Monday, June 15, 2015

Being Prepared In The Adirondack Backcountry

Forest Rangers DEC PhotoIf you are traveling into the backcountry beyond the trailhead these tips are important to keep in mind:

* Be prepared, consider what you need to do to protect yourself and to protect the Adirondack Park.

* Plan ahead. Let friends of relatives know where you are going, when you plan to return and what to do if you do not return on time.

* Avoid traveling alone.

* Dress in layers to protect yourself from the wind, rain and cold. Wear clothing made of synthetic fibers or wool and do not wear cotton in cold or rainy weather.

* Carry a lightweight, waterproof tarp for use as an emergency shelter. A storm proof tent is necessary for overnight trips.

* Carry lightweight foods and cooking gear. Use trail food such as nuts, dried fruit, candy, and jerky for nibbling. Carry extra food and water.

* Carry a portable stove. Stoves heat more quickly and useful in wet weather.

* Stop to make camp well before dark or at the first evidence of bad weather.

* Do not take unnecessary chances. Abandon the trip if anyone becomes ill or if bad weather sets in.

* If you think that you are lost, stay calm. Stop and try to determine your location. Do not continue traveling until you know where you are. Use your head, not your legs!

* Three of anything (shouts, whistles, fires, flashes of light, etc.) is a standard distress signal. Use these only in an emergency situation.

* In a backcountry emergency contact the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation Dispatch at (518) 891-0235

When traveling in the backcountry, be sure to take these essential items along:

* Sturdy boots, fleece layers and rain/wind gear (even on a sunny day!)

* In winter include snowshoes, hat and gloves or mittens

* Map and compass

* Flashlight and/or headlamp

* Water bottle and a means of purifying your water

* Extra food

* Pocket knife or multi-purpose tool

* Bivy sack or sleeping bags

* Matches and/or lighter and a fire starter

* First aid kit and insect repellent during bug season

* Whistle – three blasts is a distress signal

* Pencil and paper – to write notes in an emergency

AFPEP-TriangleThis essay was contributed by the Adirondack Forest Preserve Education Partnership, a coalition of Adirondack organizations building on the Leave No Trace philosophy.

A version of this post was first published in 2011.

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The Adirondack Almanack publishes occasional guest essays from Adirondack residents, visitors, and those with an interest in the Adirondack Park. Submissions should be directed to Almanack editor Melissa Hart at

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15 Responses

  1. Hawthorn says:

    As I suspect a lot of readers here also recreate in other parts of New York, it is worthwhile to also note the DEC’s other emergency number. This is from the DEC website: “If you are lost in the woods: Contact the Forest Rangers. If you are in the Adirondacks, call 518-891-0235, otherwise call 518-408-5850.”

  2. Charlie S says:

    ” In a backcountry emergency contact the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation Dispatch at (518) 891-0235 ”

    It used to be when we were lost in the woods we didn’t have phones to call for help….’we were lost.’ Either we were rescued or we perished sometimes never to be found. It seems so odd that we can be miles in the woods and are able to call for help. Are less people being lost and found because of the new technology? Are more people being lost and found because? Or are the numbers the same? Are we too reliant on the technology therefor putting ourselves in dangerous predicaments or seeking help prematurely?

    I take advantage of some of the new technology, cameras,computers for research,etc. but i’m still old-fashioned in lots of ways. I still use maps for road travel not a GPS. I still use topographical maps to know the woods.There’s more fun and adventure going over maps and they work like they have always worked whereas I have known people who were using a GPS and ended up in the middle of nowhere instead of where they were supposed to end up. And what if the technology fails and you’re in the middle of the woods? What if a satellite gets zapped from space and suddenly our GPS’s don’t work? Surely people who use GPS’s have old-fashioned backups in case. I would never go in the woods with just a GPS,that’s insanity.

    It all seems so strange to me…people reading books on electronic devices,people walking down the streets (or in the woods) looking into handheld devices,everybody everywhere yakking away into cellphones in public squares. How insecure are we? As if we’d be lost without all of the new technology. And televisions! You cannot get away from them,everywhere we go we’re subjected to them whether we wish to be or not.Very strange I say!

    If suddenly nuclear warheads were dispersed throughout the global community (which is very much a possibility the way things are going) because we have not learnt how to walk the earth like brothers and sisters,then down the road when aliens from space discover the ruins and corpses frozen in time,they will be stumped as to what those gadgets are that everyone has clenched in their fist when they are found.

    We’re getting too far ahead of ourselves and I can already see the consequences. Just thinking out loud……is all.

    • Paul says:

      Charlie, they are not necessarily talking about the person who is lost calling for help. Even before cell phones you could call a ranger if your friend or relative was lost. The same applies now.

