prepared. We're human beings, thats simple fact. No one individual can escape the fact that all too often we get burned, cut, scrapped and blistered - and in the most serious cases, fractured, sprained and wounded. And yes, we even get lost though most will never admit to it. So what happens when we fall and sprain our ankle, cut open our leg or get lost? Why do we continue to disregard safety for the sake of saving some prep-time or carrying a lighter pack? It seems ridiculous to think so but I've met many people who either don't care about their safety and the safety of those traveling with them or they simply do not have the respect for the brutality of nature that it so desperately deserves. I recall leaning in flight school about "macho" or invulnerable attitudes. That attitude being, "it will never happen to me." Unfortunately for these people, bad things happen to everyone.

Perhaps I'm wrong. It's entirely possible that I've run into the few and befriended those who choose to, for whatever reason, disregard safety. How often has this happened to you? Have you ever seen or met someone who is completely unprepared to take on a trail, climb a rock or venture into the wilderness?

On top of not being adequately prepared, I've also met up with people who have no knowledge about the area they're in...no map, no knowledge of local wildlife dangers or nearby water sources. Two summers ago while hiking on the Appalachian Trail in Shenandoah National Park two hikers approached me and asked for water. They had been out for only one night but ran out of water and were not sure where the next spout along the trail was. The temperature was soaring and both hikers looked tired and worn out. I doubt if they even carried a purifier/filter or water tablets. Perhaps its lack of preparation, perhaps its ignorance but I've seen too many people out and about who aren't prepared and have no means of safety precautions if something unfortunate were to happen. If those two hikers in Shenandoah had a trail map or had visited the Appalachian Trail website for a list of water locations they would have known the closest water spout was only half a mile down the trail in the opposite direction.
A Water Spout on the Appalachian TrailA water spout on the Appalachian Trail

Safety is essential. Basic medical kits and survival kits are a must when traveling, adventuring or exploring the outdoors. Yes, some like to keep it to a minimum, some say it's possible to be overprepared. I disagree. So the next time your buddy takes a spill and cuts open his chin and you have no basic medical supplies or the next time an unexpected thunderstorm rolls in while your 10,000 feet up and you don't know how to best shelter yourself for the duration of the storm, you'll think twice about taking safety precautions. Now I absolutely do not know everything there is to know about survival and safety in the outdoors, not by a long shot. However, I do try and read as much as I can. I receive Backpacker Magazine once a month and frequently pick up my survival guides as well as read the endless information on the outdoor forums all over the internet. So, be prepared! Be knowledgable about where you are going to be and carry the items essential for your basic safety.

The information and opinions provided bellow are most likely general knowledge for those of us who do carry safety kits or small essentials but it never hurts to reiterate a point...

A Basic Medical Kit - Essential to Safety

Three years ago I went out to the store and bought an Adventure Medical Kits "Mountain Weekender Kit" and haven't regretted it since. I've used it on blisters, a sprained wrist and minor cuts and scrapes. The kit is small, its light, but it packs a pretty serious punch in terms of delivering the safety I need while hiking and backpacking. The follow is a list of supplies included in the kit and the specs provided by the Adventure Medical Kits website HERE.


"Built with weekend adventurers in mind, this kit includes a variety of medical essentials in an affordable, organized package. Perfect for small groups going on short adventures."
Wilderness Medical KitsMountain Weekender Kit

Weight: 1lb 10 oz
Size: 8.5" x 7" x 4"


Bandage Materials
5 Bandage, Adhesive, Fabric, 1" x 3"
5 Bandage, Adhesive, Fabric, Knuckle
2 Bandage, Conforming Gauze, Non-Sterile, 3"
2 Dressing, Gauze, Sterile, 2" x 2", Pkg./2
2 Dressing, Gauze, Sterile, 4" x 4", Pkg./2
2 Dressing, Non-Adherent, Sterile, 3" x 4"

1 Gloves, Nitrile (Pair), One Hand Wipe, in baggie
1 Instructions, Easy Care Bleeding
1 Trauma Pad, 5" x 9"

Blister / Burn
1 GlacierGel (Large Oval)
11 Moleskin, Pre-Cut & Shaped

1 CPR Face Shield, Laerdal

Duct Tape
1 Duct Tape, 2" x 5 Yards

Fracture / Sprain
1 Bandage, Elastic with Velcro, 3"
1 Bandage, Triangular
1 Instructions, Easy Care Fractures / Sprains

1 EMT Shears, 4"
1 Pencil
3 Safety Pins
1 Splinter Picker/Tick Remover Forceps
3 Thermometer, Disposable

Medical Information
1 Comp. Guide to Wilderness & Travel Medicine
1 Patient Assessment Form

2 Acetaminophen (500 mg), Pkg./2
2 Antihistamine (Diphenhydramine 25 mg)
1 Aspirin (325 mg), Pkg./2
2 Ibuprofen (200 mg), Pkg./2
1 Instructions, Easy Care Medications

Wound Care
6 After Cuts & Scrapes Anethestic/Antiseptic Wipe
1 Cotton Tip Applicator, Pkg./2
1 Instructions, Easy Care Wound
1 Povidone Iodine, 3/4 oz
1 Syringe, Irrigation, 20 cc, 18 Gauge Tip
1 Tape, 1" x 10 Yards
2 Tincture of Benzoin Topical Adhesive
1 Wound Closure Strips, 1/4" x 4", Pkg./10

Perhaps this is simply too much for some of you out there but take a look at the advantages. You get all the benefits of safety provided in a 1 lb, compact kit. It's easily packable and neatly and nicely stores everything it comes with. It even has room to expand and add your own supplies if you feel the need to "beef up" the kit.

