The 5 Elements For Mitigating Risk

The five elements for mitigating risk are essential principles for planning your next backpacking adventure. Backpacking season brings an increase in news reports about disappearances and accidents on the trail.  Recently, there was a report from California discusses the disappearance of an experienced hiker at a campsite in the Bristlecone Pine Forest. She was later found alive after four days. The report reveals that she had to flee her location due to a threatening person. Another story relates to the discovery of the body of a missing person on the Snake River in Wyoming. Backpacking and hiking are enjoyable outdoor activities to experience nature. However, they also have inherent risks. It is vital to develop a risk assessment and reduction plan. The following principles can help you build your risk mitigation plan.  

1. Assess the level of wilderness experience and field skills of yourself and others

A person’s lack of experience and skills backpacking in the wilderness should indicate that they are a risk to themselves and others. One way to reduce that kind of risk is to take a more experienced partner on the trail. Their experience and skills will offset your weak areas. For example, I am not proficient in wild edibles and medicinal plants. If I attempt to eat something on the trail that may look edible, the results could be tragic. Yet, if I go on the trail with someone who has more experience in that area, I will learn more about how to recognize safe plants, making the hike more safe and enjoyable. Moreover, it is always better to go on the trail with a partner regardless of your experience or skills. 

2. Know the level of health and physical fitness of yourself and others

It is vital to know your level of health and physical fitness. Health and physical fitness play an important role in determining the class of trail one should be hiking. For example, a person with some health considerations may be limited to hiking fully developed trails versus a minimally developed one. 

Altitude and elevation also will influence decisions about where to go backpacking when one’s level of health or physical fitness is a concern. It may not be wise to take someone on a trail above 8,000 feet in the Rocky Mountains if they have a respiratory issue. Furthermore, someone who has suffered a previous heat injury should probably not be backpacking in the desert Southwest’s summer heat.     

3. Understand the natural or human-made dangers of the area of activity

Many stories about people’s negative experiences in the outdoors reflect a lack of awareness of the risks present in that area. One type of natural hazard involves predatory animals, such as mountain lions or bears. Other inherent threats are those relating to the terrain, such as cliffs, water bodies, areas of deadfall, or unstable ground. Human-made dangers are those of human activity. These can comprise logging areas, areas of construction, or even previous criminal activity. There seems to be an increasing number of stories about backpackers being confronted by criminals on their hike. Thus, it is vital to know the criminal activity of your planned trail.

4. Analyze the local weather and weather anomalies of the area of activity

Weather is a contributor to outdoor risks. There are reports of sudden fog, rain, or dropping of temperatures even in the summer months in some locations. It must be remembered that some local weather patterns cannot be found in a national or local forecast. The people who live in the area can provide useful information on local weather activities such as afternoon thundershowers. Analyzing the local weather traits will help make decisions about what to put in your backpack, such as rain gear or a light fleece jacket. Thankfully, technology, like weather applications on your smartphone, helps sensitize you to weather dangers arising on your hike. 

5. Identify the level of access to emergency help in the area of activity

Sometimes people, who go outdoors, do not take into account the availability of emergency help. It is essential to have a good understanding of what kind of emergency help is available. Additionally, it is crucial to know how to access emergency help in your planned area of activity. The importance of knowing how to contact emergency help is a critical part of your outdoor planning.

For example, one of the areas near me does not have a large number of park rangers. They tell you when you come into the park that most emergency help will be by airlift. They do not have the personnel or transportation available to go to your aid if you call for help. Thus, an expensive life flight to a local hospital awaits, should you dial for assistance. That kind of information influences your activity and what you have in your gear.

Some wilderness areas have no cell phone access. How will you get help in an emergency?

It is recommended that you develop a first-responder contact card. This card should have contact information for park rangers, first responders, and area hospitals. You should include emergency radio channels on the card if you are carrying a handheld radio with you.  

Final Thoughts

Risk reduction is an important skill to develop and exercise for those who love hiking and backpacking. Your risk reduction plan has its limitations. Yet, without one, you may find your activity being less than enjoyable. Once you have identified the risks for your planned wilderness adventure, then develop and implement measures to reduce it. Your risk reduction plan should take into account the kind of activity (Mission), local and area dangers (Enemy), time of day, month or day (Time), the people involved (Troops), location (Terrain), and accesses to emergency help (Civilian Considerations). Once you have your risk mitigation plan complete, give a copy to those you will be making your communication checks while you are on the trail. As you plan your next backpacking adventure, remember these principles for reducing the risks. 

This Awesome Tool Can Help You Prevent Heat Injuries!