  3. Curt Austin says:

    I always find something unsettling about lists like this. First, people just don’t behave this way; you have to reach them by letting them know what to expect, what might happen. Second, advice about being comfortable is mixed with advice regarding life and death; gotta keep those separate. Third, most of the advice is aimed at the novice, failing to note that experienced people know how to achieve the same objectives differently. Fourth, there’s always a touch of personal bias; e.g., the advice above mentions carrying a whistle, but not a cellphone, GPS or emergency locator – it was written by a traditionalist.

    On that latter, controversial subject: My recommendation is to carry a smartphone with the right apps and maps installed. Know that voice calls will only work near the tops of mountains, but that emails will go through as you pass through bits of data coverage (but not text messages, in my experience). Practice using the phone at home – your trail app, your compass app, your flashlight app.

    Carry a real map, compass and LED headlamp w/batteries, of course. Here’s advice I’ve never seen written down: Don’t wear a hat with a brim so low you don’t notice trail junction signs. Know that the most dangerous thing about hiking in the rain is that you’ll miss trail signs because of your parka’s hood and foggy glasses. I digress.

    Know how to manage the battery in your phone. Don’t track your route; it eats your battery. Put it in airplane mode when you don’t need it, or when it won’t work anyway. Carry a booster battery. If you’re in trouble, you’ll have to use good judgment about having the phone on or off as rescuers try to find you.

    Important exception: some people think you have to shout into a phone. You know, people you can hear from half-way across a busy airport lounge. Those people should not take their phones into the woods, nor bug dope, food, water, flashlight or anything else. Just die, please.

  4. Paul says:

    “Bivy sack or sleeping bags”. I bet it is rare to find hikers carrying either of these on a back country day hike? I always carry a pair of fleece mittens and a hat all year long. They fit easily into a day pack with most of this other stuff which I do carry. I think if you start taking about taking sleeping bags in for a day trip I don’t think too many people are gonna do it. For an overnight of course. But that is usually a different pack.

  5. common sense says:

    The Ranger in the picture is Greg George, I wonder if anyone can name the location it was taken?

  6. Charlie S says:

    That’s Greg? He looks different. A good man Greg is. That wouldn’t be Castle Rock?

  7. Charlie S says:

    Paul says “Charlie, they are not necessarily talking about the person who is lost calling for help. Even before cell phones you could call a ranger if your friend or relative was lost.”

    They ‘are’ talking about calling from the woods.At all the trailhead registers they now have phone numbers to call for hikers in case they get lost. The best thing to do is, like the author says, “Use your head, not your legs!” I thought I was lost at least once. I froze until I got my bearings but there were some edgy moments there.This was after the blowdown in the 90’s. Some hikers don’t think to freeze and to sit tight unfortunately.

    • Paul says:

      Since one of the “essential” items listed isn’t a cell phone I am not so sure. I don’t carry a cell phone with me in the woods I don’t want to lose that!

      Interesting, both hikers in the photo are dressed in what looks like all cotton.

      • william Deuel,Jr says:

        The best thing someone can carry with them when headed to the backcountry is experience. I became a backcountry hunting and fishing guide but only after many years of learning from others and actually being out and experiencing the outdoors one step at a time. All the items on the list I would agree with but gps and cell phones can let you down and in my opinion people rely on them way to much.

        • Paul says:

          I agree. you notice they are not in the list. the bestt thing a person can do is get “lost”and find their way out a few times.

  8. Keith Silliman says:

    I used to hike solo in the high peaks quite a bit. I always left my planned route, truck info, and the NYSDEC emergency number with someone. I also told them by when I would call them ( usually 3 hours after the time I expected to finish my hike).

    The hardest thing about this approach– not deviating from the planned route during the hike.

    I only pressed up against the deadline once (Street and Nye, of all places…..).

    I once lost a hiker on a group outing (actually, the first group hike I lead….). Before we started out, I advised them to just sit tight, if they got separated from the group, and we would find them. Luckily, the hiker followed this advice, and we were able to regroup and continue the hike after about an hour delay.

  9. Curt Austin says:

    Let’s say you estimate your time for a hike, add three hours or so, and let your spouse know when he/she should expect you.

    You’re delayed. Turns out you’ve got to hurry to get out on time. You curse yourself for having to follow a schedule – this is your day off, after all. You’re tired, and you should not be hurrying down this nasty stretch of trail. You actually carried gear to survive a night, and the option is looking good – except you don’t want be awakened by a search party. Et cetera.

    If you hike alone, I believe you have a special responsibility to be self-reliant. That means carrying the requisite gear, and providing a good cushion of time to your home base staff. A good reason to carry and use a cell phone is to keep this staff informed to avoid exercising rescuers, or to make their job easier should it come to that. It’s not to call for a rescue, at least that should not be the plan – your plan must be to hike in a manner that will not require a rescue.

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