“Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.”
– Theodore Roosevelt
Over the summer I found myself in a bit of a sticky situation (The Day the Desert Tried to Kill Me). Luckily I had basic essentials like food, water, and sun protection but lacked other items which would have come in handy. It can happen. A traveler can only have luck for so long until something goes wrong. A shipwrecked truck, a broken ankle, an allergic reaction, losing your way, and getting mugged are all situations wanderers have nightmares about. The severity of the event can be altered based on behavior and planning of the travelers involved. Here are my tips to staying safe when an emergency strikes in the wilderness:
Travel With A Satellite Phone
A $400 investment will get you a phone and a plan that will work in the remotest of areas. Using a satellite phone in my situation in Utah would have solved all of my problems. I could have called AAA or a tow company without fear of losing connection. Another feature about satellite phones is its GPS. Along with connection a traveler can also send exact GPS coordinates to someone trying to help.
Disasters can bring out the best and worst personality traits. Just remember the more time you spend panicking the, longer it will take to remove yourself from the situation. Similarly with arguing, stress and fear tend to make even the best of friends argue. Again, work together to come up with a solution.
Don’t Underestimate Water Needs
A healthy person needs sixty four ounces of water per day to survive. When you exert yourself one hundred ounces is suggested. I plan on a gallon and a half of water per person, per day. I carry all of my water in the vehicle as well. Water in the refrigerator back at the hotel is all well and good but, account for an emergency and load up the vehicle as well. Carry gallon jugs to keep in the vehicle and transfer water into smaller bottles that will fit in your back pack. Water is the MOST important survival tool especially in a desert.
Carry First Aid
Injury happens as frequently as flat tires and broken equipment. A first aid kit with simple items like disinfectant, wound bandages, ankle/wrist wraps, and a sewing kit can fix an issue temporarily until medical help arrives. I also keep a snake bit kit in my back pack as the risk of getting bitten here in Arizona is great.
Speaking of flat tires… Pack basics like jacks and tire changing kits. To keep a stuck tire from spinning out it was suggested that air should be left out of the tires to create more surface area. A tire with a greater surface area will have more grip and give you more mobility to maneuver out. A tire can be let out to almost 10% in emergencies. This would be an argument to carry an inflation pump as well.
Don’t Split Up
In an emergency it is best to just stay together. It may seem like a constructive idea to cover more ground but in the wilderness anything can happen. Chances of getting lost alone, injury, or predator attack rises as the number in your party decreases. A pack of coyotes would attack a single person as well as bears, mountain lions, and even elk if they saw you as a threat.
Keep a Close Eye on Pets
Wild animals will be more apt to approach if you have an animal traveling with you. Even a large dog like a German Shepherd or a Pit Bull could be subject to becoming prey. If you are forced to hike at night or at sundown keep your pets close and be aware of your surroundings.
Let There Be Light
Keep a headlamp or a flashlight in your pack. It is also important to keep a mirror or reflective material for signaling a plane, car or a rescue team
Trust Your Gut
Know when it is time to stop or move on. Choosing to wait out a thunder storm is logical if you are in a sheltered safe location. If you are off the trail and lost staying put may not be an option. If night is approaching and rescue is not foreseeable consider setting up shelter before it gets too dark. There are a plethora of ‘ifs’ in an emergency situation. Go with your gut – usually it knows what it is doing.
Know the Weather Three Days in Three Days Out
This is vital. Storms can be devastating especially in desert wilderness. Risks include flash flooding, lightening, obstructed trails and continued bad weather. Hike knowing if and when a storm might be brewing. Also note storms in surrounding areas. For example a storm north of a river will cause fast moving water or unseasonably high water levels. This is especially important if you are hiking in a canyon.
Layer Clothes, Dress Accordingly
Dress sensibly for where you will be hiking. Layers allow protection from the sun and adjustments for temperature.