PHOTO: Sarah Bulford
At a recent day-long event learning about different outdoor brands, I got to sit down and chat with Sarah Bulford, a British Columbia-based park ranger who talked quite a bit about how she’d love to see more women in roles like hers, or at least feeling like they could head to the great outdoors without a male chaperone. Which in turn, led us to discussing how many people feel (or are) ill-equipped to deal with an outdoor adventure if something goes wrong, or they find themselves lost. Which are skills every Canadian—regardless of gender—should know.
We’ve put together a list of things to keep in mind on your next hike or camping trip.
PHOTO: Sarah Bulford
Getting lost is probably the number one thing that happens to hikers and outdoor adventurers that causes problems. So, if you do find that you are lost the number one thing to remember is to stay put. If search and rescue is required to find you, the more you move around the harder it is to connect. While you might think you know which direction to head, just stay put. “If you keep moving and travelling, everyone is going to be following you,” says Bulford, “and it’s going to take that much longer for you to be found.”
2. Know the principles of "STOP" if you do find yourself lost
The first thing that’s going to happen when you realize you are lost, is you’re going to panic. Fight that impulse and instead, STOP. Stop stands for: slow down, think, observe and plan.
Slow down: Remember to breathe and know that you are not that far away from help.
Think: Consider what you have. Take store of your food, water and other supplies just in case you find yourself stuck for longer than you anticipated.
Observe: Look around you. What can your surroundings offer you that might be useful for building a shelter?
Plan: “You have a limited amount of energy,” says Bulford. You need to prioritize what you need to do immediately to survive.
3. Remember how long you can go without certain things
“You have three minutes without air, three hours without shelter, three days without water and three weeks without food,” says Bulford. Remembering that should help you think about what to prioritize and how to ration.
4. How to start a fire
Having a fire-starter or matches on hand is always a good idea, and there are several multi-tools that include flints. Always make sure to bring something that can create a spark—which is one of the main components of starting a fire. The others are: tinder, fuel and oxygen.
Spark: "The spark is provided by matches (ideally an abundant supply of waterproof and windproof strike-anywhere matches stores in a sealed container) or by a lighter, magnesium starter block, striker starter or flint and steel," says Bulford.
Tinder: Look for dry and flammable materials for tinder which can be found while out on your excursion, or which can be brought along. "Examples include absorbent cotton, dry grass and dry bark," says Bulford.
Fuel: To build a fire, increasing in size and heat, you'll need to add fuel. It can typically be more tinder which increases in size as you add it.
Oxygen: A fire needs oxygen to grow and burn. Bulford recommends opting for a teepee arrangement over the tinder.
If you need to smoke a fire (for example, if you wanted to create a signal), using moss or grass produces a lot of smoke. And always remember to take adequate precaution when starting a fire like finding an open area without overhead brush or low-hanging brances and using rocks to contain the firepit.
5. How to build a shelter
When it comes to building a shelter, you want to be aware of size—and this is a bit of a Goldilocks situation. “You don’t want to build a shelter that’s too big,” says Bulford, otherwise it won’t keep your body warm. But, it needs to be big enough that you can move in and out of it without knocking it down or being too uncomfortable. Then, look for materials that are already on the ground. There’s no need to start cutting branches before looking to see what has already fallen. This is part conservation of the environment, but also conservation of your energy.
In general, looking for trees that are close together where you could stack other logs between them (which would be more of a lean-to shape) can work well, but you can also consider a tepee shape. Start by using stronger pieces for your foundation, no matter what type of shelter you decide to build. Then, once you have a foundation, use branches, moss and leaves to squeeze into any cracks—this will be your insulation. And if you have a tarp with you, definitely incorporate it into your shelter.
6. Customize your first aid kit
You should always have a first aid kit on hand when heading on an outdoor adventure—even if you’re only planning on being out for the afternoon. The best tip from Bulford, was to customize a store-bought first aid kit to make it really suit the types of adventures you go on, and to add a couple items that usually don’t make it into pre-fab first aid kits, but should. Consider adding benzoyl chloride wipes (to disinfect cuts and scrapes), grippy bandaids (because cheap ones usually don’t work as well), abdominal pads (which absorb lots of liquid for deeper cuts), scissors (collapsible for ease), durable moleskin (medical band that reduces friction or can wrap around injuries) and plastic bags (to put between your damp shoes and dry socks, if needed).