Every year, there are stories of stranded day-hikers in the Pacific Northwest. Enthusiasts set off on a short trail from a visitor’s center on Mt.Rainier only to get lost and spend an unexpected night outdoors in shorts and a tee shirt. Unless your day hikes are limited to trails where you’re never more than five minutes from your car, you should consider the possibility that you may get lost/injured, and what would happen if you did.
There are many places to take a short survival course, which can last anywhere from one hour to half a day. Local outdoor stores often sponsor evening or Saturday seminars on basic survival skills; hiking and mountaineering clubs may put on half-day courses. Even state fishing and wildlife agencies put on these quick 101-type classes.
One course emphasizes that among its goals is helping hikers prevent the need to survive. Ideally, find a course that actually takes you outdoors. It’s one thing to read or listen; it’s another to actually simulate survival techniques outside. Realizing how truly hard it is to light a fire with wet pine needles may prompt you to listen harder to the part about preventing the need to fight for survival.
Hikers get lost – even on well-marked trails
It’s easy to get lost, even on popular trails. Many contain off-shoots that you can end up on without knowing it – until an hour goes by and you realize you never looped back to the parking lot. If you aimlessly hike for another hour, possibly in the wrong direction, who’s going to be able to find you there?
If you lose your way, will you know how to find the trail back? Was there a river or creek near where you were hiking? Can you hear it? In survival courses, they’ll review how to be aware of your surroundings, and how to look for guideposts that can help you navigate. They’ll also give you real-life examples of when it’s often a good idea to stay put and mark your camp with a bright scarf, rather than risk getting yourself further away from where you’re supposed to be.
Many of the benefits of a survival course stem from the exercise of thinking through the “what-if” scenarios. In the event you later find yourself in the midst of a live “what-if” scenario, remembering your options can help you stay calm and make smart choices.