December 21, 2022
Death awaits everyone. And while it’s one appointment no one can cancel, it’s one everyone should be late to. We can fight like toothless, battle-scarred Kodiaks to delay it but, unfortunately, for those who love the wilderness, it’s oftentimes an unforgiving place. But, if you go prepared, there are plenty of ways to NOT die in the backcountry. Read on for a few tips to stay alive when off the grid.
1. Tell Others Where You're Going
Always tell loved ones where you’re going. Share waypoints of your location before and throughout the trip. If something goes array, rescuers will have a more accurate starting point.
2. Find Proper Campsites
Where you seek shelter is important. Certain areas aren’t suitable. Set camps in open areas away from tree-fall hazards, avalanche chutes, and make sure to be on the leeward side of a slope for natural protection from bad weather.
3. Start a Fire
Pack matches and lighters. However, these offer a more limited lifespan and, in time, will run out. Instead, find a fire-starting tool (and backup) that has a longer lifespan, such as a ferro rod or flint and steel. It’s also good to pack flammable tinder such as Pyro Putty.
4. Drink Clean Water
Potable water is hard to come by in the outdoors. Water-borne diseases, such as Giardiasis, are no joke. Don’t risk contaminated, untreated drinking water. Always carry a water filter (and a backup) such as those from Sawyer or Grayl. You can also boil water for five minutes to kill harmful microorganisms or treat your water with iodine tablets to ward off harmful bacteria. If gear is lost and boiling isn’t an option, drink the cleanest water you can find.
5. Pack Enough Food
When hunting or backpacking, you’re losing a lot of calories due to exertion, and you have to ensure you’re eating right to keep your body fueled. Experts say you should plan to consume 2,500 to 4,500 calories per day. Pack enough breakfasts, lunches, dinners, and snacks, plus some extra if you can manage the weight. These should be easily packable nonperishable items that provide quality nutrition and don’t take up much pack space.
6. Selecting Edible Foods
If food runs out in an emergency situation, it’s imperative to have food-finding skillsets. This includes foraging. By simply scouring for food, you will optimize your calories in/calories out ratio. Study up before you hit the field, but also take a small field guide in your pack.
7. Understand Allergy and Poison Threats
Inedible foods aren’t the only allergy- or poison-related threats. Certain bugs, plants, snakes, and other flora and fauna can trigger nasty reactions, too. Know how to recognize threats and treat ailments.
8. Follow Good Sanitation Practices
Sanitation seems to go out the window in the outdoors. Don’t do that. Give yourself a “bath” by wiping yourself down daily with wet wipes. You can also take a smoke bath; the smoke will kill bacteria and reduce body odor. Use hand sanitizer and bury human waste at least 100-150 feet away from your campsite and water.
9. Navigation & Navigation Gear
Those who plan to hit the backwoods should invest in advanced navigation equipment. GPS units, phone apps with offline mapping capabilities, paper maps, and a physical compass should be included. But also learn how to navigate without tech by using the sun, stars, compasses, maps, and other guides and landmarks to find your way.
10. Carry Satellite Communication
Navigation equipment is important, but communication tools are equally so. Carry a reliable communication device, such as a Garmin inReach that can transmit your location, allows you to send text messages to loved ones, and has an emergency SOS feature.
11. Weather the Weather
Weather is one of the biggest challenges, and conditions can change rapidly. Bring proper rain gear to help keep you dry and wear proper materials such as merino wool to keep you cool in hot weather and warm in the cold. Additional necessary weather-related items include hats, lip balm, lotion, and sunglasses.
12. Outlast Predatory Attacks
Predators are very real. In most cases, running is the wrong solution. You can’t outrun any predator on land. Instead, if the predator has seen you, appear as large as possible. If it has not, slowly slink out of sight while carefully walking backward. And if it attacks, fight back with everything you have.
13. Avoid Avalanches
Avalanches are one of the leading backcountry killers. Stay off open slopes between 25-45 degrees in angle: These slopes accrue massive slabs of snow which can break loose in the right conditions. Choose safe navigation routes: ridgelines, forested areas, and gentle, open slopes below 25 degrees.
14. Tread Carefully
A tumble or fall can mean the end to a hunt. Avoid walking on loose shale. Make sure to wear appropriate footwear that provides ample ankle support in rough terrain. Trekking poles help ensure your footing is stable and can take pressure off of joints when hiking under load.
15. Prevent/Treat Hypothermia
Hypothermia is no joke. In freezing conditions, avoid getting wet or sweating too much. Remove and replace wet clothing as needed. Don’t warm too quickly, as this can have harmful effects. Gradually warm up inside of a sleeping bag while sipping a warm drink, but not a stimulant such as coffee. Start a fire nearby, but not one that’s too close. Skin-to-skin contact helps warm up at the correct rate.
16. Overcoming Altitude Sickness
Reduced oxygen supply can lead to altitude sickness, which generally occurs above 5,000 feet of elevation—but can be lower for those who reside at sea level. The best prevention is acclimatization and climbing slowly. Know the signs: headache, feeling nauseous or vomiting, dizziness, tiredness, loss of appetite, and shortness of breath. Altitude sickness won’t likely kill you, but your weakened state can account for impaired judgment and result in bad falls and injury. If it sets in, retreat to a lower elevation. Pushing higher can lead to High Altitude Cerebal Edema, swelling of the brain, and cause severe injury or death.
17. Prevent Drowning
Another significant cause of death in the backcountry is drowning, especially for those who navigate waters. Never ford a fast-flowing river that is above your waist. If you’re using a well-equipped watercraft, use an approved life jacket to help prevent a lethal event.
18. Pay Attention to Surroundings
Look before you sit down to avoid sitting on a snake, don’t glass under loose rock or a cluster of dead trees, watch the sky for a change in the weather, etc. Be aware at all times of your surroundings and what could hurt you.
19. Pack First Aid Gear
It’s imperative to pack plenty of first aid equipment. Bandages, ointments, antiseptic wipes, superglue, tweezers, pain killers, tourniquets, personal medications, and other necessary precautionary items should be included in the kit. Buying a prebuilt kit like those from Adventure Medical Kits and adding to it is a great option.
20. Understand Basic Medical Techniques
Having first aid items isn’t enough. You must be able to know, recall, and implement medical responses and techniques in the event of a medical situation. These can be stressful challenges. Be able to respond and administer medical help to yourself or others in the field. This takes extensive training but is well worth the time investment.