Every year, around the world the same story gets told. A story which you have no doubt heard of, or may have read yourself.
A few hikers head into a local wilderness in hopes for a good time in the outdoors. One thing leads to another, and the next think you know – there is a call to Search and Rescue which often includes injury or death.
Each year people get injured and die in the wilderness. A good portion of these deaths are completely unnecessary. Almost all of these deaths are due to one important thing: the people were unprepared.
As an avid day-hiker, I will often pass people on a trail many kilometres from their vehicles carrying only a small plastic bottle of water. Most people feel this is all they will need because they are just a few kilometres from the vehicle. Others will state they have read “that book by Cody Lundin” and are prepared to make the short journey back to their car in less than ideal circumstances.
The reality of the wilderness is that anything can happen at any time. A short 3km hike from the woods can easily end in disaster with something as simple as a sprained ankle, or a tumble down an embankment.
Still Don’t Believe me? Take a look at these newspaper article excerpts:
St. Catharines Standard July 22nd, 2010
“Thirteen people and a dog were stuck in the mud at DeCew Gorge Sunday evening.
A brief downpour turned the steep path out of the popular gorge slick with thick, sticky mud. Hikers and swimmers were unable to climb back up the path to a section of the Bruce Trail that runs near Morningstar Mill.
Firefighters with the St. Catharines Fire Service’s technical rope team had to haul the uninjured hikers out of the gorge.”
St. Catharines Standard August 4th, 2008
“An afternoon communing with nature at Morningstar Mills took a painful twist and landed a Welland man in hospital Sunday.
St. Catharines firefighters and emergency medical services crews were called to the popular hiking spot just after 5 p.m. when a 35-year-old man slipped on some gravel while walking with his family near the base of DeCew Falls.
The tumble left the man with a broken ankle and a long wait to get to hospital as firefighters slipped into rock climber mode, strapping on harnesses, hooking up to web of ropes and pulleys, and rappelling about 30 metres down into the gorge to rescue him.”
CBC Radio September 03, 2012
“Canadian parks police say they rescued five people from the Niagara Gorge during two incidents over the weekend.
On Saturday evening, two Toronto-area visitors called 911 after they became stranded in the dark while hiking the rugged Niagara Glen overlooking the whirlpool downstream from Niagara Falls.”
I am familiar with the areas mentioned in these articles. None of the hikers mentioned above were more than 1km from their parked vehicles.
Accidents can happen to the most experienced adventurers and outdoors people at any time. In the blink of an eye, everything can change.
The only way to be sure you do not make headlines as a victim is to be prepared for anything that can happen in the outdoors. This includes the weather, falls, sprains, breaks, and accidental overnighters. Even on the shortest of day trips.
It is important to remember that many people have the naïve belief that they are “top of the food chain” and being a human gives us some form of entitlement in nature. The reality of this foolish outlook was demonstrated in the article excerpts above.
The only worse thing than the “top of the food chain” mentality, is the “I know it all without practicing” mentality. These are individuals who will read books by authors such as Les Stroud, and Cody Lundin, then watch a few YouTube videos they are prepared.
Let’s quickly take a look at the packs that are available. There are internal frame packs, external frame packs, soft packs, hard packs, fanny packs, and everything from high-end “tacti-cool” military packs to a pillowcase with shoe strings on it. The choice is yours. This article does not cover which pack is the best for your particular use.
Any “fanny pack” or small backpack can mean the difference between life and death on short trips. With just a few items at your fingertips, you will find yourself being able to deal with whatever nature throws at you.
Now that we’ve taken the time to examine what can easily happen without being prepared, and talked briefly about what where you can stash your goods to be prepared, let’s take a quick look at what essential items you need in your pack, and why you need them. This list is modified from Cody Lundin’s Outdoor Survival Kit published in 2011.
1. Emergency Blanket – A polyethylene blanket can reflect heat either towards or away from your body. This will help protect against hypothermia in cold environments and hyperthermia in hot environments. With this tool alone, you should be able to survive for days by regulating core body temperatures.
