Safety Tips When Traveling in the Arizona Backcountry
Whether you call it Backpacking, Wilderness Hiking, or Backcountry Travelling – taking trips that are literally off the beaten path can be incredibly exciting, rewarding, and special. However, the reality is that travelling in the backcountry can also be dangerous. Thankfully, the risks that come with backcountry travel can largely be mitigated by following a few rules. Here are some safety tips when travelling in the Arizona backcountry.
A good rule of thumb for travelling into any wilderness or backcountry is to plan for the worst and hope for the best. With this mindset, you will almost always have what you need to minimize the major risks of backcountry travel without compromising your optimistic or enthusiastic attitude.
One important aspect of preparation is to wear or bring adequate clothing for what might happen. Of course you should wear your protective gear, such as wearing a DOT-approved helmet, eye protection, and gloves. However, you should also be prepared for sudden changes in weather or temperature. Make it a habit to bring extra clothing, such as rain gear, a sweater or warm jacket, and a pair of socks.
Another important part of being prepared is to check your gear before you go, taking into consideration what risks you might encounter depending on destination and season. If you are hiking in the backcountry, consider packing your stove fuel canister and setup. Having an opportunity to consume hot water and food can help you survive in case you are stranded overnight in the cold.
Being prepared also means anticipating situations that are unlikely to occur, but can happen, nonetheless. What will you do if you get lost? What if your cellphone battery dies? Will you have enough water? What if your only source of fire (lighter) fails, or is lost? Do you have an alternate source? Ultimately, being prepared is a critical part of the foundation that sets an adventure up for success.
Know Your Vehicle
If you have not done so already, make sure to read through the operating manual for your vehicle. You may be surprised by what you learn!
One way to be prepared is to check your vehicle to make sure that it is in good operating condition. Optimal condition looks different for different vehicles – so to be prepared, you must know your vehicle. Consider what conditions your vehicle is designed for and what limitations it has.
Think about how long it has been since the engine oil, battery, or headlights were replaced. Check fan belts, hoses, coolant level, and all lubricants and fluids. Knowing your vehicle means being on top of any maintenance and being realistic if your vehicle is not in optimal condition for your adventures.
Knowing your vehicle may also include knowing what you need to keep in your vehicle in case of emergencies. Your vehicle should have a survival kit, first aid supplies, and extra water stowed away.
Be honest with yourself about your skill level. If you do not have experience off-roading or driving in the backcountry, consider taking an off-highway vehicle safety and mechanical training class. If you do not have experience backpacking, there are many free resources and classes that can help you assess whether you have the skills necessary for your adventure. There are also courses to help you develop skills that are often critical and potentially life-saving in outdoor environments, including Outdoor First Aid, Map and Compass Reading, and even Survival Skills courses.
Be honest with yourself about your physical limitations. This may mean forgoing trips if you are not feeling 100% – which is especially important during a pandemic. Not only will you minimize the risk of transmission and infecting others, but physical limitations that come with being sick can also affect your mental state. Even seasonal colds or flus can cause mental fogginess, which makes it hard to think clearly in emergency situations.
Be honest with your friends and family about where you are going, who you are going with, and when you plan to return. Having a plan means that, in an emergency scenario, Search and Rescue teams will hopefully be able to find you quickly. Consider including a set time by which they have to hear from you or call for emergency services. For example, “I’ll text or call you by 7 P.M. at the latest – if you don’t hear from me by then, something went wrong.”
AZ Auto can help you be prepared to tackle nearly any adventure this winter. Find your nearest AZ Auto location here – we’re ready and available to answer your questions!
For additional safety recommendations, please make sure to consult the Arizona State Parks & Trails website here.