The best choices for emergency gear will differ in each situation, but there is a list of must-have items each hiker, including those heading out on day trips, should have. The list of items include: first aid kit, emergency layers, emergency shelter and some extra food. I will discuss the first aid kit for hiking in a separate section, but I would like to say it being extremely important in any hiking kit. Extra layers and food are easy to have and they might save your life in case of unexpected. Extra two-three days’ worth of food is a standard in any multi-day hiking trip.
An excellent, possibly life-saving piece of any gear kit is an emergency bivy. It weighs as much as a snack bar, but can serve as a cover from all the elements. Given its shiny surface, space blankets can be used as a signaling tool; in case you are being rescued, as people are complicated to spot form a helicopter in the wilderness.
A lightweight tent is also very good to have if you are heading out to rugged terrain, especially if on your own.
As global technology is advancing forward, so is the emergency gear technology. Some specialized pieces of equipment include personal locator beacons, GPS devices, satellite phones and avalanche gear, when traveling on snow. If you’re hiking nearby cities, your regular phone might even be able to provide you all of that (given you have cell-phone reception), hence, save your battery and keep your phone off. Unfortunately, however, often you won’t have this luxury, and that’s when the satellite phone has incredible value – an expensive tool to communicate to civilization.
Personal Locator Beacons (PLB) are incredibly useful pieces of equipment. They are very small and portable these days, and one switch can send a GPS help signal to the Search and Rescue (SAR) in the area. It is important to check how do search and rescue bodies work in your country. The negative aspect of the PLBs is their significant error radius (especially in narrow and sheltered mountain valleys). Furthermore, it is a forward signal only, hence you won’t be able to know, if help is coming… and it might be several days before someone reaches you.
GPS is invaluable piece of equipment, when wondering around unknown terrain, it may save you in bad visibility or if you are a lost. GPS devices can be as small as your watch these days, and you can use them for navigation and back-tracing your route.
Avalanche gear is an absolute essential, when winter hiking; appropriate training on travelling in avalanche terrain and avalanche rescue is essential for all group members in winter hiking pursuits over snowy mountains.
What to do in emergency situations
To begin with, do not panic and clearly assess the situation and possibilities. Pool your resources available to you, think about how far you are from safety and what options you have available.
If you’ve left your intentions with someone, it is often best to stay put, as it will be the easiest for the rescuers to find you, when you aren’t too far from your anticipated route. However, if you haven’t told anyone, it might be while until someone will start searching for you and if you are in a remote enough location, your chances could be slim.
If you don’t know where you are or where you should be going, see if you can back-track your route. Can you recall any prominent landscape features? It is often useful to have some navigation tools, such as a map and compass, as this may help you find you way back. Basic navigation essential skills are essential for any hiker.
If you are injured, assess on hoe serious are your injuries, and how fast and far could you move towards help.
Essential First Aid gear for Hiking
Even the strongest and the best of us can get injured; no one is protected from accidents. Stuff happens and as they say – at the worst times possible. First aid skills and gear are your primary safety net, and every wise hiker should have those. An outdoors first aid course is a solid investment; as these are specialized and tuned to dealing with most common outdoors injuries and accidents, using available tools.
First Aid-kit essentials:
- Sports tape (blisters), sprains, and larger injuries (as well as a gear repair tool).
- Band-aids, wound-covers.
- Some disinfectant solutions or wipes, antibiotic treatments.
- Elastic bands for sprains, broken bones and heavier wounds.
- Painkillers, anti-inflammatory medication.
- Space-blanket for insulation
Frequent hiking emergencies and injuries
Here is a list of common injuries and emergencies that is essential to know how to deal with. First aid is an extensive and complicated topic; only a very brief shortened version is provided here. You should adjust your first aid kit based on the possible hiking environment hazards and medical conditions you might be dealing with.
First step dealing with blisters is taking every precaution not to get them. Treat with any friction points immediately, using sports tape to reinforce your skin. Avoid any wrinkles in taping. Choose appropriate shoes and socks and avoid getting your feet wet.
Ankle sprain is one of the most common hiking injuries, due to walking on uneven terrain with a heavy pack. If you are in the backcountry, sprained ankle can cause serious issues and can even be life-threatening. Sports tape and elastic band can help immobilize the ankle, while hiking poles or a tree branch might help with the walking. Hopefully, you will have your hiking buddies there to take off your load and help you with walking.
Bruises should first be cleaned well, for there to be no mud or other pollutants in it. Plain clean drinking water is sufficient. Antiseptic wound was and some clean padding or a cloth as a sponge can also help. Apply a thin layer of antiseptic antibiotic ointment on the clean wound and cover it with a sterile wound cover, ideally reinforcing it with sports tape as you will be moving. If you have sufficient wound covers, try to change them regularly.
Dehydration is also extremely common among hikers. Lightheadedness, weakness and fatigue are just some of the symptoms of dehydration; confusion and blurred vision can also happen if severely dehydrated. The best test for hydration levels is your urine color. Physical activity and heat contribute to increased rates of lead to increased rates of dehydration. Dehydration is a frequent outcome of diarrhea and even fever.
In some cases, just water might not be enough to replenish your fluids. Water with salts and sugars added has a much higher hydrating power; sports drinks and rehydration tablets in your water (or just some table-salt and/or sugar) could also do.
Hyperthermia (heat shock) is very common summer hiking companion. The affected person will suffer from nausea, headache and might even become delirious or unconscious. The first thing to do to is help a hyperthermic person is to get them out from the heat and attempt to cool them down, as well as supply efficient rehydration formula. Wet towels, ventilation are effective ways to help cool the person down.
Hypothermia is a dangerous drop in core body’s temperature. Given it is one of the most common causes of death among hikers, it is important to know how to recognize it and treat it.
Hypothermia is described as a dangerous drop in person’s core body temperature that may result in vital organ shutdown that may lead to consciousness and death. Hypothermic person may partially loose body’s functionality, including ability to warm themselves.
A hypothermic person might become confused, delirious, lose sense of cold (or even start feeling the opposite). Hypothermic people tend to become slow, appear lost. If you observe any of this in your hiking buddy (-ies), make shelter immediately, removing the person (-s) from the elements. Emergency space blankets, bivies, backpack-liners and natural rain and wind protection could save a life in this situation. Remove wet clothes and provide dry warm layers. If the person is seriously hypothermic, they might not be able to produce their own heat; hence you might have to warm them up with body-body contact. Warm drinks and sugary snacks will also help to warm up.
Alcohol might be detrimental for a hypothermic person. The sense of warmth alcohol provides is false – actually leeching your core body’s heat and making them cool down even faster.
As you might have gathered already, hypothermia is very dangerous and challenging to deal with in backcountry; hence should best be avoided. Moving fast and snacking on high calorie foods will help your body generate enough heat and prevent any of this from happening.