Outdoor Safety

The great outdoors isn't always so great

Aron Ralston made headlines when an 800-pound boulder fell on his hand while he was hiking the Blue John Canyon in Southeastern Utah. Being crushed by a boulder was newsworthy enough, but knowing no one would be looking for him, Ralston amputated his own arm to escape. Dramatic and heroic as this act of self-preservation sounds, he should be given a Darwin Award, not kudos. While there's no telling how he could have avoided the boulder, he - and his arm - could have been rescued if he'd left an itinerary with family, friends or park rangers.

While Ralston's story is extreme, every year hundreds of people lose their way while pursuing outdoor adventures. The consequences can leave you suffering anything from humiliation to hypothermia. Ensure your travel tales don't land you in Ripley's Believe It or Not by following a few common-sense guidelines.

Let Others Know Before You Go

At the risk of repeating ourselves, always, always, always inform others of where you are going. And no, saying "I'm going out, see you later," is not good enough. Whether you plan to boat familiar lakes, hike national park trails or camp in wilderness zones, leave an itinerary with family, friends or park officials with as many details as possible. Include

  • The territory you plan to explore - be it on the water, trail, mountain slope or cave
  • How long you expect to be gone (include time of departure and return)
  • Who will be venturing out with you
  • Your tent, boat or RV description (if applicable).

Not only will this information help rescuers, but simply knowing that others know your plans can keep you calm should you get lost. If you're where you told them you'd be, you'll be found.

What You Need to Know Before You Go

Whether you're skiing familiar trails or trekking new domains, a bit of research goes a long way.

  • Brush up on your orientation skills.
  • Know how physically demanding your adventure will be and get in shape.
  • Check the weather forecast. Knowing what's looming on the horizon will help you protect yourself against weather-related health conditions like hypothermia, frostbite, dehydration and heatstroke.
  • Understand the environment you'll be exploring. Learn to identify and avoid environmental hazards like toxic plants, poisonous insects and dangerous wildlife.
  • Bring the right gear. Summer tents won't help in winter and hiking boots are no substitute for climbing shoes. Proper gear is about more than just comfort. It can save your life.
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