Backcountry Safety and Security
by Laura Kimberly
Is backpacking safe for me? That’s a question beginning backpackers often express, especially single women.
In general backpacking is safe for both genders and the practices, precautions, and preparations for staying safe apply to both women and men.
The Dallas Group leaders will not pair a man and woman for ride, bunk, or tent sharing on any trip. We will provide trip participants with names of others on the hike and leave it to you to work out sharing arrangements if you prefer. On bus trips, the only outing where seats and bunks are assigned, leaders will not pair a woman with a man unless both request to be seated together.
Just as you would in any social situation, ask questions that probe the character and intentions of those in your company whether of the same sex or opposite. If at any time, you do not feel safe around another person, tell the trip leader and remove yourself from the situation. Report inappropriate behavior to Outings Committee leadership. Their names are listed on the back page of The Compass. If you are leery of hiking with strangers, get involved with in-town activities to become acquainted with potential backpacking companions before you hit the trail. Go on day hikes, attend newsletter mailing parties, participate in Conservation Committee events, come to the monthly general meeting, or visit the Outings Committee.
The more likely threat to your safety on the trail is lack of preparation and inattention to general safety practices.
Don’t hike alone.
Especially for beginners, hiking with companions is safer than going it alone. Hiking with a group increases your level of safety and provides more support in the event of an emergency. Be as concerned for the safety of others as you are for yourself—a lost or injured hiker puts stress on the entire group and can increase risks.
Develop and rely on your own skill level.
Learn to read a map, use a compass, pitch your tent, light your stove, apply principles of backcountry first aid, treat water, dress appropriately for the weather, and distribute weight in your pack. You are safer, and your group is safer, when everyone can rely on individual as well group competence. (Beginner trips are the time to learn these skills. When you sign up for moderate and strenuous outings the leaders and your fellow hikers expect more proficiency. Even then, don’t be too proud to ask for help when you need it.)
Know your abilities and limits.
Your physical abilities and stamina are just as important to a safe and successful trip as backpacking skills. Assess the full breadth of your skills and abilities—don’t go on trips that surpass them; you will jeopardize your safety and the safety of those in your group. Graduate from beginner, to easy, to moderate, to strenuous trips as your capabilities increase.
To avoid getting lost in the first place, read and understand the route map before leaving the trailhead. Wait at trail junctions until your full group is present to set off in the correct direction. Keep others within sight. If you find yourself lost, STOP and STAY where you are. Let your group find you, rather then looking for them. A sitting target is easier to find than a moving one. Always keep emergency gear and water with you in case you are lost over night.
Leave behind your itinerary.
Leave names and phone numbers of trip leaders and ride-share partners as well as the trip itinerary with friends or family. If you fail to return, the more time they have to spend sleuthing where you might be, the more at risk you are.
Don’t leave valuables in the car.
Whether it’s your car at the trailhead or someone else’s, don’t leave valuables. Don’t temp thieves by leaving extra clothing and gear visible in an unattended vehicle. Don’t take more money on the road than you will need; never leave your wallet in the car.
Read the trip write-up—ask questions if you do not understand.
Know what you are getting into before you go on a trip. The write-up will tell you where and when you are going, the level of difficulty, food and water requirements, expected temperature range, and other useful information to prepare for your outing. If it is missing a piece of information or is unclear, call the leader and ask questions.
The more you speak up for yourself, the less vulnerable you are. Whether the issue is your safety, your security, your well being, or that you just need a potty break, communicate with your trip leader and hiking companions.