You're Doing it Wrong: Safety

The wilderness can be a hazardous place, but the biggest danger to you is, well, you.
Author:
Publish date:
Backpacking Safety

Your “I’m dying” video is blubbering and ridiculous.

That wrong turn really snowballed on you, didn’t it? But before you go to that great basecamp in the sky, think of your legacy. The internet outlives us all. Protect your rep with tips from TBA Outdoors

Make it relatable. Could’ve happened to anyone, right? Seize the narrative before you’re labelled just another “underprepared hiker” and everyone goes nuts in the comments section about how you put SAR lives at risk.

Evoke emotions. If you can’t do that while dying, holster that iPhone.

Keep filming. You have no cell service and have to use that battery for something. Who knows? Attempting to nail that perfect Scorsese ending could be your reason to live.

Debatable: To treat or not to treat?

Facts: No one wants to get sick from bad water and no one likes treating it. Multiple studies confirm that most—but not all—the backcountry water in this country is pretty safe. So how to manage that tiny risk?

Treat every time: As a child, I suffered a severe bout of gastrointestinal distress in the Adirondacks. As an adult, I came back from a hiking trip in Asia with a stomach parasite. Anyone who doesn’t treat water is basically a lucky idiot. –Eli Bernstein

Treating is a waste of time: Confession: I don’t treat water. And I’ve never gotten sick. As long as you steer clear of livestock and stick to sources with minimal human impact, the wilderness water in the U.S. is really good. Pick your spots and drink up. –Maren Horjus

You didn’t tie a stopper knot.

It takes 10 seconds and ensures you can’t rappel off the end of your rope—making it perhaps the best time investment in the outdoors. Use the half fisherman’s knot, which doesn’t require a lot of rope to tie, and won’t slide. On dual-strand rappels, tie stopper knots on both sides. Master one, or learn them all with our knots course.

You don’t know the ABCs of first-aid.

When disaster strikes, rely on this simple plan to kick-start the lifesaving process and assess injuries.

Airway : Check for blockages in the throat, and, absent cause for a cranial-spinal injury, adjust the head so it’s in a normal resting position.

Breathing: Is the victim drawing breath? Put your hand under the victim’s nose to feel for heat. Or stick a mirror or knife blade under there to check for vapor.

Circulation: Check for a pulse in the neck and in injured limbs above and below the wound. 

Want to learn more? Sign up for our first-aid basics class.

I trusted my partner's memory. 

Above treeline in one of those snow-and-rock scenes where the TV shows play the ominous music is no place to lose your head. Pakistan’s Nanga Parbat is not nicknamed ”Killer Mountain” ironically. But we’d done our homework—or so we thought.

One member of our team had climbed Nanga Parbat seven years before, and he remembered fixed ropes that would aid our downclimb. You can forgive us for thinking, after we summited victorious, that maybe the hardest part was over. Except, a lot had changed on the summit since my team member was last there. Those fixed ropes? Nowhere to be seen. So there we were, not 100 percent certain it was even possible to climb down this particular ridge. I couldn’t help but wonder how we’d gotten this high without being sure how we’d get back.

Time to panic, right?

Five miles high in the literal Death Zone is not a great time to obsess over mistakes or launch into finger-pointing recriminations. Yes, we had our little freak-out moment, but then were able to shift our attention to saving ourselves. We stopped and took 10 breaths—two seconds in, two seconds out—to switch out of flight-fight mode and allow the brain’s executive function to reboot and take over. Then we slowly made our way back to safety, one pitch—sometimes one move—at a time.

Things go wrong in the mountains. Weather changes. Falls happen. Rocks slide. But one thing that should never go wrong is your pre-trip research. There is no way to be too cautious with the information your life will depend on. Our failure to confirm that the fixed ropes were still in place nearly killed us. And if, despite your best efforts, you are still surprised, now you know how to stop the panic and stay in control. –Doug Chabot

You’re crossing that stream wrong.

Water check: If the stream is rushing (or, honestly, moving faster than you can walk) and water level is above your knees, find a safer place to cross or change your route.

Pack check: Whether it’s calm, deep water or a shallow-but-swift river, unbuckle your hipbelt and sternum strap so you can quickly ditch the pack if you lose your footing (otherwise it’ll pull you under).

Footwear check: Keeping your boots dry is fine, but don’t go barefoot. Cross in your camp shoes, or pull out your boot insoles, strap them to your feet with duct tape, or roll your socks over them.

Buddy check: The stronger the flow, the more important it is to link up as a team. Two hikers should hook elbows. Three should make a triangle. Groups should form a conga line. The strongest goes first.