10 items hikers need to avoid trouble

BROWN (US) — Many people, particularly those who are young and inexperienced, hit the hiking trails lacking essential equipment for a safe trip.

A new study based on surveys gauged readiness by how many of 10 essential items hikers in New Hampshire’s White Mountain National Forest brought along.

The items—recommended by the State of New Hampshire’s HikeSafe program—include a map, a compass, extra clothes, rain gear, a fire starter, a flashlight, extra food and water, a knife, a first aid kit, and a whistle.

Each year, scores of hikers require search and rescue missions, but little quantitative research exists on how and why they end up in trouble. Hikers are most unprepared on short hikes, even though they can quickly become dangerous, according to the study published in Wilderness & Environmental Medicine.

Among hikers who reported having “a lot of experience,” 54 percent were prepared, while among hikers with some, little or no experience, only 29 percent were prepared. (Credit: pyMac/Flickr)

“One of the goals of this paper was to figure out where are the gaps, what are people missing, and what are people good at,” says Ryan Mason, a medical student at Brown University and the paper’s lead author.

To compile the data, Mason surveyed 199 hikers in the summer of 2011 at the heads of three trails of varying difficulty in the White Mountain National Forest.

Mason, who before medical school worked for several summers to maintain hiking trails in parks around the country, asked hikers 22 questions about what gear they were packing, whether they had told others of their hiking plans, checked the weather, and why they packed or omitted what they did.

Overall, Mason found three out of five hikers brought seven or fewer items, his cut-off point for preparedness. Only 18 percent of hikers packed all 10 items.

Mason says he found it encouraging that two out of five hikers were prepared in that they brought more than seven of the 10 items, but some hikers were clearly less prepared than others.

Among 57 hikers in the 20 to 29 age group, only 17 were prepared; of 51 hikers aged 50-59, 29 were prepared. Among hikers who reported having “a lot of experience,” 54 percent were prepared, while among hikers with some, little or no experience, only 29 percent were prepared.

Other findings include:

  • Vast majorities of hikers did check weather and inform a third party of their travel plans in advance
  • Among the 150 people who planned to hike for less than 12 hours, only 39.3 percent were prepared, but among the 41 who planned to hike for more than 12 hours, 48.8 percent were prepared
  • The most common reasons for leaving out equipment was that the hike was considered a short trip or that the hiker forgot. Only nine of 167 hikers offering reasons said they didn’t own the needed equipment
  • The most commonly omitted items from the list were whistle (57 percent omitted one), compass (54 percent), and a fire starter (48 percent)
  • While many hikers didn’t bring a compass, 122 out of 199 brought GPS technology. But most of those hikers (95 out of 122) brought GPS-enabled cell phones, which have little or no reception within the park (even dedicated GPS receivers can sometimes fail there)

In other regions of the country, different equipment might be needed for a safe hike, Mason says. While this study only examines New Hampshire, rescue organizations often perceive most hikers as under prepared.

With a better understanding now of where the gaps in hiker preparedness are, further education could help the numbers improve and keep unfortunate injuries and costly search and rescue missions to a minimum.

Mason did the research as part of his scholarly concentration during medical school, with advising from co-authors and emergency medicine doctors Selim Suner and Kenneth Williams of the Alpert Medical School and Rhode Island Hospital.

The Alpert Medical School funded the research.

Source: Brown University

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  1. Rose McClean

    Interesting analysis! I enjoy going on hikes myself and I could use this valuable information to ensure that I am prepared. It can be very dangerous when you are out there especially when you are alone. I always try to go with a friend or family member.

  2. Craig

    As I recall, the fifties’ Boy Scout essentials included a signal mirror. Nothing like it to attract a search aircraft’s attention in the day time the Packmaster said. I admit there weren’t always sunny days hiking in the Pacific Northwest, but the mirror hardly weighs anything.

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