© Christopher Earls Brennen


Important precautions

We begin by detailing some basic precautions that should always be taken when hiking in the wilderness. When you venture off-trail these become even more important and there are additional factors that need to be considered.

First and foremost the hiker should know his or her limits and only graduate slowly from the regular, maintained trails, to the unmaintained trails and then to more remote areas.

Second, it is very important not to travel alone. On any hike, it is valuable to have companions who can seek help should you become ill or have an accident such as an injury to a leg. On an adventure hike, as simple and common an accident as a sprained ankle could be life-threatening if you were alone. Therefore, you should find some companions with similar interests and be prepared to adjust your itinerary to satisfy the group interests and objectives. The ideal is probably a group of three or four people.

A related and essential precaution is to leave a written description of your proposed route with a family member or friend who will be in a position to seek help if you or your party fail to return. You should also leave clear instructions with that family member or friend as to the steps they should take. I recommend the following instruction: ``Call the police or sheriff's department if you do not hear from me by 9pm on the day you expect me''. A third precaution in the same category is to carry a cellular telephone. However, the hiker should be aware that cellular telephones require line-of-sight for operation. Thus, they will often work on peaks and ridges but they will not work in canyons.

On an adventure hike, it is easier than one might imagine for an individual to become separated from the group. Therefore, it is important for the group to always remain ``connected''. For example, when struggling through brush in an extended single file every member needs to maintain regular contact both with those ahead and those behind. An important item in any emergency kit is a whistle; everyone should carry one on a necklace. Be sure that all members of the group know the universal distress signal: three sharp blasts on the whistle (or three short repetitions of any kind of signal). Note that it is part of the universal creed that every hiker has an obligation to respond to such a signal of distress.

The third category of precaution is to become accustomed and knowledgable about navigating your way in the wilderness. In the next chapter a brief summary of navigation is given. For the present, it is valuable to emphasize the importance of knowing where you are. In the wilderness, it is always important to plan ahead and, to do so, you must know your location relative to various destinations. You must always know the location of the next source of water. You must always have some estimate of the distance to your destination and whether you can reach it before nightfall. It is an essential safety precaution to be able to halt at least one hour before sunset so that proper preparations can be made for the night. This is especially critical when you underestimate time and distance and have to spend an unplanned night in the wilderness. If you are unwise enough to press on in the darkness you not only risk injury but you also reduce substantially your opportunity to prepare shelter and warmth for the night. I dwell on this because, on the one occasion when this happened to me, I found it very difficult psychologically to resign myself to a night in the mountains and to stop in time to gather firewood and make a fire and a bed for the night. In the wilderness it is often difficult to make accurate a priori estimates of travel time since that depends so much on the terrain. Therefore, it is essential to be flexible and realistic and continously adjust your plan.

The fourth set of precautions concerns proper safety equipment that we deal with in a webpage that follows.

Last updated 1/1/00.
Christopher E. Brennen