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Be Prepared Before Hitting the Trail

Prepare for your family hiking or caving adventure with these expert tips on safety and gear essentials.

 

With spring upon us and summer rounding the corner, families will be ready to exchange classrooms and cubicles for clear mountain skies, blue lakes and white water rapids in the Great Outdoors. Family camping has a long tradition in the United States, with activities ranging from the pure and simple pleasures of car camping and afternoon hikes to multi-day backcountry treks. But whether your family’s excursion is one day or one week, remember the cardinal outdoor adventuring rule: be prepared.

Emergency preparedness should be your top priority when you and yours head for the wilderness; a lack of proper gear can quickly turn a fun trip into a dangerous situation. Recall the March 2008 caving expedition of four young men in Tennessee’s Great Smoky Mountains? They left home with limited equipment, no waterproof gear and almost no caving experience. After descending the cave, they realized they were too exhausted to climb back out—a route that took them past icy cold subterranean waterfalls. Rescuers found them a day later, trapped 500 feet underground, cold, wet, but luckily, still alive.

With the proper gear—and a little foresight and common sense—your family can have a safe, fun outdoor adventure without being airlifted by Search and Rescue. Whether you are spelunking in a wild cave or hiking in Yosemite, the outdoor preparedness rules are the same.

Bill Gorode, caving expert from the National Speleological Society (NSS) says that one of the most important aspects of caving adventures—and any outdoor hiking adventure—is to take your time, an idea often overlooked by hikers and spelunkers who are eager to ‘get out there.’ 

“A mile-long cave can take all day to get through,” Gorode says, because you’re clambering over rocks and boulders. The most common accidents occur on the way back out, according to Gorode, “when you’ve let your guard down a little bit.” Slowing down will not only allow you to see rocks, tree stumps and cracks that can thwart your footing—you’ll be better able to enjoy the scenery and relax. Wasn’t that the whole point of your family camping trip in the first place?

The following is a list of emergency preparedness must-dos and gear essentials—compiled from Gorode’s insights, Beprepared.com and the ultimate backpacking resource, GORP.com—to ensure a safe family hiking or caving adventure.

Essential Gear

  • First-aid kit: bandages, poison ivy ointment, antiseptic—all essentials for frolicking in the wilderness.
  • Map.
  • Compass: decent ones start around $30.
  • Water bottles.
  • Sunscreen and hat.
  • Sunglasses.
  • Matches (waterproof, or kept in a waterproof container).
  • Fire starter.
  • Rain jacket.
  • Insect repellent.
  • Bandanas: multi-purpose.

Equipment

Being well-prepared for a hiking or a multi-day backpacking trip means bringing appropriate equipment—and sometimes, bringing extras. You don’t have to go hog-wild, but you do need to bring quality gear to keep you healthy, happy and safe on your adventure.  

  • Backpack: they come in all shapes and sizes. Get fitted by camping specialists at an outdoor store to ensure even weight distribution; i.e., no back pains.
  • Shelter/Sleeping bags: Three-season tents should be good for most occasions. Sleeping bags are all about personal preference. Again, ask a camping specialist for suggestions that suit your needs.
  • With kids: use Kelty Kid Carriers, or other child carrier packs, to tote tiny tots.
  • Trail food: granola bars, bulk foods (nuts, trail mix), cookies, candy bars.
  • Broken-in hiking boots or good trail runners with ankle support.
  • Extra pair of dry socks.
  • Clothes for layering: hat, pants, shorts (convertibles are great for hiking), thermal underwear, sweater or lightweight fleece pullover.
  • Water purification tablets.
  • Pocket knife or multi-tool.
  • A flashlight (or two) and extra batteries.
  • Freeze-dried meals.
  • Stove (and fuel!).

Caving Specific

If your family is planning on a wild caving adventure, remember: Tell someone where you’re going, and what time you’ll return. Here are some other suggestions and a list of important caving gear:

  • Bring three light sources—in case one goes out.
  • Use hardhats with attached headlights, to keep your hands free.
  • Gloves.
  • Light rain jacket.
  • Dress in layers—it will get cold down there!
  • Knee pads—for crawling: available at gardening stores at low cost.
  • Small backpack with snacks and water.
  • Proceed slowly and watch your footing for holes.

Handy Gadgets

Coghlan’s 5-in-1 Survival Aid: includes whistle, compass, waterproof matchbox, fire-starter flint and lanyard string to wear around neck. $2.50

KATADYN® Micropur™ Purification Tablets: purifies water from giardia and cryptosporidium bacteria and viruses. About $9.99 for a pack of 20 tablets. 


Themes: Outdoor Adventures

Activities: Hiking, Camping, Caving


User Comments

WMI has great classes I've enjoyed taking Wildreness First Aid classes from WMI (through NOLS). They have great instructors.

Adorable The photograph of the little boy is absolutely adorable.....This article has some great tips!!!!

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