By Laura Waters
A good hike is one that thrills and uplifts, as well as sees you return home safely. No one ever went out for a hike with the intention of having an accident - they are, by definition, unplanned – so it’s good to stay conscious and be proactive about minimising risk. Rescues are on the rise, so do what you can to come home with a smile on your face.
Have a look in the mirror - you’re looking at the person most responsible for your safety. In our heavily regulated and controlled world, it’s easy to slip into the belief that we’re safe and protected, and that if a problem should occur, there will be someone available to rush to our aid and fix things for us. Nowhere is this more untrue than in the raw and unpredictable great outdoors. Don’t assume anything. It’s down to you to make good decisions.
PREVENTION IS BETTER THAN THE CURE
There’s a lot we can do to boost our chances of a safe hike before we even step foot on the trail:
- Choose a walk that matches your fitness and experience
- Allow enough time (ie daylight) to complete your hike
- Check the forecast and decide whether it’s suitable for your plans. Extreme heat or cold can be deadly, rain can make the trail slippery, and strong winds can make exposed areas dangerous. Days of high fire danger should be avoided altogether.
- Carry plenty of water. The dangers of not drinking enough shouldn’t be underestimated, particularly in hot conditions which may contribute to heat exhaustion. A litre of water for every two hours is a good guideline but you’ll drink more in hot weather or if there are a lot of hills involved.
- Carry plenty of food, and a bit extra in case you’re out longer than expected.
- Wear appropriate clothing and footwear. Remember that conditions can change quickly, particularly in alpine environments, so pack something warm and stow some rain gear if there is even a remote chance of inclement weather.
- Carry adequate navigation tools. Phones with mapping apps are great but they shouldn’t be your one and only source of finding your way out of the woods. Tech or battery failures are a possibility so always carry a paper map as well (and a compass if the route requires).
- Let a friend or family member know your plans - where you’re going and when you plan to return - and then check in with them when you’re back safe.
ON THE TRAIL
Preserve your phone battery by putting your phone in “airplane mode”(or turn it off completely) to avoid it constantly searching for a signal and ensuring you’ve got some juice left in case of emergency. In cold weather, keeping your phone warm also helps to preserve battery life.Read our BLOG on How to keep your phone charged while hiking
- Follow guidelines. If there are track closure signs or other warnings, adhere to them. They’re there for a reason and it’s actually not to inconvenience us. The growing number of extreme weather events (floods/fire/strong winds) often result in trail damage such as unstable trails and dangerous trees.
- Make sound judgements. Stay conscious when it comes to decision-making rather than getting swept up in group-think or getting caught in the moment. Don’t push the limits (see ‘prevention’, above), don’t cross flooded rivers, etc.
A FEW COMMON ISSUES
- Getting lost It’s one of the most common incidents that require rescue. If you suspect you’re off track, STOP. The acronym means: Stop at the first inkling you might be lost and don’t panic; Think about where/when you were last confident of your whereabouts; Observe your surroundings, check your map, search for landmarks and see if you can work out where you are; Plan what to do next (ideally backtrack to the last point where you were confident you were on track and try again).
- Injury You don’t need a first aid kit until you really need one but since you never know when that moment might be, carry one. A simple trip of the boots on rocky terrain can lead to profuse bleeding that might need wound closures (adhesive stitches) and gauze pads. Get bitten by a bull ant you’ll be eternally grateful for some Stingose to instantly relieve the pain. What you decide to carry might vary depending on how remote you are, the environment you’re in and for how long, but at least carry some basics. Back it up with some first aid skills so you have some idea of what to do if things go bad.
Read our BLOG Keep yourself safe and injury free
- The perfect storm It’s often not one thing but an accumulation of many that leads to a crisis. On their own, getting lost, running out of food/water, equipment failure, or weather changes might be surmountable issues, but add any number of them together and you could end up with a serious challenge.
TOOLS AND RECOURCES
- Download the Emergency Plus app which helps emergency services determine your exact location based on GPS coordinates, in the event they need to find you.
- If you’re in a location where mobile coverage is sketchy, it’s worth carrying a PLB(Personal locator beacon). If you don’t own one, you can rent them from National Parks bodies or outdoor shops. Note that these should only be activated in proper dire emergencies.
- It’s worth having a good read through detailed resources such as NSW’s Think before you trek guidelines or Bushwalking Victoria’s Walk Safe guide so you’ve got some idea how to respond in various emergencies.
UNDERSTAND WHAT'S AT STAKE
Everyone wants to return safe from a hike but if things do go pear-shaped, it affects more than just you and your party. One lost or injured person can require a dozen or more people to retrieve them, and rescuers (who are often volunteers) often put their own lives at risk in the process - not to mention their time. Understandably, rescue services get pretty frustrated when they’re called out to retrieve underequipped or ill-prepared hikers so don’t be that person on the news who ignored the signs, went against advice, or defied common-sense and headed out when they shouldn’t have.
Come home safe. And happy hiking.