How to Survive a Day Hike

The Eastwick Press recently published a story about two local hikers who got in trouble on a planned day hike up Round Mountain in the Adirondacks. You can read the full story here:

Desperate Hours For Two Grafton Hikers

While reading the story I was immediately struck by these contradictions:

“My mother, age 86, and I are lifetime hikers and campers in all seasons” but “had not brought a watch (to help us gauge our progress and schedule our return trip), a flashlight, matches or a space blanket or other emergency shelter tarp.” and “I was wearing a cotton T-shirt, and it was soaked with sweat”.

The real gist of the story is that these two spent a lifetime hiking and camping in all seasons and learned nothing from it until this near tragedy occurred.

Thankfully they were willing to tell their story and suffer the public humiliation arising from their failure to gain knowledge through their lifetime of hiking and camping experiences so that others could read of their plight and hopefully learn from their mistakes.

Their story exemplifies the five major survival essentials every hiker or backpacker needs to address before setting off on a hike, regardless of whether it is a day hike or week long trek in the wilderness. (Please, forget the “ten essentials” – it is merely a shopping list that adds nothing to survival knowledge of the purchaser of those items.)

1. The most important survival essential is one that you do not take with you. It is the information about your plans that you leave at home with a trusted relative or friend.

A. Had the hikers in the story paid attention to the first survival essential then the DEC would have been alerted shortly after dark and they would have been found that night.

B. There is no such thing as a day hike. Sure, you can plan to go into and come out of the woods in one daylight period, but you also need to be prepared to spend the night in the woods in case something, like injury, illness, getting lost, weather or whatever, prevents your expected exit.

2. The reminder of the survival essentials are based on the survival rule of three’s:

A. You can survive 3 hours without shelter from the elements

B. You can survive 3 days without water

C. You can survive 3 weeks without food.

D. You can’t survive 3 minutes without a positive attitude.

3. Unfortunately, most people pack their backpacks based on the so-called ten essentials and focus on food and water, pay no attention to protection from the elements, and have never heard of the first survival essential because the famous “ten essentials” ignores it.

4. Shelter from the elements is dependent on location and weather conditions. For the place and time these hikers were in it would have included non-cotton clothing to keep hypothermia enhancing moisture from being absorbed by their clothing, a tarp or emergency shelter to protect from rain and snow, and sufficiently warm clothing to retain the minimal necessary body heat.

5. Just because you can survive 3 days without water does not mean should venture on a day hike without sufficient provision for water. Staying hydrated will help keep you from getting into more trouble on your hike. Take enough water to meet your needs for a day. Then take a system to collect more water if needed. In a place with plenty of streams or ponds, a water collection system and water purification system will suffice. Micropur tablets, a water filter, or just a means to boil water (a pot, fire starter or a stove) will be sufficient for purification needs in an emergency.

6. The next survival essential is food. Again, just because you can survive 3 weeks without food is no reason to be dieting on a planned day hike. You need enough food to stay energized to deal with an emergency. Power bars and granola bars can be sufficient if you pack enough of them and you know your digestive system is compatible with them.

7. The last survival essential is a positive attitude about survival. It is not really “last” because if you provided for the first survival essential, then you’ll have a positive attitude arising from the knowledge that at least an SAR is looking for you. And if you have packed the remaining survival essentials, you’ll know you can survive until they find you.

Next time you head into the woods for a planned day hike, leave the “ten essentials” at home along with the first survival essential, then take the remaining survival essentials with you and enjoy your hike. And enjoy the night in the woods if an unexpected one occurs.

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