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10 things you must have if you're going hiking

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Preparation number one item needed to stay safe

John Blown grew up on the North Shore of Vancouver. He grew up hiking and climbing, and in the thirty plus years he's spent outdoors, he's never seen anyone hurt by wildlife. "Any time there's an injury," he explains, "it's because people aren't prepared."

A volunteer for the prestigious North Shore Rescue service, John says the first thing anyone taking a hike should do is have a plan. And that's good advice whether you're about to embark on a short, one-hour walk or a full-day expedition technical trek.

"And make sure you tell somebody where you're going," adds John.

There's dark, and there's pitch black

North Shore Rescue has been helping find and save people for some 40 years. In that time volunteers have been involved in more than 1,000 operations involving more than 900 people.

The number one reason the search and rescue (SAR) team gets called out, says John, is because hikers don't have flashlights.

"People never think they're going to be out after sunset," he says. But in remote areas with heavy tree cover it gets dark more quickly.

And in the woods, away from streetlights and the ambient light from buildings, John says you can't see your hand in front of your face. Most people are rarely ever in the dark, adds John. "When you're in the dark, you can't see anything at all."

Rapid-onset darkness is even more of a problem in the fall when the days are getting shorter.

Spring in the city, winter in the hills

In the spring, people are surprised when they find snow and winter conditions when they are hiking. John says that it may be nice and warm in the city, but it's still cold in the wilderness even at lower elevations. Expect snow. "People are not prepared for the winter conditions that exist on the mountains," John says.

Slipping on snow and ice can lead to serious injury, and John says virtually all injuries are because people aren't prepared. "Fatalities," he says, "are caused by slips and falls and hyperthermia."

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North Shore rescue crews train in helicopter hover entry and exit operations.

Be prepared and pack the essentials

If you're going to be hiking, North Shore Rescue suggests that you always carry the 10 essentials:

  1. A light source. Flashlights and headlamps are the best and extra batteries are a good idea. Don't think the small flashlight on your keyring will do the job. Neither will your mobile phone. Small lights don't provide sufficient light and while some mobile devices can generated bright light, they run out of power quickly while doing so.
  2. A whistle. If you get lost, a whistle is a great way to help search and rescue find you. North Shore Rescue suggests three short blasts on the whistle in regularly-timed intervals of about five minutes.
  3. An igniter. Use waterproof matches or a lighter and keep them in a waterproof container. A candle can be used to generate light and heat and is also good to have.
  4. Extra clothes: A hat, mittens, a fleece jacket, thick socks, and a waterproof shell are essential.
  5. A knife. As long as it has a good cutting blade, a small pocketknife will suffice.
  6. A large, orange plastic bag and thermal tarp will help keep you sheltered in the event of an emergency — crawling into the bag keeps you warm and dry — but the bright colours mean you can more easily be spotted by search and rescue.
  7. Food and water. If you get stranded, you'll be able to survive longer if you have high-energy food bars and water. You can also pick up electrolyte crystals that you can add to water at outdoor and hiking stores.
  8. A first-aid kit. Include a pocket mask, a Sam Splint, bandages and gauze pads, blister dressings, scissors, and protective gloves.
  9. Navigation. Old school compasses and maps are most reliable and therefore essential. GPS devices are common, but North Shore Rescue suggests they should be a supplement to a compass and map. Many mobile phones have built-in navigation applications, but they may not operate properly in remote areas.
  10. A communication device. Mobile phones are ubiquitous but they don't operate in remote areas. Have a proper two-way radio that you can use anywhere.

Enjoy the outdoors at BC Hydro recreation sites

There are hundreds of areas across British Columbia where you can get outside and into nature. Some are at recreation areas managed by BC Hydro.

Learn more safety tips including:

  • Consider the physical demands of the hike you want to do and be sure you are fit enough to complete it. There are always easier — and more difficult — options available.
  • Hike with a group and make sure you stay together.
  • Know the weather forecast before you head out and be prepared for rapid changes.