Travel in Numbers
With safety, size does matter. Two people are safer than one, four are better than two. The more people in your group, the more people that can help in an emergency, the more people that may have some knowledge or experience that can contribute to a successful solution, and the more people power available if the situation simply calls for helping each other out of a jam.
Travelling with multiple vehicles is also safer than relying on just one. Vehicle trouble is always a possibility; flat tires, dead battery, lost keys, damaged oil pan, any such vehicle problems can easily be rectified with another vehicle.
Let People Know Where You Are Going
Before you leave on the trip, always let someone reliable know where you are going, at least the approximate vicinity if you aren’t exactly sure where you will end up. It is always a good idea to do some advanced research with the agency responsible for the area you are going to. If going into a national forest, talk to the specific US Forest Service ranger district to ask about road conditions, and hunting, fire, or other restrictions that may be in place. The Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service, State Park etc., will also have information on current conditions that you should know about beforehand. This information may also impact your decision on where to go.
Make sure you have a detailed real paper/plastic map of the area you are going in your hands – DO NOT rely on your cell phone as internet service is often non-existent in remote areas. Also, it has often been our experience that the digital maps on your devices are not as accurate as they need to be when you get way out in the backcountry. Knowing how to use a map and a compass also isn’t a bad idea, however, when push comes to shove, the sun rises in the East and sets in the West. You’re welcome.
Keeping your cell phone charged up is always a good idea, although in remote areas, cell service is often non-existent, and some service providers definitely provide better coverage than others. It seems Verizon has better service in the back country than AT&T, but that changes all the time. There are a growing variety of electronic communication options including: Satellite phones, amateur radios, shortwave radio, Personal Locator Beacons (PLB), and Satellite Emergency Notification Devices (SEND) or some combination emergency devices are growing in popularity and accessibility.
Give Your Vehicle A Makeover
Give your vehicle the once over before you go. Check tires (including the condition of the spare). Check fluids, belts, battery, etc. Bring some basic tools and a tow strap, perhaps even 50’ or 100’ of rope that can get you through some of the more simple problems that may arise. Make sure the jack works and is easily capable of elevating and supporting your vehicle. Make sure the lug wrench fits your nuts, especially if you have after-market rims. Make sure your emergency stash of blankets, water, food, reflectors, clothes, batteries, etc. is well stocked and ready to use – just in case.
Have Emergency Supplies In Your Vehicle
It is a good idea to have a gallon or so of drinking water stashed away in your vehicle. A warm blanket and/or heavy jacket is also a good idea. Hopefully you already have some type of emergency kit with flares/flashers/reflective device, jumper cables, phone charger, foam tire sealant, flash light and extra batteries. Some basic medical supplies should also be on hand: pain relief, bandages, antiseptic – supplies to handle basic falls, sprains, bruises, bites, cuts, or burns. Wine, whiskey, and weed also cures many ailments.
If you have any specific allergies or medical conditions, make sure you have enough medication with you, and an extra supply stashed away in the vehicle. Make sure the people you are with know of the condition, problem signs, and basic emergency responses and treatments.
Obviously, if someone has a medical condition, they need to bring their special sauce, and plenty of it; more than can possibly be needed. Beyond specific conditions, a basic supply of band aids, bandages, elastic wraps, medical tape, antiseptic, pain relief, sunscreen, and insect repellant can get you through the vast majority of issues that may arise. Anything more serious, you better get to the closest help – which implies you know in advance where and who that is.
Know the Weather Forecast
The weather plays an important role in your outdoor experience. Bring the appropriate clothes for heat or cold, rain, or snow. Also, pay attention to the expected wind speeds as they will have an impact. There are numerous weather forecast providers and possibly numerous locations in the proximity of where you expect to end up, so check the forecasts for a few locations around where you may end up to give you a better idea of the range of temperatures and wind speeds/directions that might be expected. If you are going up into the higher elevations, expect the weather to be changeable, which includes rain and wind. If you are going to the desert, expect wind (and heat obviously).
In addition to the necessary fashion statements that need to be made, proper clothing and extra, “just in case” clothes are a must. Based on your expected weather, and the amount and type of clothing that calls for, if it is going to be hot, you might also include: a hat (wide brimmed for better sun protection), baseball hat, bandana to cover your neck/nose, swim suit even if you can just get a little dip or rinse off under a solar shower, sandals to let your feet breathe, sunglasses, and light colored clothing. If it is going to be colder: thin/lightweight but wind/rain resistant top layer, heavier weather proof jacket if needed, long pants (even if it is a thin nylon/weather resistance material), gloves, wool socks, wool cap, nylon/water resistance boots (don’t rely on tennis shoes), and avoid cotton clothes.
Know Local Hazards/Threats
Do some research on the area you are heading into so that you are aware of potential risks. You may be heading into tick country, poison oak territory. Mosquitoes can easily ruin a trip, so be aware if this is a heavy time of year or a particularly buggy area. Snakes and scorpions pose real risks in some areas. Rivers, cliffs, fragile rock formations, mines, unexploded ordinance all pose risks, so know what is up before you head out, so you can be aware and prepared.
Be Considerate and Respectful
The last thing anyone wants when you are way out in the middle of nowhere is a bunch of noise from other people. Be considerate that there still may be others within earshot, especially knowing that sound travels much farther when there is less competition from the racket of congested areas. Keep your clamor to a reasonable level after hours and early morning; you just might hear some nature if you do.
Don’t leave toilet paper, litter, garbage or anything else behind. Bury your human waste at least 4” deep and cover it well with soil and top it off with wood, rocks, or other natural cover to prevent anyone else from finding it or animals from digging it up. Don’t cut or damage trees or shrubs; try to minimize damage or any kind to plants, rock formations, soil, grasses, etc. Remember, every place you set foot is some animals house, hunting ground, breeding area, food source, and every impact you have will negatively impact the wildlife that lives there, so please keep it to a minimum.