Hiking and backpacking carry a higher risk compared to most other Meetup activities. Multiple dangers include falling, hypothermia, getting lost, and a range of injuries that follow active sports.
Meetup organizers are not usually professional guides or trained first aid experts. You are responsible for your own safety and preparation. This means being individually equipped for all weather conditions, un-anticipated delays, and having the skill level necessary to participate or survive on your own worst case scenario.
Here are five safety awareness tips I would like to share:
1. Meetup Safety and Wind Concerns
Wind is one of my biggest concerns when it comes to safety in the mountains. Many people have lost their lives to falling branches during wind storms. I even know a member of Seattle Backpacker’s Meetup just a few years ago that was struck by a branch during a wind storm and suffered shoulder injuries.
If the wind is blowing hard enough to whip the branches around (usually 30 mph and greater), cancel your hike and get out of the woods. This is a dangerous outdoor situation. It is even worse if there is snow and ice in the trees which become weighted and brittle.
If you are backpacking and get caught in high winds, set your tent up next to a fallen tree or large rock. This will help protect you from falling trees while in your tent.
There is a reason falling branches and trees in the woods are nicknamed Widow-Makers.
2. First Aid and Meetup Safety
I often talk to people on Meetup hikes who confess to not carrying a first aid kit. This is a mistake and an important part of your 10 Essentials.
If you are injured during a group Meetup, it is appropriate to use your first aid kit even if someone else is administering your first aid. Do not depend on others. Always carry a first aid kit that is well planned based on your needs.
To start, I recommend buying a ready-made first aid kit. It to doesn’t need to be expensive either. Then decide what in addition you need to carry. For example, if a bee sting causes you serious allergic reaction, supplement your first aid kit with an EpiPen®.
Always remember, other gear you carry can also be useful in first aid. Good gear always has multiple uses. Here are a few examples:
- Clean Bandanas® can be used to dress wounds
- Extra clothing and emergency blankets can be used to keep shock victims warm
- Hiking poles can be used as a splint in case of bone fracture
- Aspirin® can be used on help save a heart attack victim’s life
If someone in your Meetup group becomes injured, please work as a team. This is very important. Injuries that are not critical in the city can be life threatening in the mountains, especially backpacking.
3. Meetup Safety and Pack Weight
This is an unusual but important topic, especially for backpacking. Keep your pack light for safety. In the mountains falling is one of our biggest safety risks. Loose footing, steep hillsides, adverse weather, including snow and ice, all increase the risk.
Don’t be fatigued and off-balance. Keep light and nimble. It’s not just your enjoyment at risk. Heavy packs are unnatural and can throw you off balance in the worst of times. I know. When I started backpacking, my friends called me the Winnebago Backpacker.
Spend time to lighten your load. Lay all your gear out and work to reduce weight one step at a time. I do this in the winter. It primes me for the upcoming hiking season.
Essential to your light pack is the 10-pound core. Make it your goal to have your tent, pack, sleeping bag, and sleeping mat under 10 pounds unless you are snow camping.
Here is a general chart of pack weight per body weight in pounds. This should include food and water.
- 90 pound person: Pack weight 23 pounds
- 100 pound person: Pack weight 25 pounds
- 125 pound person: Pack weight 31 pounds
- 150 pound person: Pack weight 38 pounds
- 175 pound person: Pack weight 44 pounds
- 200 pound person: Pack weight 50 pounds
- 225 pound person: Pack weight 56 pounds
4. The 10 Essentials and Meetup Safety
Even hiking with a Meetup group, be prepared to be on your own overnight as a safety precaution. Meetup is open to the public and organizers are sometimes appointed with no training in safety or group leadership. Other things can happen too. I have even heard of an organizer abandoning their group on a snow shoe hike after being confronted on his navigation skills.
Always carry the 10 essentials, whether hiking by yourself or with a Meetup group, even if the hike is routine. Here is case-in-point.
About 10 years ago hiking on Tiger Mountain 3, I came across a man who had a heart attack near the summit. The man was conscious, but in shock. By the time the emergency helicopter arrived 3 hours later, it was almost dark and very cold. Without my 10 essentials I would have been unprepared to help this person. Between both of us, my 10 Essentials became an invaluable resource.
Here is the updated Ten Essentials. Take some time to make this part of your pack.
- Navigation (map and compass)
- Sun protection (sunglasses and sunscreen)
- Insulation (extra clothing)
- Illumination (headlamp/flashlight)
- First-aid supplies
- Fire (waterproof matches/lighter/candles)
- Repair kit and tools
- Nutrition (extra food)
- Hydration (extra water)
- Emergency shelter
5. Group Size and Meetup Safety
There is a direct correlation to group size and safety. With larger groups, there is greater risk of accident or getting lost after group separation. I have learned this first-hand. If you see more than 10 to 12 people signed up for a Meetup, be prepared. It’s hard to keep large groups together.
If you make the decision to move ahead, be prepared to be on your own. A good organizer will call Search and Rescue if you get lost, but don’t count on it.
If you cannot keep up the group pace, let your organizer know as soon as possible. The group might have to slow down or take more breaks. No one should be left behind to hike alone.
The best prevention is to be patient and keep everyone within eyesight. If you need to push yourself, move forward then drop back and meet the group. This is usually fine if you have informed your Organizer.
As an Organizer, group separation causes me a lot of concern. You have joined a Meetup group to hike with others. Please stay together. Too many times I have seen group separation lead to trouble, especially during these winter months.