I also carry with me "The Extractor" which is a simple but effective bite and sting kit. I hike in the desert every weekend...not carrying this kit seems rediculous to me. Here is a quote taken from www.beprepared.com -

"The Extractor is an easy to use suction pump which can safely and quickly remove significant quantities of venom (poison) or irritants from bites or stings. Based on a study by independent toxicologists The Extractor pump is the only kit proven scientifically to remove significant quantities of venom from snakebites."
The ExtractorThe Extractor Bite and Sting Kit

However, lets say you want to create your own medical kit. It's easy! Simply visit your local CVS, Walgreens, Rite AID or any other similar store and buy the things you feel will be necessary for your next trip into the wilderness. Perhaps take a list similar to the one provided above. Buy some asprin, band-aids, gauze pads, Neosporin antiseptic and some alcohol pads and you're set with a simple, basic "kit" that can be highly benefitial in the event of a mishap.

Listen to the boyscout motto: "Always be prepared."

A Basic Survival Kit - Essential to Life

I divide the term "survival" into two aspects - "survival as knowledge" and "survival as preparedness."

For me, "survival" means being prepared and being knowledgable. Having a map, knowing about the areas wildlife, geography, water sources, dangers, weather, etc. is the first step towards creating the "perfect" survival kit. Without knowledge of the wilderness areas we travel we effectively become paralyzed in the event a serious situation arises. So follow the old saying, "know before you go." As silly as it seems, it truly can keep you more safe...in some situations, it may save your life.
Be Prepared, Know Where You AreBe Prepared, Know Where You Are!

Now, there are many kits out there that will give you some basic survival supplies. Perhaps a miniature "finger saw," some waterproof matches, a whistle and a few other bits and pieces. Simple fact is, you can probably make your own survival kit for much cheaper and it will more closely taylor to your needs. However, one thing you don't want to do is disregard safety. Even carrying a small lighter, a piece of twine and pocket knife can be considered a survival kit. There should be no excuses to not having at least something in your pocket or the front pouch of your pack.

Lastly, as we all know, an essential element to survival is water. ALWAYS CARRY ENOUGH WATER TO LAST AT LEAST ONE DAY PER PERSON! As previously noted, I do a lot of hiking in the deserts of California - too many people enter the trails with inadequate ammounts of water.

Concluding Comments

In the aviation world there are specific federal regulations a pilot must adhere to by way of gathering all available information about a flight before entering a plane. Perhaps the next time you plan to spend a week in the backcountry or take a hike up a local mountain, use a list of "rules" to enhance your safety before you leave.

Here is a simple list I use before I leave on my adventures...

1. Gather all available information about the weather in the area you plan to be. Even in the desert where I do most of my hiking, flash-floods can occur at any moment caused by a storm miles away.

2. Gather all available information about the wildlife in the area you plan to be. Know the risks, know the dangers.

3. Gather all available information about trails, camping areas and water resources in the area you plan to be. (This could be the most important) Bring a Map!

4. Double check to ensure you have the proper equipment needed to complete your goals and make your trip more safe.

5. Double check to ensure you have all the necessary medical supplies for basic safety.

6. Double check to ensure you have the necessary basic survival supplies in the event you become stranded or injured.

7. Be sure to tell a friend or family member of your plans. If possible, leave information such as intended trails, areas where you'll be spending the night, members of your party, colors of equipment, supplies list and how long those supplies will last, etc. (Obviously this one is a bit overkill for the day hiker but if you're leaving on a backpacking trip, mountain climb or any other non-professionally planned trip, doing this may save your life)

Perhaps this topic is more appropriate for the forums but I'd like to hear your stories and listen your comments or criticisms. I'm sure I am not the only one who has met up with an unprepared hiker or has a friend who believes he is invincible...

In any event...always promote safety. If you see someone who is unprepared or should not be on the trails, speak up. You may save a life!


Post a Comment
Viewing: 1-11 of 11

silversummit - Dec 14, 2008 12:01 am - Voted 10/10

A good overview!

With plenty of details for thought! We always teach our Boy Scouts to pack their own First Aid kit (it's a rank requirement) and bring it on every trip including day hikes starting in a small bandaid type box. As they gain skills they advance and the kit grows with them. Some of things they add are: super thin space blanket and small bottle of hand sanitizer (instant fire starter). We also try to make every thing be multi-purpose such as a bandanna can be a sling and so on. Even if kids don't stay with Scouting we hope these skills stay with them!


TrekAdam - Dec 14, 2008 4:09 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: A good overview!

