by Samarth Vasisht
Understanding the dangers of backpacking and being prepared for troublesome situations are an essential part of prepping for a trip. Dangers vary from region to region, so be sure to understand what to prepare for wherever you’re going.
First, look at the weather! If it’s raining, be prepared for everything, and I mean EVERYTHING, to get wet. A great way to keep your gear dry is to put all of your stuff in a contractor trash bag when you put it in your pack. I like to put my essentials (hammock, sleeping bag, and some clothes) in a large dry bag just to make sure everything stays dry. Additionally, be sure to prepare for dangers such as snow and ice, especially during fall and winter months.
Remember to plan your hydration. Although it might not be hot outside, it’s very important to maintain proper hydration, especially in survival situations. Also, if you’re prone to injury, be sure to take a wilderness first aid class as well as a cartography course. Being able to read and understand a topographical map is essential, especially when technology like a GPS device fails.
Often times the most dangerous thing about going backpacking is disturbing and interacting with the animals in the region where you are hiking. If you’re in an area with lots of mosquitos, be sure to wear long sleeved clothing and think about treating your clothes with permethrin to make sure the bugs stay away. If you’re venturing into a particularly infested area, bring a head net. Trust me, an angry swarm of mosquitos can very very quickly ruin a trip.
If you live in the southeast, you probably know the dangers of ticks. These small parasitic animals are extremely dangerous, and if you plan to hike in an area where they are prevalent, be sure to prepare properly. I usually pants and socks that are treated with permethrin. If the material that I am wearing is not synthetic, I will put some bug spray on my legs as well as the clothing just to be sure that ticks do not get onto me. Other places that I focus on are my sleeves and especially my neck. Ticks do not only come from the ground!! Often times they can be found on low hanging branches, which make you an easy target to get brushed up on or for them to jump on. If you do get bitten by a tick, be sure to remove the entire tick using tweezers or a tick card and then keep the tick stored with you in a piece of tape or small container. Keeping the tick is essential because if you do begin to experience symptoms of any tick-borne disease, the actual tick can be checked for disease with a faster and more accurate test.
Other animals that pose dangers are snakes and especially bears. With snakes, it’s important to stay on the trail and remember to step onto logs before stepping over. Many species of snakes make their homes under and beside logs, and stepping into a nest is a surefire way of getting bitten. If you see a snake, leave it alone! Chances are it doesn’t want to bother you just as much as you don’t want to bother it. Walk around the area or wait till the snake has left the area. Bears are also very important to plan for. If you are in a bear prone area, hang your food or carry a bear canister. Remember that bears have extremely good senses of smell and are attracted by anything odorous. So cook away from your campsite, don’t keep deodorant or toothpaste with you when you sleep and, again, hang your food! (I like the pacific coast trail hang method – check it out here. Some parks will have bear proof lockers for you to use, so take advantage!
Finally, ensuring that you respect nature is a very important mindset to have when backpacking. Before you leave, be sure to share you plans with at least two other responsible people. This way if you don’t show up after a specific time, someone will know! Many people (especially solo hikers) like to carry small GPS emergency transponder devices with them, and this is a great way to ensure safety when you’re in the backcountry. Just remember: plan carefully, respect what’s around you and you’ll be fine. If you backpack smart, you’ll be sure to have a wonderful time!