Thankfully I have never (knock on wood) experienced an emergency while hiking. It might be because I try to be more prepared than most boy scouts, my hiking checklist can verify this; there are spares for the spares and enough gear for two people, which is admittedly a tad overzealous, maybe? Perhaps not. That said, there have been some avoidable mishaps like running out of water, forgetting meals, being disoriented, and not following my gut instinct when I know I should have. Pretty ridiculous for an avid hiker, right? Well we’re all human it seems. The takeaway is that even experienced hikers and outdoor lovers make mistakes.
Famed Canadian guide, Willy Pfisterer “warned that sometimes no amount of knowledge is enough in the mountains. A lesson underlined in 1987 when Pfisterer — in one of the last rescue calls of his career — had to retrieve the body of his own son, killed in an avalanche.”1
Hiking can be, for some, a dangerous pursuit.
It can also be incredibly rewarding!
To keep it less on the dangerous side and more on the rewarding side, it is important to be prepared and respect the ‘wild side’ of wilderness. My favourite catchphrase is that you need to know ‘how to pack and how to act’ when venturing into the great outdoors. Read on for tips, hiking checklists and more.
10 Essentials for every hiking checklist
Even though wine and cheese might seem fun (and it’s been done), there are a few more practical items that you should be carrying along in your pack! Most search and rescue organizations will list off the ten essentials recommended for hikers, like this list from Adventure Smart, which includes:
- Light (spare batteries and bulb, LED light, glow sticks)
- Fire-making kit (waterproof matches/lighter, fire starter/candle)
- Signal (whistle like a fox40, pencil flare, and/or mirror)
- Extra food/water (water-filter, high caloric foods)
- Extra clothing (waterproof, insulating layers, extra socks, toque)
- Navigation (and know how to use it)
- First aid (and know how to use it)
- Shelter (emergency blanket, emergency shelter, tarp)
- Sun protection (lotion, hat)
Adding to that I’d also recommend:
- Animal/bug protection depending on the area that you are hiking. This means mosquito repellent, tick repellent, bear spray, etc.
- Electrolytes and high calorie energy bars.
- Damn good hiking boots since cold and/or wet feet kill. Consider investing in weather appropriate boots that provide sturdy ankle support.
A few years ago, I went on an Outward Bound Canada backpacking trip in July, thinking it would be a gorgeous week in Kananaskis country. It was gorgeous. It also rained the entire week with barely any break. Mother nature even blessed us with hail on the final night. Yes, hail in July. I was also one of the only ones with blissfully dry feet thanks to my trusty Lowa Renegade boots and that was a life saver! My favourite Longfellow quote is that “the best thing one can do when it’s raining is to let it rain”. Of course, it helps to have the right gear so that you can enjoy the rain!
Mistakes that Can Lead to Mishaps
So, what leads to unsafe hiking experiences and emergencies? Here are some of the more common mistakes:
- Being underprepared: Being prepared is being responsible, at the very least pack the ten essentials, check weather, and check in with the park office if there is one.
- Underestimating the trail: And overestimating your ability to hike the trail! Leave the egos at the door and be realistic about your hiking skills and fitness level.
- Going off trail: For the love of all holy, don’t go off trail. Besides damaging flora and disrupting fauna, you’re increasing the risk of getting disoriented and lost. Forget any ‘short cuts’. Stick to the marked trails and have a designated ‘turnaround time’.
- Going without telling anyone: Listen, I like being a lone wolf from time to time too, but there is still a text that goes out to my emergency contact that states where I am, what trail, time of departure, and estimated return. Safety first.
5. Underestimating mother nature: Down to your base layer in the middle of winter because it’s so hot? Using all the layers in the middle of August? A sunny day forecast turned hail and thunderstorm? All of these are plausible, especially in the mountains.
Most parks have a suggested kit list along with safety notes listed on their websites, and it’s wise to visit these websites and read it thoroughly. They know their trails best after all!
Roaming is in my nature, but it was an absolute mistake while traveling in BC with friends, to pull over on the side of the road to go exploring. No trail, no water, no day pack…just a little wander to explore the stunning mountain scenery. Dumb. Dumb. Dumb. What was just “a little wander” turned into being disoriented well into the wilderness. Thankfully we managed to figure out our direction with the setting sun and followed the powerlines back to the road without incident. This could have easily have gone wrong fast and scared me enough that I’ve expressed gratitude for life buy never repeating that mistake!
The Instagram Effect
Are you going for the experience or for the sweet Instagram picture potential? To be honest, I’m going for the experience with a side of Instagram, depending on the hike. That’s ok to grab those fun pictures! I love seeing everyone’s gorgeous hikes on social media. It isn’t worth risking your life though.
Two friends and myself, hiked up the gorgeous l’acropole des draveurs trail in parc national hautes-gorges-de-la-rivière-malbaie. The views were fantastic! I could hardly believe such a gorgeous hike existed so close to home. It also gave us mild heart palpitations to see the sheer number of fearless (aka risky) people hugging that cliff edge (1043 meters summit) for the perfect ‘insta’ picture. Not sure what point in life we become painfully aware of our mortality, but risking my life for a picture doesn’t seem like good business to me. Now, being aware of your surroundings and respecting them – that’s good business.
‘Life > Likes’ people, life over likes…
It’s OK to Brag a Little
No matter what, the number one rule is to always, and I mean always, let someone know your intended hike, route, and when you’rereturning. A L W A Y S.
The Washington Trail Association has an excellent printable itinerary form that you can download for free. It covers most of the information that I tend to text to my emergency contact when starting a hiking trail. It also helps to remember to contact them once you’re safely off the trail too, which I’ve forgotten before and may or may not have caused a little panic, ha ha, better safe than sorry though!
Vitamins & minerals on the go
As mentioned above, packing smart and following professional hiking checklists is the way to go. It should not be understated that packing extra food is very important. Protein is important when your body is exerting lots of energy on a hike, but what about vitamins and minerals? After all, your body needs various vitamins and minerals to properly digest and absorb protein.
Pranin Organic makes light, nutrient dense and ‘hiking checklist’ friendly Smoothie Boosters. These magical littler sachets can be shaken up in water, juice or your other fave hiking beverages. Shaking up one Smoothie Booster will give your body over 20 organic fruits and veggies that have been hand selected for their high vitamin and mineral content. This gives your body fast access to a ton of vitamins and minerals, necessary for muscle recovery and cognitive well being. Get fast energy and nutrition with Pranin Organic’s Revive + Rebuild, Raw Cacao Smoothie Boosters. Raw cacao contains magnesium which is a co factor in protein synthesis.2
Hiking is wonderful, I am a huge fan of getting outdoors for more reasons than I can count! Hopefully you enjoy it too, whether it’s an inner-city nature walk or a big mountain hike. We can all embrace the benefits of a little more fresh air and sunshine.
This is simply a kind reminder that at the end of the day, however, you want to hike to hike another day. Makes sense, right? Stay safe, hike often.
Victoria Walsh is the voice behind Girl Gone Good, a little blog that grew out of the desire to embrace better health and explore the world in earnest. As a military veteran, she loved the adventurous life full of challenges, travel, and skydiving. Trading her combats boots for hikers, a love for mountains, wellness, and a small smoothie obsession emerged. She is currently earning a Bachelor of Science in Nursing at the University of Ottawa.