Wilderness Safety

Before You Leave Home

  • Double-check your backpack for your 10 Essentials and other supplies.
  • Make sure someone knows where you are going and when you plan on being back—then stick to the plan! 
  • Be prepared for a sudden change in weather. 
  • Check with a ranger station about the restrictions and conditions for the trail you want to hike.

Common Sense for Safety:

Wilderness in the Black Hills is remote and emergency rescue is difficult or sometimes impossible. Please explore the backcountry with care and common sense.

  • Plan ahead and be prepared with plenty of provisions and warm clothing.
  • Altitude sickness can occur in visitors from lower elevations.
  • Never travel alone and always let someone in civilization know where you are going and when you will return.

Emergencies: Call the local Sheriff's office. The Forest Service does not automatically initiate searches if a group doesn’t exit as planned. Search and Rescue is administered by the local Sheriff’s department. If someone is concerned because you are late returning from your trip, they should call the local Sheriff’s office.

For more Wilderness safety tips, contact the individual district which manages the Wilderness you will be traveling in.


Preparation and planning should begin at home, not when you arrive at the trailhead. Here are some suggestions to prepare you for a successful hike:

  • Get in shape!
  • Practice using your equipment.
  • Study a topographic map of the area.
  • Plan your itinerary, locations, mileages and elevation gains.
  • Plan your food. Repackage foods to minimize waste.
  • Leave a trip itinerary with someone at home.

All hikers should carry:

  • Warm clothing and rain gear 
  • Water 
  • Extra food 
  • Emergency blanket 
  • First-aid kit 
  • Headlamp & extra batteries 
  • Sunscreen & hat 
  • Sunglasses 
  • Map & compass

Smart and Safe Wilderness Travel

Stream and lake water may look clear and pure, but if harmful organisms are present, drinking untreated water can cause illness. Giardia lambia is a common water-borne parasite that can cause serious illness. It is every visitor's responsibility to make choices about water purification. If you choose to purify your water, either boiling for 3-5 minutes or filtering with commercially available hiker water filters is recommended.

Weather conditions can change quickly. Always dress in layers to facilitate continual adjustments. Also, try to be proactive in your body temperature regulation:
remove a layer BEFORE you begin to sweat. Add a layer BEFORE you begin to shiver.

Remember that in the wilderness you are on your own without written signs to guide you. A compass and accurate, updated maps are essential. Maps can be purchased from the Forest Service, area shops, or map companies. Keep your map in front of you and refer to it often. If you get lost, don't panic. Sit down, relax, and think. Chances are you will figure out where you went wrong and how to get back on course in a few minutes. If you are bringing a GPS (Global Positioning System) unit on your trip, make sure to also bring a map and compass in case your unit fails.

The body becomes dehydrated when the rate of water loss exceeds the rate of water intake. It is very important that you drink plenty of water. 2 liters is good on normal days, and 3 liters is good on days full of exercise and sweat producing activity. Signs of dehydration include chapped lips, headache, cold and flu symptoms, and infrequent urination.

The lowering of body temperature can be serious, even fatal. Early warning signs are uncontrolled shivering, slurred speech, bluish tinge to lips, lack of coordination, and poor concentration. Prevention is the best medicine; layer clothing and have adequate food and water. To warm a hypothermic person, seek shelter from the wind, replace any wet clothing, and share body heat if necessary.

First Aid
Carry a first aid kit and know how to use it. Each permitted group should carry a well stocked first aid kit and have group members that know how to provide first aid.

Serious Injury/Emergency
In the event of a serious injury or emergency, remember that the standard SOS call is a series of three signals of any kind. Mirrors and whistles are good examples of signaling devices. Avoid depending on cell phones, because coverage is usually quite limited in wilderness areas. When sending someone for help, make sure they have as much information as possible about the victim, the location, and nature of the injury/emergency.

The Great Sense of Personal Freedom Enjoyed in the Wilderness Depends on a Capacity for Personal Responsibility.