Is it safe to explore outdoors? Is it even worth it?
Then ridiculous memes like this one that go viral on social media and further serve this agenda of fear.
If you read these headlines it makes you wonder why we dare venture into nature at all. Tragic and really sad things happen in the backcountry. But honestly, bad stuff happens anywhere and everywhere.
Some people view the wilderness as a big, bad, scary place. A place with animals who want to eat you and criminals who want to rape you. Then there are other threats like getting lost, struck by lightning or getting killed by a random tree falling.
I view the wilderness as a place of peace and serenity. Mother Nature doesn’t discriminate against race, religion, political affiliation or socio-economic status….we all have to climb that mountain or walk through that snowstorm. I like that.
I would be naive and ignorant to write about hiking without accepting the fact that it is indeed risky to venture off into the outdoors. I think that is something we all know and we all accept because we all share a mutual love for outdoor recreation. We also share a mutual love and healthy dose of respect for our natural world.
But what if you’re a brand new hiker reading these headlines and thinking, “Oh my gosh, am I brave enough to do this?”
You might wonder if it’s even worth the risk to get outdoors.
In my mind, the risk is worth the reward.
Here are a few tips to make outdoor adventure a little bit less risky.
1. Be safe on the drive to the trailhead.
Not what you’d expect to see as number one on my list, right? I don’t have statistics on car accidents or even a good comparison of auto accidents vs something like wild animal attacks. But I do know that a lot of times we feel rushed to get out the door and onto the mountain. Sometimes we drive too fast on our way to a trailhead because we’d rather be there than anywhere else. Or we’re exhausted after a backpacking trip but power through the fatigue because we just want to get home. I have to remind myself to slow it down. Plan a few extra minutes for travel time. And stop and rest if I’m tired. Personally, I think the drive to and from the trailhead is usually the riskiest thing I do.
2. Respect your limits.
I had a great conversation with my husband about this last night. We were talking about our 4-year-old who has no fear when it comes to the outdoors. We’re trying to figure out how we can teach him to manage risk while still allowing him to still explore. We want him to be bold and confident, but we also want him to know what he is capable of. I think that deep down most of us know when it’s time to turn back, or not climb any higher. The real trick isn’t knowing our limits as much as it is respecting our limits and trusting our intuition.
3. Learn about your local wildlife.
Where I live and hike mountain lions are the wild animal that make me the most uncomfortable. Not how I said uncomfortable, not scared? Sure, we have bears and other predators too but mountain lions are such amazing hunters and just so damn sneaky. I could let the slim possibility of a mountain lion encounter keep me off of the trails, but I don’t. The best thing that I did was go to a class put on by my local Game & Fish to learn about wildlife that I might encounter locally. Reading books or blog posts simply can not substitute for information taught by local bonafide experts.
4. Take a first-aid class.
Knowing a little bit of wilderness first aid isn’t necessarily a risk reduction measure but knowing what to do if you encounter a medical emergency in the backcountry is. I’m a huge fan of NOLS, their Wilderness First Responder course is worth every dollar.
5. Don’t hike alone.
Common sense advice, right? There’s safety in numbers. Hike with a friend, or two friends or a small group.
6….But if you do hike alone be safe about it. I like to hike alone a lot. In fact most of the time I prefer to be alone with my own thoughts in the wilderness. But when I hike alone someone always knows my plan, I hike with a little extra technology (i.e. Garmin in Reach), I take care to make sure that my phone is fully charged and put a little more thought into my packing list.
7. Really think about your packing list.
I’m not a fan of all of those generic pre-templates packing lists that you can download from every single outdoor blog and gear company. I think the 10-Essentials are a good place to start but I think that every hike, every trail, every weather condition, every situation…it’s all different. There’s no excel spreadsheet that’ll ensure that you have exactly what you need every single time. The basics are good but put a little bit of thought into what you’re putting inside of your pack.
Now it’s your turn. How do you mitigate, manage and reduce risk in the outdoors? Do you agree or disagree with anything I wrote? Do you think that it’s possible to enjoy the outdoors without feeling scared or overwhelmed or nervous?