Safety in the Great Outdoors

Expect the Unexpected

Before you set out, try to imagine what conditions you might face. How would you survive if something goes wrong? Even on a short trip, you might need to spend the night— and the weather could deteriorate. How would you get help if you become lost or injured?

Find out about the area you plan to explore. Bring a good map, and check the weather forecast. Tell others of your intended route and timetable. Never travel alone, and always stay with your group. Wear the proper clothes and footwear. You'll also need enough water and food.

Whenever you go hiking, take along something to protect you from cold, rain or wind. A waterproof reflective survival blanket is ideal; it’s cheap, reusable, highly functional, and takes very little space in your pack. As well, bring along a whistle so you can let others know your location, and a flashlight in case you are still on the trail when the sun goes down.

If you get into trouble, early detection can mean the difference between a safe return and a life threatening situation. The Canada Safety Council recommends that anyone who likes to venture into the wilderness, whether on foot, by water or on a vehicle such as an ATV, should invest in a wilderness survival kit. They come in different levels, with components suitable for the day hiker up to the veteran adventurer.

There are many suggested equipment checklists, but no single list covers every circumstance. The Canada Safety Council advises wilderness adventurers to use common sense and take all appropriate precautions.

Make Yourself Easy to Find

When you head into the wilds, bring a map, Global Positioning System (GPS) and mobile phone. A GPS, used in conjunction with your map, should enable you to find your way out. With a mobile phone you can usually call for help.

As soon as you realize you are lost or need help, stop. Staying in one place makes you easier to find. In case of a serious injury, build a shelter and wait for rescuers. Trying to transport an injured person may lead to exhaustion or further injury. If you are stranded because of a broken-down vehicle, such as an ATV or aircraft, it is usually best to stay where you are. Large objects are easier to spot than a lone hiker.

If you need to signal, move to higher ground. Aerial flares and signal mirrors can attract attention. Once help is on the way, smoke flares, whistles and distress flags can help rescuers identify your exact position and keep them on course.

Teach Your Children Well

Supervise your children closely and make sure they know what to do should they get lost.

Tell them to choose a tree near a clearing and stay there. They can hug and talk to the tree if they feel frightened. Tell them to yell at noises that scare them. This scares animals away and helps searchers find them. Above all, tell them no one will be angry at them if they get lost. Children have been known to hide from searchers for fear of punishment.

Beware of Bears

Canada is known around the world for its bears. However, confronting a bear in the wild can be deadly.

Bear behaviour is complex and there is no single strategy to protect yourself. First and foremost, take measures to keep bears away. Never prepare, eat or store food in your tent when camping. If you are hiking in the woods, make noise to advertise your presence, and stay in a group. Bears are attracted by scents, so keep food and garbage in airtight containers, and avoid perfumed toiletries. Before planning a trip in bear country, seek instruction on how to deal with specific types of bears and confrontations.

What If Lightning Strikes?

Don't let yourself be caught in the woods in a bad thunder storm. If storms are in the forecast, postpone your trip until the danger is past.

Take shelter as soon as you see dark storm clouds gathering, feel the wind, or hear thunder in the distance — but not by standing under a tree. When lightning strikes a tree, electricity runs down the trunk, through the roots and into the ground, causing a strong shock.

If possible, head for a house, a large building or your car. Then shut all the windows and doors and stay inside. In a car, move away from a high location or trees, turn off the engine, put your hands in your lap (so you don’t touch anything metallic), and wait out the storm. It’s usually safe to come out after there has been no thunder or lightning for thirty minutes.

Otherwise, seek shelter in a depressed area such as a ditch, or a cave. Crouch with your feet close together and your head down, minimizing your contact with the ground to reduce the chance of being electrocuted.

To figure out how far you are from the lightning, count the seconds between the flash and the thunderclap. If you count fewer than five seconds, take shelter immediately.