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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 http://mra.org/images/stories/training/backcountrysafety.pdf.

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 @ http://mra.org/training/public-education

Courage - Commitment - Compassion
     Mountain Rescue Association 

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