I love the article’s introduction, which states, “Having the proper knowledge and equipment prior to finding yourself in a wilderness emergency is the key to overcoming it. It’s easy to talk yourself out of buying gear that (if you’re lucky) you may never use, and as tempting as it is to continue to tell yourself ‘that will never happen to me,’ it’s safer and smarter to always assume that it will happen to you. It could happen on a trail that you hike once a week and it could happen at the campsite you visit every year. Understanding that there is a chance you could end up in a life-threatening position is the first step to preparing yourself to survive it.”
I take issue with the implication that wilderness is inherently dangerous. While many bad things can happen in the wilderness, it is when people make bad decisions before they arrive, and then compound them by continuing to make them while trekking through the wild outdoors, that things become dangerous. The article has wonderful advice, such as, “Tell someone” (where you are going), although, depending on your trailhead, I’m not sure it is a good idea to leave a note on the dashboard of your car, perhaps letting thieves know you won’t be around.
I think the article’s emphasis on pre-planning is great. While I love spontaneity, being spontaneous in the wilderness, as the author points out, can be the first decision that gets you into trouble. The advice about researching your journey, building an emergency kit, and being familiar with your gear is excellent.
The article also has great advice on clothing. It rightfully recommends NO COTTON and provides lots of alternatives.
Everyone has their own list of top essentials, as do I, but I question putting “Means of protection” number 1. While I do have a knife on my list of essentials, using it for protection is pretty low on my list. It’s primary emergency uses might include cutting nylon cord and creating some sort of shelter by cutting branches, and of course the most important non-emergency use, cutting your stick of pepperoni. Thinking of my knife as a means of protection is not even a consideration for me; if you need protection, pepper spray (which the author suggests) is a better option.
There is an interesting recommendation to bring a cell phone. A decade ago I would have said you were crazy to carry your cell phone; however, today, as cell coverage is much more extensive, it makes sense to bring a cell phone. The challenge is to have them work for you and not to fail functionally when you need them most. Here are my suggestions for cell phones:
- Don’t be dependent on them. Have an alternate emergency plan.
- If you have to keep it on, conserve battery life by using it in “airplane mode.”
- Consider bringing an extra battery pack just for emergencies.
- Know the correct emergency agency you should call and their number.
- Have a plan before you call of what you need to tell them and, ideally, write it down.
The author suggests building an emergency kit weighing no more than ten pounds. My day pack has two ditty bags with just such gear. I rarely leave home without it. It contains a basic first aid kit (I have a more sophisticated one for longer trips), a flashlight, water bottle, snack food, a whistle, fire starter, extra clothing, and rain gear. I have my map and compass readily available as well.
I do not carry an emergency shelter on day trips. Paul Petzoldt, founder of the National Outdoor Leadership School and the Wilderness Education Association, once wrote, “The important rule governing what should be in your pack is that a party be able to survive one night in the outdoors in case of injury, becoming lost, or other emergency!” You don’t have to necessarily be comfortable, but you need to survive.
One last nitpick is the recommendation to stay put. It generally is good advice, but it should not be a hard and fast rule. There is an unfortunate story about a gentleman named David Boomhower who, in 1991, got lost in the Adirondacks, followed the rule of staying put, despite being less than two hours from the nearest road and being able to hear vehicles from the tentsite he created. He left a diary telling his harrowing tale of starving to death so close to civilization. Staying put was not in his best interest.
The article is well worth a read, but don’t forget that ultimately your brain is going to be the best tool to have and use in an emergency situation.