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Have You Been Caught Unprepared Outside?

A recent article in the Sunday New York Times shared a much too-often occurrence happening in our public lands—people venturing off into natural places without the knowledge or skill to take care of themselves. 

Some eye-opening examples: placing babies on wild animals for pictures, attempting to climb mountains without provisions (water, food, clothing, etc), or doing activities with the assumption that technology will help you. Unfortunately, many people have an unrealistic understanding of the realities of the outdoors. Cell phones may not work, a GPS unit is best used with a map, wild animals are, well…wild! 

I am not without fault here. While mountaineering in a remote location in Alaska, my climbing partner accidently set off a personal locator beacon when she shook the snow off the tent, sending in the Air National Guard unnecessarily. Luckily, we figured it out when we heard a plane circling and quickly turned it off before they attempted a dangerous landing. 

That incident, plus several others where I have rescued unprepared people outdoors, has led me (as manager of the REI Outdoor School) to be a strong advocate of learning how to recreate and use technology wisely in the outdoors.  

Anecdotal data suggest that people who have taken classes in the outdoors or are led by a qualified guide may be less likely to get injured in the outdoors than unaffiliated individuals. “On average we get 150 unintentional, recreation-related fatalities per year—that is nearly 3 visitors per week,”  says Sara B. Newman, the National Park Service’s Public Risk Management Director. According to 2008 search and rescue data provided by Dr. Newman, 91% of all search and rescue related incidents in national parks occurred among visitors who were not affiliated with a group (such as an outdoor organization, park concession, tour group, youth/school or church group, or park employee). That means most of the search and rescue cases occurred among individuals who ventured off on their own.

Learning how to recreate outside can make the difference between a great experience and a miserable one. REI offers lots of educational resources for aspiring outdoor enthusiasts. Here are just a few:
• Find resources online through the REI Expert Advice library (one example: our Ten Essentials video, below).
• Take a class at your local REI store on anything from backpacking basics to wilderness medicine. 
• For an in-depth instructional experience, try an REI Outdoor School outing.
• Hire a guide to make your trip easy; travel with REI Adventures.

So, what lessons have you learned outside? Or, wished you had learned?


 Photo: GPS instruction with the REI Outdoor School.

Posted on at 12:29 PM

Tagged: GPS, REI Outdoor School, emergency locator beacon and technology

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I could not agree more. I will hike alone, but only on well traveled trails that I know and I always bring the appropriate essentials. Last week I had to help a couple (in their 60's) down from a hike in Harper's Ferry. They had attempted to Hike to Maryland Heights, a relatively short, but steep ascent to an overlook of the Lower Town of Harper's Ferry. It was 95 degrees, humid ad they were hurting physically, were out of water and did not have treking poles -- which would have helped.
They made it down, but ultimately had a poor outing.

I try to look at the difficulty ratings on hikes before I go, and as a fairly experienced outdoorsman, still feel a little trepidation when embarking on a new trail alone.

I took an REI Adventure Travel backpacking trip in the Smokey Mountains two years ago and was impressed with the guiding and instruction. I will definitely do more guided trips.

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Great article, but I'd like to add one important note to your account of your friend setting of her personal locator beacon. I flew Search and Rescue (SAR)missions with the Civil Air Patrol (who are usually the ones called, not the Air National Guard, when a beacon goes off). I hope that your friend notified authorities when she turned off her beacon. Else, the search mission could have been continued for several DAYS. SAR folks can be quite tenacious when looking for the source of a beacon signal.

Obviously, anyone who activates a beacon by mistake should turn it off. However, most people don't fully understand that when a beacon is activated and the signal received, it sets in motion a large network of folks who spring into action and risk their lives to find and save strangers in need.

There are few things more tragic than the loss or injury of these fine SAR folks due to simple things like beacons that were mistakenly activated and then silenced without notification to authorities.


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