Safe Backcountry HikingRetired Park Rangers Give Advice

The professionals who have worked most of their lives outdoors share advice and experience to help you be safe and avoid becoming another statistic.

Know your limits - and those of the other individuals in your group

A military unit travels at the speed of its slowest member and that is a good way to think about how to hike. Constant communication is also key and if traveling in a group, you should use a buddy system. Checking your partner for energy levels, blisters, food consumption and fatigue can prevent problems down the trail.

Jim Brady, a coalition member and the former chief ranger of the National Park Service and Superintendent of Glacier Bay National Park in Alaska, said, "Almost every park ranger knows of rescues or body recoveries that resulted from poor conditioning and bad judgment. Hiking is supposed to be fun, not a life-and-death struggle."

Always Bring Along Proper Emergency Equipment

When hiking by yourself, ensure that you have, at a minimum, a first aid kit. Some recommended items include band-aids, medical tape, over-the-counter pain relievers, moleskin, anti-bacterial ointment, a compress or two and spare headlamp batteries. If traveling in a group, have a "community" first aid kit with additional splints, pads and braces.

Tony Bonanno, a CNPSR member and the former chief ranger of the NPS Intermountain Region, said, "EMT gear is a good idea if you have someone along who knows how to use it. Mine includes extra matches, needle and thread, a flare, mirror and whistle. Remember that splints often can be improvised using what nature or innovation provides, such as branches, pack frames, blankets, coats, sleeping bags etc."

Learn in Advance What to do if Things go Bad

Park rangers typically encourage hikers in genuine distress to "hug a tree," which means staying where you are until help comes to you. You can last a long time with the gear you have with you. Whistles, mirrors and cell phones (when they work) are priceless. A lost person who wanders around aimlessly-especially in inclement weather-can turn a merely bad situation into a truly tragic situation. It is better to be lost and then found (even if a little embarrassed) than to be carried out of the wilderness in a body bag.

When traveling in a group, if someone sustains an injury, good judgment is required to determine if it is: safe to proceed; better to send someone (two people, if possible) back for help; or "hug a tree" and wait for help.

Want to learn more? Members of the Coalition recommend that parents and grandparents consider purchasing a copy of the video or DVD entitled "Lost . but Found Safe and Sound" from the Association of National Park Rangers (ANPR). The ANPR presentation provides priceless information that a child can use if he or she is lost in the woods. You can find ordering information at the Association's website, Note: CNPSR is not affiliated with ANPR and shares in no way in proceeds from the sale of Associations videos and CDs.)
You can find the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees on the Web at

Reprinted, courtesy of Competitor Magazine. For more articles and information for Competitor, please visit

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