Safety: The Ten Essentials
Following are the Ten Essentials considered necessary for survival. These should be taken on any hike or moderate length.
Air Travel Warning
If you will be traveling by air, be aware that some essential outdoor equipment – including firestarting materials, knives, and epoxy – may be confiscated by Transportation Security Administration staff because of strict airline security policies. Check ahead on policies and make a contingency plan. Backpackers in Alaska have been dropped into remote areas by air charters only to discover a note in their backpack “The following items have been removed: three flares, epoxy” (Anchorage Daily News. Campers find airlines forbid essential outdoor gear, by Tataboline Brant, August 30, 2004).
The Ten Essentials
- Extra Food. Candy, nuts, or other high-energy food.
- Extra Clothing. Even on hot days take extra clothing. An Alaskan walk can start with temperatures in the 70s and end with heavy snow or driving sleet on the high ridgetops. Always take a hat (much of the body’s heat loss is through the head) and gloves. Also long pants and wool or polypropylene sweater, and wind- or waterproof pants and jacket should all be worn or put in the pack. Take waterproof wear for forest walks – even on good days after a rainfall the wet brush can soak a person in minutes. On high alpine ridges, a quick drying windproof shell over wool is the best combination. Be sure to wear wool or polypropylene socks.
- Map. SEAtrails trail maps are intended as a general guide for planning outdoor recreation, and are not intended as navigational aides. For backcountry travel make sure you have a navigational quality map (probably USGS quadrangle) at a scale suitable for guiding travel.
- Compass. No one is immune to getting lost. Alaskan berrypickers have wandered a few yards off a major highway close to their homes and spent a night out in the bush. Map and compass and knowledge of orienteering would set travelers straight in minutes (see “Getting Lost” below).
- Firestarter. Extra warmth from a fire can be a lifesaver in cold, wet conditions. Most searches in Alaska are done from the air, and smoke is the best way to signal position in a heavily forested terrain. Place matches in a watertight container (kitchen matches in ziplock bags or in plastic screw-top bottles). Lighters make a good secondary source of fire, but do not leave watertight matches behind. A firestarter is often necessary in addition to matches or lighter, especially if the fuel is wet. Candles make good firestarters. Pitch taken from a spruce tree or low dead branches will work, too. Or carry dry birch bark or buy a commercial starter. In heavy rain where cedars grow use the underside bark of fallen trees.
- First aid kit.
- Flashlight. These items are self-explanatory. A flashlight is needed when least expected – for signaling or to light the way for a late return. Take extra batteries.
- Sunglasses. Eye protection is important when traveling on snow in summer or winter or for crossing open water. Snowblindness is painful, debilitating, and potentially dangerous to the eyes.
- On most non-boardwalk forest trails, rubber fishing boots that extend to mid-calf and have lug soles (“Ketchikan sneakers”) are the best form of footwear. Wear sturdy hiking or climbing boots for alpine trips. An ice axe is needed for steep snow slopes.
- Strong twine (nylon clothesline is best), whistle, and signal mirror are important extras. Also take a space blanket for emergencies, and include nylon cord with snowshoes in case of trouble with bindings. Insect repellent makes life a lot easier in the bush. Sunscreen is important, especially for snow hiking days. Small brush trimmers are useful on poorly maintained trails. Sometimes surveyor’s tape is useful for making a route where it emerges into alpine country or a muskeg; but remove the tape on the return so as not to confuse other who come after. (Too much brightly colored tape in the woods is a problem also.)
- Compulsive hikers should have the Ten Essentials, camera, and binoculars in a pack always ready to go. Then no time is wasted when the good weather day arrives.