It was supposed to be a simple day hike in the wilderness — there and back to the parking lot in a few hours. But maybe you were unfamiliar with the trail and you ended up getting lost. Maybe your foot slipped on a rock and you got a sprained or broken ankle. Things can go wrong, especially in the wild.
When it comes to survival in the wilderness, the Scouts have it right: Be prepared.
Preparation begins with deciding where to spend the day. First, consider the reality of your fitness. Have you been active over the past few months? Have you been working out on a regular schedule? If the answer is ‘no’ to both questions, then be sure to stay fairly close to civilization.
If you haven’t already completed a few grueling hikes this summer, start small. Don’t choose a 12-mile trek. Go for four miles — two miles up and two back down. When it’s done, you should feel like you could do a lot more. You don’t want to be in pain when you’re only half way back from the journey.
As soon as you schedule the time and place where you’re going to walk, notify two reliable people of your planned route and the approximate time of your return (Note: reliable. Like folks who will try to get in touch with you or call for help if you’re more than three hours late).
Next, think about what you should put in your backpack. Stop at an outdoor store to stock up. Among the essentials: a whistle, a Mylar survival blanket, several instant ice packs, fresh lip balm and sun screen (not the old stuff from last year), a small bottle of ibuprofen, a good first-aid kit equipped with rolls of gauze and bandages.
Do the research to learn if water is available on the trail if you expect your excursion to last more than four hours. If there’s no safe water supply, remember that a gallon of water weighs more than eight pounds. Load up on liquid the night before and also on the morning of your excursion so you start out hydrated. One way to make sure the cap stays tight on a gallon jug of water is to cover the cap and neck of the jug with a baggie, and tighten a rubber band around it. That way, even if the cap comes off, your water supply won’t spill.
Unless you have experience purifying lake or stream water, don’t plan on learning how to do it while you’re on the trail, even if you already purchased terrific water purifying stuff.
Be aware that one of the most common injuries during a wilderness hike is a sprained or strained ankle. With a sprain, one or more ligaments (tissues that connect two bones together) have been injured. A strain is an injury to a muscle or to one or more of the tendons at the end of each muscle. If you injure your ankle, take some ibuprofen and activate the instant ice packs. Use a roll of gauze to hold the ice packs in place.
Here’s an admonishment: Don’t diagnose an injured ankle yourself and hope it will get better if you let it ‘heal’ overnight. If there is pain, swelling or discoloration, go to the ER as soon as possible. If you’re alone on the trail and pain increases on the ankle as you walk, then shout and use the whistle to try to get help. Your ankle may be broken; putting weight on it will only make things worse.
Bring your phone, even if there is no cell coverage. Sometimes, even if you can’t make a call, you can send a text to summon emergency help.