That’s a question we hear from time to time and I think it’s good that people are considering the things they’ll need to think about, before heading out into the Backcountry.
1. Know your abilities. Be honest with yourself. If you are sure how to measure that; get walking on community trails; get outside and take a bit of time to understand how your body feels when walking up or down a steep hill in terrain that isn't groomed to be even and easy walking. Think of rocks, roots and generally uneven ground.
2. Research before you go. How long is the trail? What is the elevation profile (ups and downs and back up again) is it well marked? Does it have lots of traffic or is it not frequented often. Plan your goal for the day with your current abilities in mind.
3. What’s the expected weather? What time of year is it? What's the snow line? Where is the freezing level? A couple of great websites for this in the US are the ZSE Freezing Level Map or Ventusky. If you’re in Canada checkout MountianForecast.com or Avalanche Canada forecasts in the winter season. Organize your clothing in layers. Think *base* *mid* *outer*. Steer clear of any base layer fabrics that don’t wick moisture away from your skin. This is especially important if you expect cooler temperatures. Hikers love layers as this gives the ability to adapt and continue to stay warm and relatively dry, as conditions change. Packing the right layers based on conditions you expect to face (wind/rain/sun/heat/cold) can make all the difference. Don’t forget the importance of headwear both for heat retention when needed and for sun protection when your destination will leave you more exposed to the elements.
4. Choose the right Footwear. This can't be emphasized enough. Expect the trail you walk to be vastly different than a community/urban walking path. This is often one thing that new hikers (and sometimes even seasoned hikers) tend to underestimate. Footwear doesn’t stop at shoes/boots. It includes considering socks, gaiters and sometimes microspikes, corks, or crampons for traction on slick surfaces. The terrain will also affect your travel speed, so you may find yourself adjusting your goals based on unexpected surprises you find along the way. Having the right gear means you have more tools at your disposal for a successful day.
5. Share Your Plan. Let another trusted adult know where you are going, when you intend to be back and your general plan for the day and at what point; if they don't hear from you, should they be in touch with local authorities/search and rescue. That way if you run into an unexpected emergency; you have a person who can get help to you. While there are tools out there to help notify others in case of emergencies; like **Spot Trackers** and *Satellite Phones* keep in mind these tools aren't 100% foolproof and require subscriptions, and ultimately sharing your plan with a trusted adult is a tried and true safety method.
This brings us logically too..
6. Pack the essentials. If something goes wrong, are you prepared to stay-put for the night? The most important things to think about here are exposure to elements, a bit of extra snacks and access to clean, potable water. When the sun goes down, so do the temperatures. You can checkout our: 10 Essentials Page to see a break down of the things you should be considering.
And finally - enjoy yourself! Wild spaces are an amazing resource and taking time to visit them is a proven method to help with both physical activity and stress levels we encounter in our daily lives. While we do need to respect that resource and our place in it, (see Backcountry Etiquette) we can all benefit greatly from unplugging and being "present" during our time on-trail.
Happy Trails ~ TheBackcountryCollective