2. Water Disinfectant (Iodine) – Not only can dehydration itself kill you, but it can worsen thermo-regulation. There are many types of water disinfecting products, most of which work pretty well to eliminate the dangerous microorganisms that can kill or make you sick. You can use Liquid Iodine but there are several other options such as germicidal tablets, SteriPEN devices, and some water filters.
3. Bright Trail Marker Tape – Once you have stabilized your own well being (via thermo-regulation and hydration) the next most important aspect is getting rescued. Bright tape can be an indicator to a search and rescue crew. If you decide to travel to a new location, leave a trail of ‘breadcrumbs’ not just for the search and rescue, but for yourself if you ever need to backtrack.
4. Lighter – We all know the importance of fire; it can keep you warm, sanitize water, signal for help, ward off predators, cook food (when needed) and provide a psychological boost. As Cody demonstrated, a lighter can provide over an hour of heat, plenty of time to start a fire! High quality lighters are better of course (wind and water proof), but any lighter is better than no lighter.
5. Floss – This isn’t for getting all the food that you’ll be eating out of your teeth! This is mainly for cordage purposes. What’s great about dental floss is that it is very strong and comes very compact so you get a lot in a small volume. There are tons of uses for cordage in any survival situation. Read more on Survival Cordage Here.
6. Flashlight w/ Extra Batteries – When it gets dark it’s usually pretty helpful to see… All too often night time approaches much more rapidly than people expect, or people over estimate the time it takes to set up camp, build shelter, start a fire, etc. Your smartphone may have a light built into it, but it’s always good to have a dedicated flashlight as a back-up.
7. Matches and Match Safe – This is Cody’s secondary fire starting method. If the lighter fails or runs out (which it shouldn’t, but you never know!) then matches are almost as reliable. The match safe is extremely important because it will help the matches last long and be more effective by preventing oxidation, protecting from elements (water), and keeping them secure from breaking or getting lost. There are many different types of matches (Strike Anywhere, Safety Matches, Wind and Waterproof, and BIG Matches !! I would also recommend the use of Fero-rod fire steel for those with the practice of using them.
8. Knife – A knife is an extremely versatile tool. It can help you to accomplish many tasks in a survival situation, however most of these tasks are of lesser importance than the primary objectives of staying thermo-regulated and hydrated. I usually carry at least two knives in the event one gets lost or broken.
9. Water Carrier/Condom (Non-Lubricated!) – If you have to leave your water source for whatever reason, you’re going to want to bring as much with as you can. Nothing is as light and ‘leak-proof’ as a condom (you hope)! Go to your local pharmacy and ask for the biggest, widest, and longest condom you can get! I generally use a 3L hydration bladder which I fill for even short trips, however it’s always good to have a back-up.
10. Extra Sweater – This is for additional body warmth when needed. Again, thermal regulation is the most important aspect. A great sweater to buy is the army surplus wool sweater with the piping. They’re really warm.
11. Barrel Liner or Large Trash Bag – Trash bags provide great insulation and are waterproof. They also don’t take up much
12. Vet Wrap – one of the most important tools you can carry! This is only a few dollars at any horse supply store and can save your life. You can use it to fix-up a sprained ankle and make your way to your vehicle without ending up in the newspaper.
13. Mobile Phone – Although most people rarely are without one, they are a good thing to have to call for help if they function where you are located.
14. SPOT Satellite Messenger unit – a great toy to have if you don’t mind the $100.00 a year fee. This unit will call Search and Rescue for you using satellite technology if your phone does not work.
After reading through this list, and making your kit, the most important thing to do is to constantly practice your skills! If you don’t spend time practicing them, you can’t depend on them! There is a reason in the military you spend more time training and practicing than doing anything else.
If you take one thing away from this article – get out there and practice your skills on a nice, sunny day so that you know exactly what to do when conditions are less than ideal.
Bajer, E. (2012). Muddy Rescue at Decew. The St. Catharines Standard.
Lundin, C. (2011). Cody Lundin’s Outdoor Survival Kit. Gibbs-Smith.
Mayer, T. (2008). 5 people rescued from Niagara Gorge in same weekend. St. Catharines Standard.
Press, A. (2012). 5 people rescued from Niagara Gorge in same weekend. CBC Radio.