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At some stage, we all fall victim to the romantic image of spreading our arms out in the sunshine as we summit a mountain peak with nothing but the boots on our feet and clothes on our back. As glorious as this image is, at best it’s pretty unrealistic, at worst, it’s downright dangerous.
Nature contains both beauty and fury with equal strength, and in the mountains, a gentle breeze can quickly turn into a pummeling gale. By packing appropriate items you will unburden your mind of “what if” safety concerns and focus on enjoying the journey. So here are 10 emergency essentials that should be taken on any hike.
Lightweight, easy to use, and powerful: a tactical flashlight will light the way if your hike accidentally extends past sunset. Its strong light can warn off or blind dangerous animals, or be used to signal to passing planes if you’re caught in an accident.
Comprehensive reviews can be found at Outer Optics, specifically covering tactical flashlights and UV flashlights. UV bulbs in tactical flashlights carry the extra bonus of providing intense light that doesn’t drain battery life and making it a worthwhile investment.
A simple switchblade or swiss army knife can get you out of many binds and should already be part of your everyday carry essentials. They can cut chords for emergency shelter ties and prepare food. For added safety, it’s a good idea to have a plastic handle, stiff blade knife.
The plastic stops hand blisters and provides added grip. A strong blade can be struck with another blunt instrument to split small logs for a fire. Choosing the best knife to suit your needs is absolutely essential.
Fires are essential for keeping warm and cooking, importantly, it also builds morale and adds to visibility. Avoid store-bought matches and instead use lighter, waterproof matches or a magnesium fire starter. Magnesium fire starters are rods of magnesium combined with a metal striker, they produce a short burst of incredibly high-temperature sparks that can ignite wood shavings or other flammable material.
Most importantly, the metal rod will not be affected by water, meaning it works even in the rain, provided the sparks hit dry kindling.
It’s a boring one to have in the list, but one of the most important. Containing everything from slings, scissors, antiseptic, bandages and blister pads. Depending on what environment you’re in something as innocent as a blister can quickly become infected, or the pain of its abrasion causing a distraction while your attention should be elsewhere.
It’s a good idea to personalize your first aid kit based on what you need and where you’re hiking. If you have medication keep it with your kit and pack it somewhere easy to grab.
When hiking in hot places, or anywhere with high UV exposure like high altitude be sure to bring adequate sun protection, whether it’s a wide-brimmed hat, sunblock, or both. We’ve all heard of people dying from ‘exposure’, basically an inability to deal with the elements. Sun exposure makes hiking more dangerous.
Extreme sunburn can lead to disorientation causing injuries from falling and carelessness. Choose a higher factor -UVA/UVB +30 is recommended- for extra security, and remember that UV penetrates through the cloud cover.
Even if you’re not suffering from sunburn, hiking means sweat, and lost fluids need to be replaced. Always ensure you have enough water, and a way to source more. Water filters, distillation tablets, and boiling are all ways to ensure collected water will be safe to drink.
Drinking unsafe water in desperation can lead to diarrhea, muscle pain and vomiting, which everyone wants to avoid, particularly in an emergency. Consider the environment you’re hiking in and prepare. Factors like temperature, altitude and levels of fitness will influence your decision.
Emergency shelters ranged from a simple poncho and survival blankets to bivvy bags and specially made survival shelters. Whatever your choice, make sure it’s waterproof and choose a bright color that can easily be spotted by emergency rescuers.
Some emergency shelters are essentially orange tents without poles, they can double up as wind blockers or waterproof blankets for resting. In unlucky circumstances, they can also be used to make an emergency stretcher to carry someone to safety.
In case of a change in weather, or having to sleep out unexpectedly you should always have enough clothes to stay warm and dry. Avoid cotton as it takes longer to dry and can leave you shivering in the night. Pack some extra socks, gloves, hat and a synthetic jacket to keep warm.
A pair of fresh socks, even if not needed, can provide a morale boost. The same goes for a warm jacket, it can double up as a pillow and help you be refreshed to tackle the next days’ challenges.
Smartphones can be an essential lifeline for GPS maps, to get accurate coordinates for navigating, or to direct an emergency rescue to your location. They also provide access to a flashlight if your tactical light fails (remember, you should have all these essentials). If the battery is a concern bring a battery pack or consider taking a spare “dumb” phone whose basic functions give weeks of battery life.
Equipment is one thing to get you out of a jam. But you’ll need enough energy to face the physical and mental challenges. Ensure you have more than enough at hand. Honey sachets and dried fruit are helpful to recover from exhaustion, and nuts provide a whack of calories and, very importantly the fat generates heat within the body.
Some emergency essentials are less fun than others to bring, but no one should be complaining about an excess of snacks! Hopefully none of us ever need these emergency measures, but always be prepared for whatever the hiking trails, high mountains, or backcountry are going to throw at us. Even simple hikes can have unintended accidents, a simple sprained ankle could leave you tired, cold, hungry in the dark waiting for help. You’ll appreciate a tactical light, food, and a warm jacket as you calmly assess your situation.