The prevention of heat injuries in hot weather conditions is crucial to enjoying the outdoors in the warmer months of the year. Do you have this awesome tool to help prevent heat injuries?

Do you have this awesome tool to help prevent heat injuries? March 20th marks the official change from winter to spring. Many parts of the nation are still reeling from the effects of the late winter storms. However, spring signals that warmer temperatures and the summer months will soon be here. The warmer temperatures of spring and summer bring with them their own unique weather-related injuries. Heat injuries are just as life-threatening as cold weather injuries. The three common heat injuries are heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke. A valuable tool to keep in your kit is the Work-Rest and Water Consumption Table published by the U.S. Army Public Health Command (USAPHC).

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1. The Work to Rest Definition Section

work categories

The work to rest section of this card helps people understand how much work a person can do within a range of temperatures. There are three categories of work annotated on this instrument: Easy Work, Moderate Work, and Hard Work. Each section gives examples of the type of work that a person can do. The critical part of this section for outdoorsman are the walking distances and weights for carrying loads. The reason that this is critical for outdoorsman is that these annotations directly address their particular concerns. Hikers, backpackers, hunters, anglers, and others, who spend time outdoors in the spring and summer, will find that information crucial for their activities. The information annotated in this section comes as a result of decades of research to help soldiers stay healthy, as well as, function safely and effectively in hot weather conditions.

2. Heat Category Section

heat cats

The Heat Category Section is a unique numerical and color code system that the U.S. Army developed to alert supervisors of the potential for heat casualties based on the current temperatures. These heat categories are in use throughout the year. However, their relevance increases during the spring and summer months. The types are numbered one through five. Heat Categories 3, 4, and 5 are heat conditions with a higher risk for heat injuries. Heat Categories 1 and 2 have temperature conditions with the lowest risk for heat injuries. Nevertheless, remember that there is always a risk for a heat injury even at Heat Category 1.

3. Wet Bulb Globe Temperature Index (WBGT) Sectionwbgt cats

The next section on the card is the Wet Bulb Globe Temperature (WBGT) Index correlated to the levels of heat categories. The WBGT index offers a more comprehensive assessment of heat conditions than air temperature alone or the Heat Index. The definition of the WBGT Index is that it is a measure of the heat stress in direct sunlight, which takes into account: temperature, humidity, wind speed, sun angle and cloud cover (solar radiation) (https://www.weather.gov/tsa/wbgt). The critical point is heat stress attributable to exposure to direct sunlight.

Thus, the WBGT Index is an indicator of the accumulated effects of weather and heat conditions upon a person working in direct sunlight. Therefore, in Heat Category 4, people working in direct sunlight when WBGT conditions are between 88° and 88.9° are at a dangerous risk of having a heat injury (heat cramps, heat exhaustion, or heat stroke). One way to determine the WBGT for your area is to call your local weather station. Another way to learn the WBGT for your area is to purchase a WBGT Heat Stress Meter.
reed-r6200-wbgt-heat-stress-meter

4. Work-Rest Time Section


work-rest

The third section is the Work-Rest Time section. The division is a guide to inform people on the recommended level of work versus rest within the various heat categories. It is based on any given sixty minutes of outdoor activity. This section is one of the more controversial parts of the card. For example, if a unit is provided a training mission to conduct a dismounted movement in the desert in the summer, how is this work/rest cycle implemented without jeopardizing the mission or the health of the soldiers? The answer to that question goes into the required risk assessment of which commanders must sign.

However, outdoorsman, hikers, and backpackers are outside of the constraints of the military application of this chart. Therefore, it is best to follow the work-rest recommendations to increase avoidance of experiencing a heat injury. For example, under the Easy Work column, there are no limitations on easy work until Heat Category 5. Whereas, on the Hard Work column, the work-rest recommendation for Heat Category 1 is 40 minutes of work with 20 minutes of rest. Thus, hiking a trail rated as difficult would fall under the Hard Work column of the chart. Therefore, heed the work-rest cycle in hot weather conditions appropriate for the level of difficulty of your outdoor activity.

5. Water Intake Section


water intake

Another relevant section of this chart is the Water Intake section. The measurements on the Water Intake section are in quarts per hour. A cautionary note on the margin of this chart warns, “Hourly fluid intake should not exceed 1 ½ quarts. Daily fluid intake should not exceed 12 quarts.” These warnings are given for the prevention of the onset of overhydration or water intoxication which can lead to hyponatremia.

