Recently, a hiker in Hawaii ended up lost in the forest for 17 days, highlighting the danger behind even short hikes. There are a number of simple things that nature photographers can do to stay safe in nature.
That specific news story highlighted a few common misconceptions about good practices when it comes to the outdoors, including what to bring and what to do.
What to Bring
The essentials will vary based on where you’re going and how long you plan to be out. Backpacking for a week in Alaska will set significantly different expectations than an afternoon out-and-back hike in Zion.
Universally, you’ll need water. Bring more than you’ll expect to need, and make sure to actually drink throughout the hike. A basic guideline is a half-liter per hour in moderate conditions. This can scale quickly with heat and activity. If you’re out for a longer time, you’ll also want to replace electrolytes, along with consuming water. For longer hikes, consider bringing a water filter or treatment.
Navigation is also important. For this, a topographical map of the area can serve a double purpose for both navigation and planning certain shots. Printed maps won’t run out of batteries or break, making them an important backup to any GPS or phone.
For solo or backcountry hikes, consider buying a personal locator beacon. This GPS and satellite based device can get a message out to family or emergency services without any need for a cell tower. A popular option would be the Garmin inReach Mini, which is capable of two way text messaging, SOS alerts, and weather forecasts, all via satellite.
Other supplies like shelter, sun protection, fire starters, and extra clothes need to be determined based on what and where you’re hiking.
What to Do
Telling someone who isn’t hiking with you where you’re going is one of the simplest measures to take. Letting them know what trail you’re taking, where you plan on parking, and when you expect to be back can all help direct first responders to the right place.
Stick to the trail. While this may clash with a photographer’s desire to find a new angle on a classic subject, leaving the trail is the first step to getting lost. In just a few minutes, you can be hundreds of feet from the trail, making it difficult to pick back up.
If you are lost, resist the urge to wander. As mentioned, it’s very easy to be headed in the wrong direction, and since rescue services will check the trail you were on first, staying nearby makes it easy to be found.
Some of my absolute favorite photographic experiences have been in nature. While there is an element of risk to any outdoor activity, taking simple steps can ensure a safe and enjoyable experience.
Is there anything you pack for a hike that you consider a must have?