Backcountry Basics

By: Billy Rankin

I am surprised to see how many people go into the backcountry ill-prepared - without any medical training, with little in their backpacks, or no pack at all. Flying 30 mph down single track on a bike, hiking in remote areas, or running shallow technical rivers are all serious endeavors that have risks associated with them. I have no problem with people taking risks but I really like to see people aware of the risks that they are taking, and even better, being well-prepared and self sufficient to deal with whatever comes their way. Sure you can get away with being lucky for a while and luck works most of the time, but if you stay at it long enough you will be involved in a backcountry incident or accident and this is when you need to be prepared for the worst. Too many people have the mindset that if something bad happens they will just look at their GPS, get on their cell phone or click the 911 button on their SPOT locator and a helicopter will drop in and whisk them away to safety. Technology does give us some great advantages in the world of risk management and emergency situations, but is it leading us to become more accepting of risk and to make less calculated decisions? Technology cannot take the place of proper training, trip planning, and good decision-making. The following are a few good tips before venturing out into the backcountry: 

1. Pre-trip Planning (Make a Plan): 

Do a little homework on the trip you are partaking on. Here are some questions to ask. 
  • Is it an appropriate level of difficulty for you and your group?
  • What are the Hazards involved with the activity? 
  • How long will the trip take? What is an appropriate departure time and estimated return time? 
  • Are we well prepared to handle an injury, accident, or emergency? 
  • Is the group carrying appropriate Gear and equipment? (more on this below)
  • Purchase a Colorado Search and Rescue Card. Click Here to learn more.  

2.  Packing List (Gear and Equipment): 

Make sure you are packing appropriately for the type of trip. Regardless of the trip type here are some basics that you should always be carrying: 
  • Food & Water, plenty for the day and extra if you’re running late 
  • Rain Jacket and extra warm layers, warm hat. 
  • First Aid Kit. Buying a pre-assembled kit is the best way to go as it has most everything you need. Click Here to         purchase a kit online from NOLS.
  • Map, compass, GPS. 
  • Water purification system: tablets, filtration system or sterilization pen. 
  • Communication device. Cell Phone, SPOT locator, radio, or Satellite Phone depending on the length and remoteness of your trip
•  Survival Gear. Can you spend an unplanned night out comfortably? Having the following really can make the difference: Matches, lighter, small stove, food, bivy sack, or emergency bag

*In 1998 I spent my first unplanned night out with an Outward Bound group on a clear cold night in Utah’s Canyonlands. I was ill prepared and spent the long cold night shivering and hungry without the ability to even start a fire. (There was tons of dry wood everywhere.) After that event I began to carry a small pre-packed stuff sack that had all my survival stuff in it. It always went into my backpack no matter what trip I was taking. The main things it had was an emergency blanket, lighter and fire starter, clean warm socks, 2 snickers bars (taped up so I was not tempted to eat them on a regular trip). This light, simple  gear can make the difference between a comfortable night out vs. a miserable night suffering. 

3. Get First Aid training:

Basic or advanced wilderness first aid training is essential for the avid backcountry enthusiast. It is comforting to travel with someone who can confidently provide care for you if you are injured or sick. It is important to have the tools to make a proper evacuation decision and the ability to evacuate someone by yourself. Though it is possible to get help from a search and rescue team or perhaps a helicopter evacuation is possible, it is best to plan on being self-sufficient. Helicopters are dangerous and crash often. Putting a 3-person heli-crew at high risk for a simple injury may not be an appropriate use of resources. Click here to read this recent story of a local flight for life helicopter that crashed. 

Be prepared and have fun out there!

Filed under: Tips & Tricks

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