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AdventureSmart: Hiking Safety Tips You Need to Know

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Heli hiking with CMH from Bobbi Burns Lodge, near Golden | Ryan Creary
Heli hiking with CMH from Bobbi Burns Lodge, near Golden | Ryan Creary

Written by: Amber Turnau for AdventureSmart

We British Columbians love to explore our beautiful backyard. And, the hiking trails are beckoning as the weather warms and days become longer. While you’re off exploring, keep in mind that every great adventure comes with risk.

There are 1,900 search and rescue (SAR) incidents each year in BC. What’s more, hikers account for one-third of those SAR calls (50% of hiking calls are in the southwest region). The most common causes of rescue are hikers becoming lost or disoriented, exceeding their abilities, or getting injured along the way. Incorporating The Three Ts (Trip Planning, Training, and Taking the Essentials) into your hiking regimen will help keep you safe out on the trail.  

Burnie-Shea Provincial Park, near Smithers | @6igma

Level up your training

Albert Einstein said it best: “The more I learn, the more I realize how much I don’t know.” This is especially true with outdoor exploration, which offers a lifetime of personal growth and learning. But, you have to start somewhere, and now is as good a time as any. 

As a beginner hiker, you can prepare by doing fitness classes and taking a basic first aid course. Check out the free BC AdventureSmart weekly webinars online this summer, featuring presentations about personal preparedness, incident prevention, essential gear, what to do in an emergency, the trip plan app, and more. Visit their Facebook page for details.    

Level up your training as you increase your exposure in the outdoors. For the avid trekker looking to tackle BC’s more challenging terrain, next steps include wilderness first aid training, navigation and route-finding courses, weather forecasting seminars, or mountaineering workshops. 

Hikers hiking through Tweedsmuir Glacier | Taylor Burk
Tweedsmuir Glacier | Taylor Burk

Plan your trip

Be honest with yourself (and your travel partners) about your physical abilities and skill level before you choose a trail.

Selecting a hike

Do the research. While community forums are an excellent source of inspiration, specifics can be unreliable. Consult multiple sources, such as a reputable hiking guidebook, a database like AllTrails, trail maps, or first-hand park or trail websites (if available).

Determine the length and elevation gain of the hike. For example: a short, steep trail may actually take more time than a long, flat trek. Look at the estimated walking time and plan to be back by sunset. It also helps to give yourself a turn-around time.  

Let someone know

How can people know you’re lost if they don’t know you left? Leave a trip plan with a dependable friend or family member containing the details of your trip. The AdventureSmart Trip Plan app has a helpful template to follow.

 

Weather

It’s really important to understand the geography of your hike and how weather impacts it. This will inform your hiking plans and the gear you bring.

Did you know that it can snow in the mountains during late spring and summer? On a clear day, expect a 10 degree temperature decrease for every 1,000 metres of elevation gained, which could mean snow on the mountain if there’s rain down below. Check wind speeds, precipitation (snow or rain), freezing levels, and temperatures. Use a reliable weather forecast like Environment Canada, Mountain Weather Forecast or SpotWx (for avid weather watchers).

Take the essentials

There’s a reason why outdoor enthusiasts tend to be gear junkies—not only is it fun to have cool kit, but it can also save your life. Aside from sport-specific equipment (like proper hiking boots and poles), bring the essentials on every trip. Essentials include: a headlamp or flashlight, fire making kit, whistle or mirror, extra food and water, extra warm/waterproof clothing, a first aid kit, emergency shelter, pocket knife, sun protection, navigation, and a communication tool. You can’t always rely on cell service (or a working phone), so consider purchasing a device like Garmin inReach or SPOT.

S.T.O.P. in an emergency

No one expects to run into trouble during their trip. But, if you do, the most important thing to do is to stay put and pause. Remember the acronym S.T.O.P. (Stop, Think, Observe, Plan).

Our bodies react to danger by going into fight-or-flight mode; our heart races, the adrenaline pumps, and we make fast (sometimes irrational) decisions based on fear rather than reason. Calm your nervous system and help yourself think clearly.

Davis Creek Trail with a view to Kootenay Lake | Ashley Voykin

Call for help (it’s free)

It’s OK to call for help—in fact, search and rescue crews want you to reach out ASAP if you need assistance and will not charge you.

Every second counts. The first step should always be to call 911, where the call centre can dispatch the RCMP, who will find and deploy a SAR team in your area (there are 79 SAR groups with 2,500 volunteers in BC). If you’re using a mobile phone or emergency communication device, authorities can also use GPS to triangulate your location to find you faster. While our first instinct may be to call a friend or loved one, avoid doing this. It might delay the rescue or drain your phone battery.

While you wait for help, think from the perspective of the rescuers and make yourself easy to find: Use bright colours that can be seen from afar, use your mirror to signal, and remember to call out as SAR crews near.

For more hiking safety tips, visit AdventureSmart.ca.

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