Wilderness backpacking can be very rewarding both physically and mentally. Wilderness backpacking also has its risks from Weather, Dangerous Wildlife, and Human Beings with bad intentions. I recently did a video that I posted on my You Tube channel titled, “Safety in The Ocala National Forest. This video addresses much of what I discuss in this article.
In this video, I discuss things you can do to to make your stay in the Ocala National Forest safer. This video equally apply’s to any wilderness area you plan on exploring. This article is a follow up to that video with more specifics. My intention is to make sure that you are properly prepared and safe on your next adventure into a remote and rugged wilderness area. Safety involves 2 stages, the first is Pre-planning and the second stage is vigilance during your wilderness stay. Below is my discussion on what pre-planning steps you need to do and how to stay vigilant once you are on the trail.
I have written an article that is posted here on my website called How to Prepare for a Backpacking Adventure. In that article I discuss (9) topics that you should research and consider before heading into any wilderness adventure.
9 TOPICS TO RESEARCH AND CONSIDER
- Terrain: Study the various types of terrain that you will encounter on your adventure using a topographic map and topo software.
- Travel: Plan and organizing your trip to and from the wilderness area. This includes how you will get there, (i.e. train, plane, automobile), and other factors such as a time table of the events you plan on doing while you are in the wilderness.
- Trail System: Establish routes and waypoints on and off established trails that will assist you in guiding your adventure. This will also help you from getting lost.
- Weather: Know the type of weather that you will encounter during your stay and plan properly by having the necessary clothing and gear to combat bad weather.
- Wildlife and Foliage: Know the type of wildlife and foliage you will encounter on your trip. Research what actions you can take to avoid dangerous wildlife and have the right protection, (i.e. Bear spray, knife, firearm, etc.)
- Dangers: Research the dangers you may encounter, such as recent natural disasters, closed trails, fires, etc. that may effect your adventure. Call the local Ranger station to get this information.
- Equipment needed: Bring the necessary gear you will need to make your stay safe and enjoyable. This should include some type of communicating device. The investment in having a satellite communicator is worth your safety and those that may be with you. I use a Garmin inReach Plus Explorer for my communicating device.
- Laws and Amenities: Research the laws you will have to abide by in the area you plan on exploring, (i.e. carrying a firearm, etc.). Know what amenities area in the area you will visit, (Outdoor stores, lodging, Fire and Police stations, etc.).
- Notifications: Let family and friends know where you will be and when you plan on returning. Write is down or email it to them with phone numbers and points of contacts.
The above checklist is the first part of ensuring that your adventure will be successful and safe. You can read my article explaining more in depth the above checklist by clicking on this link, Preparing for a Backpacking Adventure.
The second part of being safe while you are backpacking is to be vigilant of your surroundings during your adventure. Your vigilance begins at the trailhead.
I prefer parking in an area where my vehicle will be watched but that is few and far between in many wilderness areas. Your research prior to you starting will help assist you on finding a secure spot to park your vehicle if possible. If you are like me and enjoy remote and rugged wilderness areas this will probably not happen. Some trailheads that you will start from require you to travel a great distance to reach them once you leave a main road. Many trailheads may not have the necessary resources to have secure parking areas. I can recall going almost 25 miles off the main road to get to a trailhead in Colorado, (Lost Creek Wilderness), that trailhead had a parking area that was very sparse and unkept.
If secure parking is not available park where other backpackers have their vehicles. Do not try to make your own designated parking spot since you may cause issues for other vehicles in the area. Parking in a designated area is like a rally point. It makes it easier for rescue personnel, if needed, to know where you started from. It allows them easier access to get to you since they will be familiar with the path. If you park somewhere other than the designated parking area it may make it difficult for them to find or get to you. Follow these guidelines when parking:
- Never back your vehicle into a parking spot if possible. This allows individuals with nefarious intentions to gain easier access to your vehicle.
- Never leave valuables in Inside your vehicle in plain view. Put them in your trunk under the seat or in your glove box.
- Take note of other vehicles around your vehicle. Take pictures of license plates in case something does happen to your vehicle when you get back. This will allow law enforcement to make contact with these individuals for a follow up to see if they were involved in the incident or maybe they saw something that will help solve the crime.
- You may want to have a drive cam (camera) in your vehicle to record any incidents that may happen while you are in the wilderness.
- If you see something suspicious in the parking area report it to law-enforcement.
- Many trailheads have a sign out booth. Make sure that you fill out the proper form at this booth. This form will have you fill out information pertaining to individuals in your party, the date you left, and when you are returning. There may also be a fee that you need to pay. This slip is usually deposited into a lock box for use by the Park Rangers if they need to initiate a search should an emergency arise.
On The Trail
- Make sure you look behind you and do 360 scans as you are traveling through the wilderness. Looking behind you and doing these 360 scans will help alert you to dangers. Dangers such as wildlife make approach you from the rear without you knowing. These threats can be bears or cougars that are tracking you as prey. Look for tracks as you are navigating through a wilderness area. These tracks could be human footprints or animal tracks. Knowing these tracks will give you an idea of what you may encounter ahead.
- Make sure you also look up and check the trees for animals or possibly individuals that may be watching you from above.
- Be careful of individuals that you do not know who try to befriend you on the trail. These individuals for the most part may have good intentions, but there maybe those individuals that want to follow you into a base camp and do you harm. Be friendly, and let them know that you are meeting up with a group of people down the trail. Be confident when you speak to them. As you pass them make sure you keep track of them. This is where rule number 1 (above), comes into play.
- Have the necessary protection with you such as bear spray and if you have the necessary training some may carry a firearm. Always have a knife on any wilderness adventure.
When determining on where you should set up your Basecamp follow the below rules and remember the acronym that I gave to you in a previous article, W. E. S. S. (Water, Elevation, Security, Safety).
- Place your basecamp well off the main trail out of eyesight and earshot of other wilderness backpackers. Utilize the acronym W. E. S. S. When setting up your basecamp.
- W- Water: Set your Basecamp up in an area close to water.
- E- Elevation: Set up your Basecamp on high ground.
- S- Security: Have an evacuation plan and think about setting up a perimeter alarm system.
- S- Safety: Make sure that you set your Basecamp up away from falling trees, rocks, etc. make sure that you do not set it up in an area that may flood if it rains. This is why you need to set your Basecamp up on high ground.
Following the above guidelines will make your stay more enjoyable and much safer than rushing into wilderness area without a plan. I wish I can tell you that your stay will be 100% safe, but that is something that cannot be guaranteed. The main dangers will come from:
- Mother Nature (Weather)
- Wildlife (Predatory Animals and Reptiles)
- Terrain (Rugged and Remote)
- Humans (Those with bad intentions)
All that you can do is to mitigate the dangers by following my guidelines. That is why I wrote this article to give you some insight on what you should do before and during your wilderness adventure.