Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Think "Before"
"Prepare" is defined in Webster's Dictionary as "to make ready beforehand for some purpose, use or activity." The inclusion of the word "before" in this definition is not by accident. One way of assuring the success of your trip is to remember the "Rule of Befores".

Listen to a weather forecast before planning a trip. Tell people where you are going and when you'll be back before you leave. While on the trail, drink before you get thirsty, eat before you get hungry. Add a layer of clothes before you get cold; remove a layer of clothes before you get hot. Make camp before you need camp. Find protection from foul weather before it arrives.

By doing these things, you will find yourself always thinking ahead. Think ahead at all times and you will rarely find yourself unprepared.

For more information on backcountry safety, check out the Mountain Rescue Associations public education programs @

Courage - Commitment - Compassion
     Mountain Rescue Association 

Friday, July 22, 2011

Hyperthermia and  Heat-Related  Illnesses 
While there are times when you want to retain as much of your body heat as possible, there are times when the body needs to release as much of it as possible in order to avoid hyperthermia.

Hyperthermia is most often the result of excessive exposure to heat. The heat regulating mechanisms of the body become unable to effectively deal with the heat, therefore the body temperature climbs emergency that requires immediate medical attention.  

Hyperthermia is the name given to a variety of heat-related illnesses.  For the purposes of this blog post we’ll focus on the hyperthermia that occurs when the body is unable to cool itself sufficiently when challenged by long periods of intense heat and/or activity.

Muscle cramps (a.k.a. "heat cramps") occur when the body's salt content is low. This salt content drops below normal when excessive sweating occurs. Though very painful, cramps are not a dangerous situation.  They are, however, an indication that the backcountry user is doing a poor job of monitoring fluid levels.  Salt tablets, available at any pharmacy, should be taken on any trip that will involve excessive exercise.

Heat exhaustion occurs when the body is unable to cool itself sufficiently. This generally occurs in warm climates, but can also occur in the mountains. A victim of heat exhaustion is a victim in trouble.  Heat exhaustion is generally caused by too much exertion during hot weather.  Symptoms of heat exhaustion include moist, clammy skin, weakness, nausea and possible delirium.

Heat exhaustion can be treated in a number of ways.  First, the subject should be removed from exposure to the sun, and exposed to a cool place, preferably one that includes air conditioning.  Water or juice should be administered to replenish fluids  – but alcohol, caffeine, and soda should be avoided. The subject should also be encouraged to shower or bathe, or a cool sponge bath can be considered. Finally, the subject should lie down and rest, ideally in a cool place.

In its advanced state, hyperthermia presents itself as heat stroke or sunstroke, the acute condition which occurs when the body produces or absorbs more heat than it can dissipate.

Heat stoke occurs when heat exhaustion is not treated.  A victim of heat stroke is a victim in a life-threatening situation.  This is truly a medical emergency.  The body has become so over-heated that it is generally no longer able to sweat.  Without the ability to sweat, the body cannot cool itself.  If this victim were an automobile's radiator, steam would be shooting out of the mouth, nose, ears and eyes.

Symptoms of a victim of heat stroke include dry skin, flushed face, nausea, weakness, delirium and eventually unconsciousness.  This person's internal temperature is dangerously high and the possibility of brain damage is introduced

For more information on backcountry safety, check out the Mountain Rescue Associations public education programs @

Courage - Commitment - Compassion
     Mountain Rescue Association 

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The "Ten Essentials"

The first and most obvious rule of safe backcountry use is to always carry equipment that might become necessary in emergencies. Every backcountry user, even on seemingly insignificant day hikes, should carry the most basic equipment; commonly referred to as the “Ten Essentials,”

The key word is "essentials." The survival equipment, clothing and other resources you carry will increase your chances of surviving an emergency. Even backcountry users on short day trips should carry and know how to use the Ten Essentials.

Technically skilled and highly experienced rescue rs never go into the field on search or rescue missions without these ten essentials. Carefully selected, these items can easily fit within a small backpack.

1. Topographic map and magnetic compass - Too often, backcountry users venture deep into the backcountry without a map and compass. The fact that they are able to safely venture back out is usually pure dumb luck. With a map and compass, it is much easier to identify your location and direction of travel. This is especially important in the event that you become lost.  To learn to use these items, see the chapter entitled "Map and Compass" in the MRA's GeneralBackcountry Safety program

2. Flashlight or headlamp (with extra batteries and bulb) - How far do you suppose you could safely travel at night in the backcountry without a flashlight? Could you signal others, if you saw a campsite far away? A flashlight or headlamp makes travel at night possible and aids in signaling when lost.

3. Extra clothing (including mittens, hat, jacket and rain gear) - Hypothermia is the most common killer of backcountry users. Inability to maintain body heat can quickly rob an unsuspecting victim of all energy and common sense. Since severe weather may present itself very quickly in the backcountry, extra clothing should be carried to help maintain body heat.

4. Sunglasses - Especially in the winter, ultraviolet glare from the sun can cause blindness. Worst of all, the backcountry user may not realize this is happening until it is too late. A good pair of sunglasses, designed to limit ultraviolet light, will eliminate this risk.

5. Extra food and water - These items will maintain energy levels in the case of an emergency and help maintain body temperature in cold weather. While you can survive three days without water and three weeks without food, your energy levels will be seriously depleted without these.

6. Waterproof matches in waterproof container - Waterproof matches, available from most backcountry supply stores, are capable of igniting in high winds and/or blinding rain. Building a fire may be impossible without these. Fires are critical since they not only provide heat, but also make the job of search and rescue teams easier by providing a visible signal.

7. Candle/Fire starter - A candle burns much longer than does a match. This is helpful when trying to start a fire, especially if your firewood is wet.

8. Pocket knife - There are a multitude of applications for a pocketknife in emergencies. The common Swiss Army Knife is so-called because it is standard issue for the Swiss Army, which has devised 246 uses for their standard 7-instrument knife.

9. First aid kit - Proper first aid care is difficult, if not impossible, without a good first aid kit.  Backcountry shops carry several brands of small, lightweight first aid kits including small first-aid manuals.

10. Space blanket or two large heavyduty trash bags - These items can help provide shelter in an emergency situation and can be used as a raincoat or a windbreak. The additional
warmth they provide far outweighs their minimal weight.

This list of "Ten Essentials" assumes your trip is a summer excursion. At any other time of the year, be sure to bring more of the right kind of clothes. When choosing your equipment, remember that the body's ability to maintain its core temperature is critical to your survival in the backcountry.

Unfortunately, a large percentage of search fatalities would have probably survived had they carried and used the ten essentials. When you venture into the backcountry, you are often many miles away from civilization.   Emergencies often present themselves at times when qualified help is many hours away. This simple fact underscores the need to carry emergency equipment.

For more information on backcountry safety, check out the Mountain Rescue Associations public education programs @

Courage - Commitment - Compassion
     Mountain Rescue Association