I love the outdoors. With spring right around the corner, it's a great time to start planning to get away from the city and enjoy everything mother nature has to offer.
There's nothing like the peace that comes over with me when I'm in the wild. The beautiful views. The smell of the forest. The sounds and knowledge that there's life all around you.
But it's not without risks. Before you head off on a spontaneous hike, there's a few dangers you need to prepare for. To make sure you make it home in one piece.
Pack your kit
Even if you're only planning a short hike, it pays to be prepared. We got a little lost on one of my hikes last summer, and overshot the cabin we were supposed to be staying in. But because we had the right gear we simply roughed it a night, and made our way to the cabin the following morning.
Here's what you need in your backpack. One of my favorites is the APE Survival EVATAC Combat Bag, and stock it with gear like:
- Waterproof matches
- A change of clothes with at least 2 pair of socks
- At least a full day’s supply of water
- A hatchet or hunting knife with serrated teeth on the back
- Some high protein snack food (nuts, trail mix, jerky, energy bars)
- A compass or portable GPS
- A loud whistle
- A tin cup or small pan
- 20 feet of rope
- Some plastic bags (garbage or grocery)
- A topographical map of the are you will be (try Google)
- And a small tarp or piece of plastic at least 8’x8’
If you've not been hiking in a while, load all of this into your pack the week before and go for a short walk around. About an hour should give you an indication of how comfortable it'll be. Feel free to add any extra items you may need but just be careful of the weight. You don't want to lose your energy before you even reach camp because your backpack weighs a ton.
Oh, and always tell someone where you're headed, and when you plan to get back. Just in case.
For newcomers, I'd recommend sticking to the trails, but if there isn't one you can mark your way by snapping off small limbs on the trees you pass. or tying something bright every 50 years or so. Like bright string or ribbons, so you can easily find the way back, just be sure to collect them all on your return trip.
Right, now let's get into some of the dangers
Number one on my list of things that can hurt you are snakes. Now unless you walk into a snake den and start dancing around you should be fine, but you need to be aware there will be snakes out there. And they can bite you.
If you're particularly worried you can look into the types of snakes that will be in the area you're hiking and pick up a snakebite kit for the local area. Most of the time though, you can simply watch where you step and keep an eye on the ground in front of you to avoid these slithering menaces.
To be honest, most snakes will be happy to get out of your way if you give them a chance. In my experience the only two really aggressive types of snakes are water moccasins and rattle snakes. They will chase you. Pretty much every other snake will leave you alone unless you step on them, so keep your eyes open and watch where you step.
Now no matter how careful you are, there's always the chance you'll get lost. Whether you get distracted by the cute little fawn, or you take the wrong fork in the trail, it's no fun getting lose. You're looking around and standing somewhere completely different from where you should be.
The first thing to do if you discover you are lost is stop. Stay where you are, find somewhere to sit down and think. Look around. Do you see anything that looks familiar? Maybe some grass or bushes you disturbed. Listen, do you here that river you crossed a mile or two back? Or the truck on the highway 15 miles away?
Search for anything that can help you get your bearings. Check the compass you brought along or the trees and rocks for moss (remember moss is thickest on the north side). But throughout all of this, just stay calm.
Eat some nuts, take a drink of water, check your map, and make a plan. Once you're calm, check the time to see how many hours of light you've got left. If it'll be dark within an hour you need to make camp. Walking around in the woods at night is not a good idea, and you could get yourself even more lost, or worse, fall and break something.
If there's lots of daylight left, I'd recommend looking for your back trail. Tie something bright where you can see it, and make ever-growing circles around the marker, while always keeping it in sight. You want to find any evidence you've walked through an area. Like footprints in the dirt, or broken branches you've pushed through. Once you find your way, reposition your bright marker, and continue the process until you get out.
If nothing is working, look for a high point you can head to. This will help you survey the area, and may give you a direction to follow. Perhaps there's a water tower you see from the next town over, a set of power lines, or even a chimney of smoke from a cabin. Worst case, find a river and follow it downstream. It'll hit civilization eventually. Just stay calm, look around, and make a plan.
Now the last point is one of the most important. Predators. When you're out in the wild we humans are no longer top of the food chain. Wolves, bears, mountain lions, and a whole host of other animals will be wondering what you're doing out here all alone.
You've got to take precautions. Once you've got your shelter up, you need a fire. Collect all the firewood you're going to need while its daylight. I like having a solid structure behind my back, like a ridge or outcropping, but this isn't always possible. Just find somewhere as secure as possible and start a fire.
Most predators won't come near the flames, but if you're in bear country you need to be extra careful. Any extra food or trash needs to be strung up in a tree, at least 75 yards from where you're sleeping. The same goes for your latrine. Don't give the animals any reason to sniff around your camp and they likely won't.
The next time you're heading out into the woods, pay attention to these tips and you'll have a better chance of coming back home safe and sound. Oh, and avoid the poison ivy. The real trick is to enjoy yourself, while staying aware and keeping yourself safe. Being in the wild makes for a great experience.