Hyponatremia is a dangerous heat-related injury caused by diluting the electrolytes in the bloodstream through too much water intake. In other words, too much water intake will cause your electrolytes to be depleted. Consequently, your body shuts down because the electricity needed to run your body cannot get from your brain to your organs. As a result, your internal organs begin to shut down. Therefore, watch your fluid intake in hot weather and do not over do it.

Final Thoughts

The prevention of heat injuries in hot weather conditions is crucial to enjoying the outdoors in the warmer months of the year. The Work-Rest Water Consumption Table is a valuable tool to employ in your outdoor planning activities during the spring and summer. Additionally, it is essential to read the marginal notes of this card as they help in defining terms and explaining annotations on the card. There is a more comprehensive document that contains this table. It is the Heat Illness Prevention (HIP) Pocket Guide (2018). The document also includes The Work-Rest Water Consumption Table, as well as, other useful information and tips to enable the prevention of heat injuries. Therefore, as you get ready for more outdoor activities in the coming months, remember to consult The Work-Rest Water Consumption Table before leaving on your next outdoor adventure.

8 Tips For Trekking On Unfamiliar Terrain

There are 8 tips for trekking on unfamiliar terrain to consider when planning your next outdoor adventure. Even the well-experienced hikers can get lost and in trouble on the trail just as quickly as novices.

There are 8 tips for trekking on unfamiliar terrain to consider when planning your next outdoor adventure. An Associated Press story about a hiker from the state of Virginia who was found dead after going missing on a day hike in Mexico on December 30, 2014 provides some helpful insights on hiking on unfamiliar terrain.

First, the positive aspects of the story inform us that person did have a communication plan. He sent a selfie picture to his wife and then a couple of hours later sent a text message. This was probably very helpful information that aided the Mexican Search and Rescue (SAR) teams find his body.

However, two important pieces of information from this article that were revealed was that the man did not have any survival training and that he had gotten lost while on day hikes in his past. The story goes on to relate that he was able to self-recover from being lost on previous occasions; however, this time he was in a foreign country and navigating on unfamiliar terrain. What are some key learning elements from this story regarding hiking on unfamiliar terrain whether you are hiking in the United States or abroad?

1. Establish A Plan

First, have a plan. That means you need to have a plan for conducting your hike from start to finish. Planning your hike must involve determining your route, your expected time of return to your starting point, establishing way points on your GPS if you are using one. There should be an integration of an emergency plan should you get lost or injured while hiking. You should ensure that you have adequate food and water for the area, time on the trail, and time of year. Now the question arises as to how you plan the actual hike upon terrain upon in which you have never traversed.

2. Conduct A Map Reconnaissance

The first step in planning a hike on unfamiliar terrain is to consult a map. With the advent of iPads, Tablets, and GPS devices, Google Earth, topographic terrain applications are available for most of these devices. If you cannot afford the electronic stuff, there are paper maps that can be purchased. If you cannot find a map that covers your area of interest prior to your trip, you can buy a map at your intended location once you have arrived. Another way to get information on the terrain upon which you are unfamiliar is to do an internet search. There is no reason why you cannot get some idea of the terrain you wish to hike if you are hiking anywhere in North America or Europe. Asia, Central and South America, and Africa may present some challenges in regards to obtaining information, but it is not impossible.

3. Conduct A Risk Assessment

Conducting a risk assessment of your planned outdoor adventure is critical to a safe hike. It is essential to understand the risks of the area and incorporate risk mitigation into your plan. There are several ways to conduct a risk assessment. The simplest is to take a piece of paper and list the risks, such as dehydration, then under the risk, list ways to mitigate or control that risk, such as carrying a water treatment kit. The U.S. Army Composite Risk Management Worksheet is a useful tool for conducting a risk assessment for planning a backpacking trip on unfamiliar terrain.

4. Identify The Terrain Hazards

Generally, there are two types of hazards to consider on any hike, man-made and naturally occurring risks.

Natural Hazards

The naturally occurring hazards are the most likely to be encountered.  Naturally occurring hazards encompass wild life, dangerous plants and insects, and weather. Your local bookstore, library, and outfitter store can provide information on the natural hazards pertaining to the area in which you desire to hike. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) website can provide accurate weather assessments for the area you wish to hike in the United States. 

Man-made Hazards

Another risk to consider when hiking over unfamiliar terrain are the man-made hazards that may exist on your route. Man-made hazards can be construction areas, logging areas, mining areas, or places of war, insurrection, or high crime areas. A hiker from North Carolina was recently killed by members of a drug cartel while he was hiking in Mexico. His story illustrates the importance of understanding the man-made hazards on a particular hike. 

