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Backpacker Magazine – October 2006

A Dozen Ways to Die

How do hikers meet their maker in the backcountry? The answers may surprise you.

by: Steve Howe

Less Common but Still Lethal

8. Suicide When wilderness SAR teams respond to a frontcountry call, chances are the distressed party is what the ISRID lists as a "despondent." Suicides are especially common in national parks, but the victims tend to launch from drive-up cliffs and other accessible spots. Backcountry suicides are much less frequent–only a handful are reported annually. Advice: Call a suicide hotline, if for no other reason than to spare rangers the worst task they face.

9. Flash Flood Deaths due to flash floods are quite rare, and occur almost exclusively in canyoneering environments. But when they do kill, floods tend to take out groups, keeping the fatality average up around two per year. The good news: Almost every deadly incident we investigated resulted from an unwillingness to turn back despite obvious weather warnings. Advice: "If you're heading to a slot canyon, have a fallback plan," says Shane Burrows of "Then, if the weather's bad, you won't feel so determined to go on with your vacation."

10. Insects
Ticks and mosquitoes Every year, hundreds of people fall victim to the illnesses carried by these tiny pests. The list includes Rocky Mountain spotted fever, encephalitis, and West Nile. Advice: Apply deet-based insect repellent, do frequent tick checks, and wear bug-net clothing if necessary. Bees, wasps, and fire ants These 50 to 60 annual deaths almost always involve allergic reactions. Advice: If you're sensitive, carry an oral antihistamine such as Benadryl, or a prescription epinephrine injector pen.

11. Snakes and spiders Several thousand people are bitten by snakes in the United States every year, but only 12 to 14 of them die. "Without antivenom," says Langley, "there would be many more deaths." While black widow and brown recluse spiders are the most dangerous species, years often pass without a fatal spider bite in the United States. Advice: Keep the limb cold to reduce swelling, and get to a hospital as soon as possible.

12. Predators
Alligators Gators have claimed 5 victims in the last 12 months, but only 30 in the last half-century. Most attacks occur in lakeside Florida suburbs and on golf courses. Advice: Don't linger on the banks of gator-country swamps, particularly at night.

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Reader Rating: -


Nov 15, 2013

When you die in the wilderness you die, you're dead. You don't meet anyone. Humans are not made by anything or anyone. If you die while recreating in the front country or the back country, you just die. Whether that death is pain free or not depends on the manner of death. However it happens, the deceased does not and cannot meet their maker.

Star Star Star Star Star
AZ Hiker
Nov 15, 2013

Live to hike another day by staying found and knowing how to use a compass. Even skilled explorers can become lost or somehow end up spending the night hunkered down because of weather or injury. Many people never consider that they might end up unexpectedly spending the night outdoors or waiting for medical help --and so they hike without the essentials. Day-hikes can be the most dangerous because hikers usually carry minimal supplies. Learn what to pack for a day-hike, what to do if you get lost, how to get rescued, and survival packing just in case you end up unexpectedly spending the night outdoors. Read "Felix the Sugar Glider Be Safe Hike Smart" (Amazon). Learn how to orient yourself using a compass, a compass and a map, a map and no compass, no compass and no map. A compass doesn't need a signal, satellites, or batteries and works in all types of weather, day or night, but you need to know how to use it and this book makes learning how to use a compass easy. Learn how to stay found by using a compass and paying attention to your surroundings. The ability to know your way and know where you are is something we all need in any survival situation not just while hiking. This book is for all ages. Look for it on Amazon, "Felix the Sugar Glider Be Safe Hike Smart."

Star Star Star Star Star
Nov 13, 2013

I thought this was a great article. For those of us that only get out there every month or so, it is easy to forget what the 20% of the 80/20 rules are. This article reminded me about several key points that I had forgotten.

Star Star Star
Nov 13, 2013

Whenever I need to be reminded that the wilderness is a death trap, full of dangers that should preclude anyone from venturing in to it's death grip, I know I can find something on Backpacker.

Too much Fear Porn guys.


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