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Backpacker Magazine – October 2008

Life-or-Death Decisions - Caught in a Storm

When a storm comes out of nowhere, learn how to handle the unexpected.

by: Elisabeth Kwak-Hefferan

(Illustration by Supercorn)
(Illustration by Supercorn)

You're stuck on a high ridge, engulfed in a flurry of thick snowflakes. What began as an overcast October dayhike has become a whiteout, and you can barely see the trail as you stagger against the frigid wind. Should you have seen this coming? Will you survive the cold? The answers depend on choices you made hours ago.

1. Packing
WRONG: Set out with your standard summer dayhiking gear.
RIGHT: In addtion to the 10 Essentials (waterproof map, compass and/or GPS, headlamp, food, water, extra clothes, first-aid kit, matches, firestarter, and raingear), carry enough gear to survive a night in cold, wet, and windy weather, says Anderson. He packs raingear, extra insulating layers, and a windproof jacket on any shoulder-season hike. "Having just a few small things can really save your tail," adds Brown. For winter trips, bring chemical handwarmers, a thermos of hot soup or tea, two different kinds of firestarter, a plastic sheet for an emergency shelter, and thick foil (or another container) to use for melting snow.

2. Planning
WRONG: Assume the forecast for the nearest city applies to the mountains, too–or don't check the weather because the sky is blue.
RIGHT: Find backcountry reports at or national park websites, or call the local ranger station. Research climate trends and read guidebooks for an idea of what to expect in a given month.

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Reader Rating: -


Delta Zen
Aug 23, 2013

What a dumb story - is it from Readers Digest?
Typical new BM - I've been laughing about it since 2008 when it came out. Story starts "what began as an October dayhike", that October as in Fall. How ridiculous then that the first WRONG scenario starts with "packed basic summer gear" or something like that.
Fall is not Summer.

Doug Shep.
Mar 23, 2012

Would like to see articles about those plants that could sustain life in the woods , while lost . Like Tanner Lowe suggested .

Doug Shep.
Mar 23, 2012

Would like to see articles about those plants that could sustain life in the woods , while lost . Like Tanner Lowe suggested .

Mar 18, 2012

Good everyday common sense article that new Hikers should memorize and from what I have seen, old experienced hikers too.

One suggestion if I may so add. I would NOT advise setting up an emergency camp under a Needle bearing Tree or build a fire under one for longer than an half an hour or so. The heat will melt the snow sitting on the branches above you which might just slide off and land on your fire and or on you. For a Gear suggestion, I have carried one of those Sportsman's Blankets with a nuetural green on one side and reflective Aluminum on the other since they were introduced, which I used more often than a tarp, in fact I stopped carrying a Tarp all together. Also one of the new Emergency Sleeping Bags that comes in the Orange sack and is reuseable on all my Dayhikes..
I also carry a Knit Hat to replace the Ball cap most of us wear. The Knit Hat is a lot warmer and conserves all that heat coming off your head.

Mar 17, 2012

nice article, however,it's just common sense that fills this article

Mar 16, 2012

Very good, common sense advice. Keep up the good work.

Tanner Lowe
Mar 19, 2010

I have very much enjoyed your articles on surviving a variety of situations. However, I have not heard or found any articles on edible plants and could sustain life in the wilderness and being able to differentiate them from the inedible. Another article that could be very beneficial would be learning about medicinal plants.


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