Travel Restrictions and Warnings

Another important aspect about man-made hazards to consider for hiking in foreign countries is to check and heed the warning and travel restrictions published by the U.S. State Department. Sometimes tourists in foreign country like to take a treks away from the places that are established for tourists. It is critical to understand and heed the travel restrictions issued by the U.S. State Department. We do not have perfect knowledge of any particular foreign area. Therefore, it is imperative to integrate our government’s travel restrictions and warnings into any trek that will transpire in a foreign country. 

5. Establish and Publish An Emergency Plan

Another planning consideration in regards to hiking on unfamiliar terrain is to plan for emergencies. I have watched several documentaries about mountain climbing, hiking, and endurance races. Most of the unfortunate incidences discussed in these programs center on the fact that the individuals affected were not prepared for emergencies. I have also read several news stories over the last few months where hikers had to be rescued who were lost or injured while hiking. Their testimony was that they were not anticipating any problems on their hike. The take away principle from the experiences of others is always prepare for the worst scenario that can happen on your hike. Never go on a hike, regardless of length of time or distance without an emergency plan.

6. Incorporate A Personal Emergency Survival Kit

Your emergency plan should incorporate a personal emergency survival kit. The kit should address the basic principles of survival: Shelter, Food, Fire, and Hydration. The best survival kit is the one that you develop on your own. There are several resources available that will help you understand how to build your own kit. Your personal survival kit should be tailored for your particular hike and for the time of the year in which you will be backpacking. The challenge for taking emergency survival gear into foreign countries for backpacking is the aspect of the survival knife. Consult the laws of the country in which you desire to travel regarding knives and multi-tools. It may be that you have to buy one of these items after you arrive in the country of your destination. There are some seasonal aspects to consider when building your survival kit.

 7. Incorporate Seasonal Gear

One aspect of risk mitigation for trekking on unfamiliar terrain is to understand and incorporate seasonal gear into your packing list. You can not pack for every single contingency. Your backpack will be too heavy to carry if you try. Therefore, it is important to tailor your packing for the particular season and kind of terrain upon you will trek. This is called, modularity. 

Summer/Fall Gear Considerations

At a minimum your backpack should have for a summer or early fall hike the following items: rain gear, such as a waterproof tarp or H2O proof outerwear. Wet weather will be the one weather hazard that you will encounter in most locations in the summer or fall in North America or Europe. Therefore, in addition to the basic survival kit items, consider some type of rain gear to put in your backpack. The temperatures will fluctuate as the earth transitions from summer to fall. It is beneficial to include some kind of light to medium cold weather gear, such as, a packable jacket and fleece cap. The Columbia Watertight II Jacket (Packable) is a great example of raingear for backpacking. 

Winter/Spring Gear Considerations

Hiking in the winter to early spring brings its own weather risks. Cold weather gear should be part of your packing list if you are trekking during this time of the year. One type of winter gear to bring on a hike in the winter are snowshoes. The MSR EVO Ascent Snowshoes are an example of snowshoes for hiking. Hand and Body warmers should be a consideration for your packing list. Winter outerwear such as the Columbia Alpine Action Jacket with Omni-Heat technology is the kind of winter gear to consider putting on your packing list. 

8. Get Formal Survival Training

Another aspect of the news article mentioned above was that the wife of the hiker reported that he did not have any survival training. This is unfortunate. As many resources, websites, and television programs that are available that cover survival, nobody should be without some kind of knowledge of the basics of survival.

If you have never had any training on survival techniques in the wilderness, I would recommend that you conduct an internet search of some good videos that give sound instruction on such important information as building shelters, starting fires, etc. The best information for those not familiar with survival techniques are Les Stroud’s Survivorman video series. Dave Canterbury and his Pathfinder School provide good instructional videos also.

If you can afford it, take a survival course before your next hike. There are four places of instruction that I would recommend: Dave Canterbury’s Pathfinder School , Cody Lundin’s Aboriginal Living Skills School , ESEE Knives’-Randal’s Adventure and Training School of Survival , and the Sigma 3 Survival School. Some of these schools have ex-military veterans as instructors, who have experience and expertise in training survival techniques. Having an understanding of survival basics and some, familiarity on how to use basic survival equipment, such as an individual first aid kit, is better than no knowledge at all.

Concluding Thoughts

In conclusion, hiking on unfamiliar terrain can be an exciting experience; however, failure to plan and anticipate problems increases the chances of a good hike turning bad. Stay on well-used paths and do not venture off into areas for a great selfie or a great view of the scenery. Remember that even the well-experienced hikers can get lost and in trouble on the trail just as quickly as novices. Therefore, stay informed, stay safe, have a plan, and enjoy your hike.
See you on the trail!