Each year in B.C. there are over 1,000 outdoor rescue missions, more than the rest of Canada combined. Most of these missions are necessary because of a lack of preparation by those heading into the backcountry. We live in a beautiful corner of the world where we can enjoy numerous outdoor activities, but please be cautious and prepared before heading out. The information provided here is meant to be a basic overview of outdoor safety.
Hands-on experience is ultimately the best way to make sure you are prepared for the outdoors, and your best bet is to take a few courses (Canada West Mountain School, Spiritus Training, MEC and Slipstream offer great courses locally). In case of injuries, you may want to be better prepared by taking the St. John’s Ambulance’s Wilderness First Aid Course. Avalanche safety training, wilderness first aid, wilderness survival, orienteering, and so on. There are plenty of courses available. Not only do these courses prepare you for the outdoors, but they are fun in themselves!
Before heading out on any trip you must be prepared – even if you are heading to a familiar location on a day trip. The unexpected can occur, including sudden weather changes, injuries, getting lost, and wildlife attacks. It is a good idea to fill out a Trip Plan and leave it with someone you trust, so they can know when to expect your return, and can have all the relevant information they need to provide to the authorities if you don’t return.
Wildlife. Bears and cougars aren’t the only wildlife you have to worry about, ticks can also pose a problem. If they burrow into your skin, make sure you know how to remove them properly to avoid any chance of contracting Lyme disease. See more wildlife-specific safety here.
Winter safety. Traveling in the winter carries a whole new set of risks. Click here to see winter-specific safety tips.
The Ten Essentials
The Ten Essentials are a MUST for any outing. The Ten Essentials are a minimum required amount of gear to take on all your hikes. The easiest thing is to put most of the items in a single, waterproof bag that stays in your backpack and never comes out.
The Ten Essentials are:
- Illumination – A flashlight or headlamp in case you get caught in the dark. Headlamps are ideal as they are small, lightweight, have long battery life and enable you to keep your hands free. Always make sure you have fully-charged batteries before each trip.
- Firemaking kit – Waterproof matches or waterproof lighter in case you need to stay on the mountain overnight or find yourself needing to quickly warm up. It is also prudent to bring some firestarter, such as lint from your clothes dryer at home, so you can quickly get a fire started. A small candle is also helpful to have in your kit.
- Nutrition and hydration – It is important to bring extra food. This means enough food to sustain you during your outing, plus some spare calories in case you are out in the mountains longer than expected. Sugary snacks are a good choice as they will provide quick energy. So don’t be afraid to take along some chocolate bars. Bring 1 litre of water per person and think about bringing an extra water bottle if you can manage the extra weight. Sports drinks or powder mix are also a good option as they replace electrolytes lost in sweat. Bringing chemical water treatment or a water filter is also wise in case you need to refill your bottle from a stream or lake.
- Clothing – Be prepared for different weather. It is wise to bring a lightweight rain/wind shell, gloves, and a toque. Layer your clothes so you can add and remove as needed. Ask yourself: if you are forced to spend a night in the worst conditions possible for the season, what clothing would be required to survive the night?
- Navigation – A topographical map and compass should be brought on any hike that is longer than a short walk on a well-marked trail. These items are useless, however, unless you first know how to properly use them. A GPS device is a good supplement to a map and compass.
- First aid kit – There are many good pre-arranged first aid kits you can buy that will contain gauze pads, blister treatment, bandages, disinfectant ointment, sam splint, tweezers, and so on. You can customize your kit as needed, and also include some pain killers.
- Emergency shelter – A bivy sack, brightly colored tarp or large orange plastic bag will help keep you warm and dry, but also help you been seen by search and rescue.
- Pocket knife – A basic pocket knife can be useful in countless situations. Even better is a multi-tool that contains a few screwdrivers and scissors.
- Sun protection – Heatstroke can be dangerous. You want to stay protected from the sun at all times. This means wearing a hat that provides shade to your face and back of your neck, sunscreen, and sunglasses. You can also get lightweight, sun protection clothing that has an ultraviolet protection factor (UPF).S
- Signaling device – A whistle is important to help search and rescuers find you if you become lost (you can only yell for so long before your voice becomes hoarse).
Aside from the ten essentials, proper gear is important. This means buying some decent, sport specific gear. For example, proper footwear for good grip and to avoid blisters, and layered clothing to regulate body temperature. You don’t have to break the bank on the best gear, but you will appreciate having proper outdoor gear. Avoid cotton materials as these will draw heat from your body when wet and take a long time to dry.
Bring water, and bring extra water. It is also a good idea to have a purification or filtering system for longer journeys. Sports drinks are also a good idea as they work to replenish the electrolytes, carbs, and other nutrients you lose in sweat. Try to keep cool, wear a heat and stay on shady trails if possible.
Online Canadian Outdoor Gear Retailers
If you’re looking for outdoor gear, there are a number of great online retailers in Canada. Most provide free shipping with a minimum purchase. I’ve compiled a few trusted retailers below.
- Live Out There. LiveOutThere.com stocks a lot of great outdoor brands including North Face, Arc’teryx, Patagonia and many more. There is free shipping within Canada and free returns. Also, since they are based in Alberta, tax is only 5%.
- Columbia Sportswear Canada. Columbia has a great reputation for winter coats and gear. Shipping is a flat $7 within Canada.
- Under Armour. UA makes great athletic wear, and I’ve found a lot of their base layers perfect for days in the snow. Free shipping on orders over $49.
- Saxx Underwear. Developed by an athlete and avid outdoorsman, SAXX Underwear was founded with a mission to revolutionize the core staple of every wardrobe. Free shipping on orders over $125.
- Patagonia. A great collection of ethically sourced clothing and gear for all outdoor pursuits. Flat $15 shipping.
- Cabela’s. The go-to store for hunting, fishing and camping gear. Free shipping to store for pick-up, or on orders over $99.
- On Running. Swiss Performance Running Shoes. Soft landing, firm push-off: that’s the core concept behind the new running shoe by On, the young Swiss-based manufacturer.
- Backroad Mapbooks. Backroad Mapbooks is Canada’s top-selling outdoor recreation guidebook series. Get free standard shipping on all GPS maps with code BRMBFREESHIP.