Ah yes... I remember the days of being a Boy Scout. Perhaps I unknowingly still return to the memories of my younger days where I learned many things about the outdoors. Thanks for the comment!


BobSmith - Dec 15, 2008 7:11 pm - Voted 10/10

Good advice.

Basics and logic. Best way to go.


imzadi - Dec 16, 2008 12:15 pm - Voted 9/10


When my hubby and I went to Kathadin the end of Sept...it was a rainy and cold weekend...not to mention very windy (they shut the mountain down the next morning due to Hurricaine Ike). We were miserable and we were prepared. We met a large group of hikers with a church group that day...mostly teenagers (about 25) and the adults (about 3!!!). On the way up, we met probably 6 - 7 of these teenagers coming back DOWN (no adult in sight) as it was just too crappy to keep pushing forward. They said they were going back to the car to wait for the others (who were going to continue to the summit).

Later that day (after 2:00ish) we noted the rest of the group slowly trickeling down the trail from the summit. They said it was 0 visability and extremely windy although the rain had slowed down and stopped for a short time. The really scary thing about this is that other than the adults, very few of the kids had a backpack or daypack of any kind, many were in shorts and short sleeves, cotton was the fabric of choice (lots of tee-shirts) and (this is what REALLY killed us!) most had on canvas-type sneakers! You know, Converse ones...skateboarding type with no treads!! We were completely astounded that no one had been hurt on this trip.


TrekAdam - Dec 16, 2008 5:43 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: Scary

Sheer ignorance! I cant believe that! You can only blame the adults in that group for being so unprepared and taking a group of kids somewhere they shouldn't have been with improper footwear, no warm clothes and nothing else!


parky - Dec 17, 2008 7:35 pm - Hasn't voted

Generating a discussion

Following the author's desire to generate a discussion, I'm going to add that, whilst there's a huge amount of common sense included in this article, I think he has metaphorically "shot himself in the foot" by suggesting that everyone might reasonably carry a 11b 10oz emergency supply kit with them whenever they go out into wilderness areas.
OK, I'm from the UK where we don't have that much wilderness, nor any real poisonous creatures or things with huge clwas and teeth (except in politics), but us Brits do have a reputation for taking huge rucksacks into the alps and other areas. My own rucksack is usually huge because I believe in being prepared, though not obsessive about every possible risk. For my needs of solo walking in wilderness areas and alpine-style mountaineering over many years I'd venture to suggest that a sensible person should cut the contents down of the kit recomended here by two thirds. And throw out anything you don't know how to use.
I've just returned from a 3 week mountaineering trip to Mexico where, as always, the practical first aid kit we carried had to be balanced against other weight and life-saving equipment. My packing list tells me my first aid kit weighed 4oz, though unusual "essentials" like iodine were admittedly additional to this. OK, there were two of us, but even alone I wouldn't plan on taking much more than this. In a hot climate I'd rather have the spare space taken up by a second or third playtpus of water.
I know I'm going to spark controversy and probably some abuse by saying "get realistic, don't get paranoid". Yes, follow all the absolutely excellent advice in this article, especially making sure everything has a dual purpose wherever possible. Take only what you know how to use, and what you're really going to need for the most likely incidents. Mountaineering is about risk assessment and, yes, I've met those idiots too who clearly have no idea what risk they're putting themselves and others into. But get the balance right in the emergency kit you carry, as in everything else. (Right, I'm off to my local surgical suppliers to get some forceps to remove that bullet from my own foot now!)


TrekAdam - Dec 17, 2008 10:59 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: Generating a discussion

Thanks for your comments and thank you for starting up a discussion! I am a bit obsessive compared to others, I'm sure, but living and hiking in the desert makes me pretty cautious. You make an excellent point in saying "take only what you know how to use." I hope your comment attracts more members to post their thoughts on the issue.

dashav8r - May 30, 2011 4:50 pm - Hasn't voted


One of the first rules of survival is preparing and staying informed. Preparing for the unknown and unplanned circumstance and staying informed of things like the weather and your surroundings. It sounds like that church group didn't do either and shame on the chaperons for placing those kids in that situation.
I found that when I put my survival kit together, that it was far less expensive and time consuming to just buy one already made from a good company. Just found a really cool site called armageddonoutfittersonline.com that carries a hunter's backpack kit with everything I needed. Check em out.

garfieldlogan - Jul 7, 2011 6:12 pm - Hasn't voted


I've been worried about being ready for a natural disaster since before I even got married. I've got my 72 hour kits and emergency food storage all ready to go now, and feel much more secure about it if anything were to happen.

enderberett - Sep 20, 2012 8:55 pm - Hasn't voted

Freeze Dried Food

Easily the best way to pack food into the mountains is with freeze dried food. Every time my family goes backpacking, we love taking freeze dried dinners and sometimes snacks. Not only are they lightweight, but they are easy to prepare. They are one of the best preparedness cautions you can take!

Rafa Bartolome

Rafa Bartolome - Mar 18, 2014 5:41 am - Hasn't voted


thanks a lot for the information

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