Backcountry Safety

Pack the Essentials

When we set out for a hike or a day in the woods, we never expect to have anything bad happen. However, things can go instantly and terribly wrong: a sprained ankle, a bad thunderstorm, getting lost. Being prepared for the worst doesn't mean you have to carry a monster-sized pack, but it can make the difference between just being miserable for awhile and having your survival jeopardized.

Whether you are planning to be out for a few hours, or a day or more, it is essential for your survival to be prepared in case something goes wrong. Your day pack or fanny pack should include, at the bare minimum, the following:

  • Extra Drinking Water- Dehydration will increase the probability of hypothermia and fatigue.  Do not count on finding fresh water when you need it.
  • Extra Food – Items like energy bars are light, easily carried, and loaded with nutrients.
  • Extra clothing - Items such as socks, extra layers, warm hat and dry gloves, will keep you warm and help prevent hypothermia. You can become hypothermic in temperatures as warm as 50 degrees(F). Wool is excellent, as it will keep you warm even when it’s wet.
  • Sunglasses- Our high country sun is very strong, and can cause eye fatigue and discomfort.  Sunglasses also protect your eyes from wind.
  • Pocket Knife – Invaluable for many purposes – cutting, scraping, building.  Many pocket knives contain additional useful tools, all in a compact, lightweight package.
  • Compass- If you get lost this could be a lifesaver.  Know how to use it!
  • Fire Starters – Matches and lighters are a must in case you get stuck out overnight and need a fire to stay warm. Know how to build a fire!
  • Whistle - Easier on your throat and carries much better, if you need to yell for help.
  • Flashlight/Headlamp – It can be really dark at night in the wilderness – especially if the sky is cloudy.  Not only will you need it to see, it can be a great comfort if you are lost or hurt.
  • Space Blanket – Light, cheap, and easy to pack, this will give you a dry surface to sit on, a windproof & waterproof outer layer, a heat reflector a wind blocker and a shelter.
  • Personal First Aid Kit – At minimum it should contain band-aids, painkiller such as aspirin or ibuprofen, duct tape, first aid tape, gauze, alcohol/iodine wipes, and blister care.


Giardia is a microscopic organism that may be present in the water. If ingested, can cause diarrhea, nausea, weakness, and a fever. Filtering, boiling or using iodine tablets can eliminate the organism.

Weather and Elevation

Be aware that the weather in the high country can change rapidly. Temperatures below freezing and snow can occur any month of the year. Be prepared for all weather. In case of lightning, move down from high ground. Avoid ridge tops and open meadows and single trees.  Think ahead and get to safe areas before the storm hits.

Altitude Sickness

Visitors and stock coming from lower elevation need time to adjust to the high altitude. Symptoms are headaches, lighheadedness, nausea and dizziness.  Drinking enough water can help, but if taken by altitude sickness, the only cure is to return to lower elevation.

Staying Found

  • Although trail signs are found at most trail starting points and junctions, it is recommended that you obtain a topographic map for your travels.
  • Always let someone know where you are going, and when you will be back.
  • Always carry a map and compass and have the ability to use them.
  • Fill out the trailhead registration sheet when you enter.

Forest Fire

  • If you see a forest fire...
  • Do not attempt to suppress it, report it immediately!
  • Keep well away from it, there is always the danger of falling trees, snags and rolling rocks.
  • Always travel below or down valley from a fire.
  • Safe areas include rock outcrops, alpine meadows and aspen patches. 

Bears and other wild animals

99% of the time, wild animals are more afraid of you, than you are of them. However, preparedness is best. View helpful information about living with wildlife.