Outdoor Living

When Traveling into the Backcountry; Plan for the Worst and Hope for the Best

The backcountry is defined in medical terms as being one hour from definitive care. That means a hike up Provo Canyon, Rock Canyon, any local canyon or trail, could be considered backcountry. We often think the backcountry is miles and miles from home; you don’t need to hike to Everest Base Camp or run a class V river to think about being prepared.   

 Plan Ahead and Prepare 

In the book “Mountaineering: The Freedom of the Hills” by the Mountaineers, they introduce the Ten Essentials. These are items you should take with you every time you venture into the backcountry, and they all fit in a small daypack. 

  1. Map (detail depends on where you are traveling, but a topographical map will show the most detail, know how to read it) 
  2. Compass (know how to use it along with the map)
  3. Flashlight or headlamp (remember to bring extra batteries) 
  4. Extra Food (in addition to what you plan on eating on your adventure) 
  5. Extra Clothing (an emergency blanket is lightweight and can provide a lot of heat) 
  6. Sunglasses and Sunscreen 
  7. First Aid Kit (with the things that you typically use: a roll of athletic tape, wound management items, moleskin, Ibuprofen, and Tylenol, etc.)  
  8. Pocket Knife  
  9. Waterproof Matches 
  10. Fire Starter (can use a cotton ball soaked in Vaseline stored in a film or pill canister) 

Although this book came out years ago, the essentials are still essential.  Sure, you can add to this list, what about a cell phone?  A cell phone is just another tool, and may or may not work. In the backcountry, you are dealing with unpredictable environmental conditions, narrow canyons or wooded areas where there may be no satellite service, and definitely no electricity for charging (yes you can use a solar charger if you have direct sunlight). There are many other tools that can help in an emergency, but these ten items can really help if an emergency arises and you need to spend a night out before help arrives or carry out an evacuation on your own.  The items are lightweight and compactable.  

 Leave a Detailed Itinerary with Family or Friends 

It is always a good idea to let someone know where you are traveling and when you intend to return. Leave an itinerary with your starting and ending location, route details, intended return time, freak out time, and rescue options. Have a self-rescue plan in place in case things do not go according to plan.  Do not assume that Search and Rescue or Life Flight can come and get you out; that may not be an option.   

 Become Educated  

The most important tool you can take with you into the backcountry is your brain. Weight is always a limiting factor because we want to move fast and light. If you take everything you think you need, your pack is going to be way too heavy. Take the essentials; learn how to make a modified splint with your backpack, sign up for a wilderness first aid class, and practice making good, sound decisions.   

Traveling in the backcountry should not be scary; what other places can one face the unknown, be physically and mentally challenged, and use critical thinking skills?  Taking your knowledge and skills with you will help if an emergency arises. Hope for the best, but be prepared for the worst.  


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Written by Kimberly Reynolds

Kimberly Reynolds is the Program Manager for the Utah Valley University OUtdoor Adventure Center