Leave No Trace - Plan Ahead and Prepare - Part III

You're on the trail and you are lost. It is 8:30 pm, it's getting dark, and you have no idea where you are. Uh oh. 

Our final installment on Leave No Trace 'Plan Ahead and Prepare' addresses the importance of emergency preparation. Are you prepared if your day on the trail turns into an unexpected overnight? Are you prepared to safely handle this turn of events for both you and the wilderness environment? 

Plastic bags full of colorful dry food.

The first principle of Leave No Trace is Plan Ahead and Prepare. This is the cornerstone of the Leave No Trace ethics and the key to a low impact outdoor adventure.

We are exploring this key principle throughout the month of July. The third focus area of 'Plan Ahead and Prepare' is the importance of an emergency plan, emergency supplies, and the knowledge to use them before you head out. 

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Emergency Planning - The Right Tools

In an ideal world, the sun is always shining, outdoor adventures always go according to plan, and there is never a need to respond to an unexpected emergency. Happily for us all, this is true the vast majority of the time. 

It is also important to be prepared to respond if outdoor adventures do not go as planned. This can happen for a variety of reasons. A wrong turn, darkness, injury, unexpected weather, and numerous other events can all result in a change in plans. 

The key to being prepared for unexpected events is the right gear combined with the right knowledge. A well-stocked backpack with a well-prepared hiker is essential to safe emergency response.

Your ability to safely respond to unexpected situations can keep you safe while preventing unnecessary impacts to the wilderness environment. These impacts include the need to start a campfire, damage fragile environmental areas through off-trail travel, or call Search and Rescue. The goal is to be your own safety net. 

Some key items to consider for emergency preparation are:

  1. Maps & Navigation Tools: Do you have a current map for the area in which you are traveling? Do you navigation tools and the know-how to safely navigate the terrain? Have you identified key landmarks to find your way back to the trail if needed?
  2. Illumination: Do you have a solid and reliable light source to navigate in the dark if needed? Will it last for 6- 8 hours? (not a cell phone)
  3. Insulation & Waterproof Layers: Do you have enough insulating layers in your backpack to safely survive an expected night out without a fire? Do you have waterproof layers in case it starts to rain? Remember that hypothermia is a concern at temperatures well above freezing. 
  4. Water Filtration Solution: Do you the tools to acquire and/or safely treat water found from natural sources? A small water filter and/or water treatment options are important tools to ensure access to clean water.
  5. Extra Food: Do you and your party members have enough food to last another 1 - 2 days beyond your planned time outdoors? 
  6. Medical Supplies:  Do you rely on any specialized medications? Do you have extra for another 1 - 2 days if needed? Is your first aid kit well stocked with all standard first aid supplies? 
  7. Emergency Shelter: Do you have an emergency tent, shelter, or blanket in your backpack? Is it big enough for you and additional party members if needed?
  8. Emergency Communication Tools: A great tool to consider is a PLB - Personal Location Beacon. These devices allow you to share your current location, communicate with loved ones at home, and/or call Search and Rescue outside of cell phone coverage areas.

The items above are a great starting list for outdoor emergency response preparation. This is not meant though to be a fully comprehensive list. Please add and/or remove items as needed for the specific terrian and season of your outdoor adventures.

We wish you safe travels, sunny days, and no surprises in the outdoors. It is important though to be smart and prepared for the 'what if' in all wilderness travel. Be smart, be prepared, and be safe. It can make all the difference for you and the environment. 


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