Read this Before You Head into the Woods

Photo credit Rommel Cabanal

Do you know how to stay safe in the backcountry?


We’ve all seen the stories on the news — a hiker is missing on the North Shore. They went for a casual hike wearing only a T-shirt and shorts. The day wore on, and they aren’t home when they said they’d be. It’s almost dark, it’s getting cold and their family is worried as they can’t reach their loved one.  
It’s an all-too-familiar scenario for North Shore Rescue, which performs approximately 130 search-and-rescue operations each year. In most cases, these costly and stressful rescues were preventable. 
The number one mistake people make when heading off on a hike is being underprepared, said Graham Vaughan, coordinator of Capilano University’s Outdoor Recreation Management program, which teaches students to be outdoor leaders. “They haven’t told anyone where they’re going, they don’t have basic items for survival, and they’re relying on their cell phone when there’s no service.” 
How prepared are you when you head into the woods? No one ever expects the worst to happen, but weather changes, mistakes in judgement and injuries can quickly turn a pleasant hike into a dangerous situation. 
Next time you embark on an outdoor adventure, Vaughan urges you to bring the 10 essentials. They just might save your life. 


Flashlight and spare batteries

Many people get lost or injured simply because they run out of daylight.

fire kit

Fire-making kits

With waterproof matches or a lighter, you can build a fire for warmth, dry clothing and help search and rescue find you.


Signalling device

It’s a lot easier to blow a whistle than to shout, and the sound carries further. In bright light, a mirror is an effective way to signal to aircrafts.

food and water

Extra food and water

Food gives you energy and water is even more essential — a 10 per cent loss of body fluid can severely impact bodily functions, and a 20 per cent loss can be fatal.


Extra clothing

It might be warm by the trailhead, but conditions change as you move up a mountain. Bring waterproof and windproof clothing and a toque.


Navigation and communication aids

Pack a map, compass, phone and Global Positioning System receiver. A GPS is relatively inexpensive and can notify emergency services anywhere in the world with the push of a button.

first aid

First aid kit

In an emergency situation, the ability to rely on yourself for first aid is crucial.


Emergency shelter

A bright-coloured tarp or blanket can be used as a signalling device or a makeshift shelter.

pocket knife

Pocket knife

From firewood collection to shelter-building, a pocket knife can really come in handy.


Sun protection

Too much sun can lead to hyperthermia, dehydration, burns and snow blindness.

Other tips to keep in mind are to always tell someone where you are going and when you’ll be back, never hike alone and make sure your fitness level is a good match for the terrain you’re going into.

If you find yourself lost or injured, stay put, said Vaughan.

“People often think hiking downhill will get them to civilization, but it can you into more trouble. If your tracks are visible, work your way back. But if not, focus on signalling and staying warm. If there’s an active search taking place, it’s best not to move as rescuers will search an area in sections, and if you’ve moved into an area that has already been searched, they may not find you until it’s too late.”