Thursday, July 9, 2009

Hiking Survival Necessities

Hiking carries with it certain dangers. One of the dangers of hiking is not being prepared for the hike that you are going to undertake. There are dangers from wild animals to falling and hurting yourself while on the trail. We recommend that before you go hiking on any trail you do research on the trail you are going to take and become familiar with your rout. Always be prepared for the unexpected in the wilderness. Ashley and I have been confronted with a number of unexpected situations from mountain thunderstorms, to helping people on the trails who were unprepared and needed assistance, to encountering rattlesnakes. The main thing is to know how you are going to react when the unexpected does occur.

Here is a generic list of something’s that every hiker should have with them, the 10 essentials, packing these items whenever you step into the backcountry, even on day hikes, is a good habit to acquire.  However, The most important thing to do before setting out into the backcountry is to tell a family member or friend where you are going and an approximate time of your return. That way if you do not come back in time, someone will know to start searching for you and to contact the authorities.

The following is a list of the 10 essentials to bring on your hikes:

Navigation (Map and Compass): A map not only tells you where you are and how far you have to go, but it can help you find campsites, water, and an emergency exit route in case of an accident.  A compass can help you find your way through unfamiliar terrain—especially in bad weather where you can't see the landmarks.

Water and a way to purify it: Without enough water, your body's muscles and organs simply can't perform as well: You'll be susceptible to hypothermia and altitude sickness. Not to mention the abject misery of raging thirst. Make sure to either bring enough water or know where you can filter water for your hike.

Extra Food: Any number of things could keep you out longer than expected: a lengthy detour, getting lost, an injury, difficult terrain. A few ounces of extra food will help keep up energy and morale.

Proper Clothing (Extra Layer): Because the weatherman is not always right, especially above the tree line, bring along extra layers. Two rules: Avoid cotton (it keeps moisture close to your skin), and always carry a hat. Conditions can abruptly turn wet, windy or chilly in the backcountry, so it's smart to carry an additional layer of clothing in case something unexpected (you get hurt or lost, for example) prolongs your exposure to the elements.

Fire starter and matches: The warmth of a fire and a hot drink can help prevent an encounter with hypothermia. And fires are a great way to signal for help if you get lost. (Note since many of the hikes listed on this website are in an area prone to wildfires only do this if it is a life and death situation, there are big fines for lighting a fire in the wilderness and you would not want to be responsible for starting a wildfire)

First-Aid Kit: Prepackaged first-aid kits for hikers are available at outfitters. Double your effectiveness with knowledge: Take a basic first aid class with the American Red Cross or a Wilderness First Aid class, offered by many hiking organizations.

Army knife or multi-purpose tool: These enable you to cut strips of cloth into bandages, remove splinters, fix broken eyeglasses, and perform a whole host of repairs on malfunctioning gear—not to mention cut cheese and open cans.

Illumination (Headlamp and extra batteries): It's easy to overextend your stay on a picture-perfect mountain/hike. If you're trying to hustle out of the backcountry in dwindling light or trying to set up camp as the last bit of blue drains from the sky, a headlamp is invaluable. Make sure to always pack an extra set of batteries as you never know when you will need them.

Sunscreen and sun glasses: Especially above tree line when there is a skin-scorching combination of sun and snow, you'll need sunglasses to prevent snow blindness, and sunscreen to prevent sunburn. Don't forget a good hat!

Emergency Shelter: This essential is more targeted at day hikers. Most overnight wilderness travelers already carry a tent or tarp. The thinking is, if getting lost or injured leaves you stranded in the backcountry, something is better than nothing if you have to deal with wind or rain. Options include an ultralight tarp, a bivy sack, an emergency space blanket (which packs small and weighs just ounces), even a large plastic trash bag. Ashley and I carry an emergency space blanket.


  1. Hello,

    We are hiking group of about 8 females and I'm thinking that we should probably enroll in a wilderness safety you have any suggestions?

  2. I wish I could be of more help. I know that REI does offer some courses, but I didn't see any that were specifically wilderness safety courses when I just looked. A good book that I have read is 98.6 degrees, which is one of the books in the amazon section below on the blog. It is a book that talks about survival basics. The author is Cody Lundin. I would fully recommend the book as it has a lot of information. As far as courses go, REI would be your best bet and maybe also a first aid class.

  3. Thanks for the tips, really helpful but a knife is not needed to cut the cheese.

  4. I would love to know where you guys think a best place to go backpacking would be for beginners. Thanks!

  5. If you are looking for a good place to start locally in Orange County, that has a feel of being deep in the wilderness but is not very remote I would suggest Crystal Cove State Park. They have three different back-country campsites in the state park. It is perfect for beginners and seasoned backpackers. It is roughly 3 miles to hike to each one. You can set up camp and then chose other trails to hike in the South Coast Wilderness. The park website has information about how to reserve a spot for one of their back-country campsites. We have a link to their site in our Website & Blogs section.

  6. This is a good starting list. Do you happen to use any Oakley sunglasses for your hikes? I would love to know what frames you are putting to use out there on the trails.

    Amanda Levitch
    Online Community Engagement at

  7. Great blog I added you to my blog roll call. Keep the posts coming!!! Http://


Ashley and I encourage and welcome our readers to submit comments about their experiences on the trails we have posted on our blog or about their own hiking experiences in general.