Whether you’re headed to the wilderness for hiking or to hone survival skills, it takes some preplanning. My personal preference is hiking and camping deep in the wilderness where I won’t see a single other person. I prefer to leave roads and trails behind to find spots that other people never go. However, doing this by myself could be very dangerous.
The reality is that most people that get lost in the wilderness are more novice than myself or anyone with some survival skills. However, it’s easy to get lost even when following a trail that’s well travelled. The key to any safe venture into the woods is a solid plan. Lack of preparation and a carefree attitude are the issues that get most people into trouble. Let’s cover how to put together a solid plan to keep you safe on a trip into the wilderness.
Learn the Area
I start considering a wilderness area for a day trip or camping trip by doing research online. I like to find these areas by looking for specific features like bodies of water or elevation changes. You can often see these simply by looking at the map and satellite features on Google Maps. In addition, Google Maps will show the boundaries of national parks so you can be sure not to end up on private property.
From there, I like to visit the website for that national forest and start reading about the features of the area. This can show you good trails for hiking and areas for camping along with parking spots. It will tell if there’s hunting or fishing allowed and alert you of any safety issues.
You’ll then know if campfires are allowed, allowed to collect or bring firewood, and if there are any fire advisories. You’ll also be alerted if there is a fee, permit, or reservation required for the area. These websites aren’t always easy to navigate, but they’re an excellent resource.
Choose your Dates
Picking the dates and time of departure for your trip may seem like a minor detail. However, they can affect not only your enjoyment of the voyage but the safety as well. We can start with your departure time. It can quickly end up being a tough scenario if you head out an hour or two before dark.
Hiking in the dark is never safe even with the proper lighting. Setting up camp in the dark can be just as dangerous. Give yourself plenty of time to get back to your vehicle or to get to the destination.
Inclement weather can also drastically affect the success of your excursion. Rain, ice, snow, wind, high temperatures, or low temperatures can make you miserable and can be life threatening. Hypothermia is the number one reason why people die in survival scenarios.
You may think it needs to be freezing out for hypothermia to be an issue but that’s wrong. If you get rained on, hypothermia can set in with temperatures as high as 60F. Wind always adds to the chance of hypothermia. This means spring and fall hikes can be an issue as well.
Ice and mud can increase the chance of a slip and fall accident. This could leave you disabled to the point of not making it back to your vehicle. High temperatures are a killer as well. Heat stroke and dehydration can be a major issue, especially if you’re burning water hiking or setting up camp.
Watch the daily, hourly, and satellite forecasts carefully and change your plans if needed. Check the weather again every few hours if you have cellular service. Keep an eye on the skies for nasty looking clouds.
Contact the Ranger
Doing your own planning and looking online won’t give you all the needed info. Nobody knows the area you will be visiting like the rangers working there. I always make it a point to either call or stop by the ranger station to explain my plans and ask a few questions. I have often been surprised by regulations not listed on the website or by dangerous animals in the area. I once visited the high desert in Southwest Colorado.
I was informed by the ranger that black bears had been especially hungry because of a bad blueberry crop and had been a major concern. They can often give you topographical maps to help you navigate elevation changes. These people are experts, so use their knowledge.
Prepare your Pack
Many people just throw together a pack with a tent, sleeping bag, lighter, and food. However, you should consider any trip into the wilderness a potential survival scenario. Have tools for signaling, navigation, water purification, and first aid. You should also have backup methods for starting fire and procuring food.
You may have a hatchet or saw for firewood, but always have at least one good knife as a backup as well. Keep some cordage in your pack such as 550 paracord in case you need it. It’s better to have these items and not need them than vice versa. Before leaving, ask yourself if you have all the tools needed to be lost in the woods for several days.
Have safeguards for a survival scenario before you leave for any trip in the woods. For example, I always give my wife a copy of the map with a marked trail. She knows that I will check in with her everyday that there’s cellular service. I always call her by noon on the day that I leave the woods. Her instructions are to call the ranger’s office if she hasn’t heard from me by noon on that day. I also set up a similar arrangement with the ranger’s office if they allow it. Some offices don’t have the staff for this kind of agreement.
Stick to your Plan
The key to rescue when in trouble is to be where you said you would be. If you leave the trail that was planned out, you make it much more difficult to be found. If you’re hiking off trail, stick to specific landmarks such as clearings, bodies of water, or rock formations. My preference is to hike along a creek, river, or lake so that I have a clear path. This also gives me a constant source of water. Stick to the schedule if you plan to be out for a certain number of days.
Enjoying the woods is an excellent way to get exercise and get away from the craziness of daily life. It’s also an excellent tool for practicing your survival skills before the SHTF. However, you need to take mother nature seriously. Hiking and camping in the wilderness can be dangerous if you don’t take the right steps. Do your planning, prepare for the worst, and it will allow you to truly enjoy the trip.