Looking to practice social distancing by venturing to a local park or preserve? Consider these four tips to prepare for and keep yourself safe outdoors.
Before you head out
Check with your county, open space, or park authority to confirm opening hours and respect them…
For most of my life, I headed out on hikes without thinking about anything other than how fun it was going to be. However, ignorance is not the best solution for being safe while enjoying the outdoors.
Now, as a landscape photographer, I’m often exploring areas alone and away from other people. This means I need to be prepared to help myself in case something happens. A friend of mine gave me this memory device to remember the four steps he used, so I wanted to share it with you.
“Know yourself, know the trail, know your gear, and know the deal.”Frank Lee Ruggles
Know yourself is all about being honest about your ability and experience. The keyword here is HONEST. It’s ok to admit that you are not comfortable. In the planning stages of an outdoor adventure, safety comes first. As a prompt, ask yourself the following:
What is my fitness level?
- Have I been exercising regularly or hibernating through the winter?
- How hard do I anticipate the activity to be and do I think I can enjoy the experience?
What is my comfort level with the activity?
- Have I done this thing before?
- What risks concern me?
- Am I going alone or with others?
- What is their experience level?
What is my skill level?
- Is this the first time ever hiking or am I an experienced backpacker?
Know the Trail
After you take stock of yourself, the next consideration is the trail. Trail conditions can vary from day to day or hour to hour. Knowing what condition you are likely to find the trail is an important planning step. At a minimum you should check the following:
- Check the weather for the day of your hike and a few previous days.
- This is especially important for the wet season when conditions can deteriorate quickly.
- Mileage / elevation gain / steep or flat / access
- Protected / exposed
- Dirt / rock / water crossings / access to water
|Trail conditions||Park website|
Know Your Gear
One thing that I can’t stress enough about knowing your gear is to know what it is and how it works.
The gear you carry with you will be determined, to some extent, by the duration of your trip and the activities you plan. For instance, no one wants to carry 100 pounds of equipment if they are planning a 200-mile backpacking trip. That would likely make anyone pretty cranky.
I’m often hiking alone in areas away from people. If you find me on the trail, I’ll likely have the following: First aid kit, hiking gear, and photo gear. Here are some of the concerns for each.
First aid kit
- Know what’s inside?
- Supplies up to date? – VERY IMPORTANT
- Do you know what all the stuff does and how to use it?
- Is it the right equipment for the adventure?
- Easy to locate/access – this has to do with where you pack it.
- Prepped for the weather & trail conditions
- Appropriate clothes and shoes
- Backpack, hiking poles, camping gear, etc.
- Do you know how to use all of the stuff?
- Good working order
- Test in advance. You don’t want to have it not work when you need it.
- Know what you need and take only what you need
- Unnecessary equipment means you have more weight to carry. Don’t bring dead weight.
- Know how to use it
- Practice in advance.
- Download a copy of the manual if you need it.
One thing that I can’t stress enough about knowing your gear is to know what it is and how it works. I’ve definitely been on the trail with unfamiliar equipment and it can be frustrating. Don’t be like me. Be prepared.
***TIP FOR PACKING YOUR FIRST AID KIT – Check out this great article from NOLS for a more thorough discussion on what to consider for your first aid kit.
Know the Deal
Knowing the deal is all about personal responsibility. Our parks are a gift and need to be treated with respect. That means when you are out enjoying the outdoors keep the following in mind.
Leave no trace
- Carry everything out that you bring with you.
- Don’t mark up the place – carving your name, stickers, etc.
Leave it better than you found it
- Consider picking up trash that you find along your journey.
Be a good influence and role model for others
Let someone know your plans. This is especially important if you are planning to spend time in the backcountry. At a minimum let someone know the following:
Where are you going?
- What park?
- What trail or area?
- What general part of the world?
- When will you start?
- When should you be back?
Contact information – For specific state/national park (if relevant)
- Park ranger station phone number
Resource List: See the following table for a list of some resources that can help you plan your next adventure.
I hope you found these tips helpful in your preparations for your next adventure. Whether you are just going for a hike or planning a photography trip, remember; Know yourself, know the trail, know your gear, and know the deal.
Thank you for spending some time reading this article. If you have any questions don’t hesitate to reach out in the comments. I’m happy to help. Also, if you want to see how I apply these concepts, check out the following articles: My Five Favorite Landscape Photos of 2019 and My Five Favorite Landscape Photos of 2018
Until next time, stay safe out there. I’ll see you on the trail.
Matt is a creative fine art landscape and commercial photographer based in the San Francisco Bay Area. He stepped away from a successful engineering career in the midwest and moved to California to chase his dream of becoming a full-time professional photographer. Over the last two years, Matt has traveled the world chasing light and capturing one-of-a-kind landscapes.
He enjoys sharing his adventures with family, friends, and strangers along the way. When he is not hiking to a remote location, Matt enjoys volunteering for local and national conservation organizations. His mission is to share the world with people, inspire a sense of adventure, and to make a difference for the planet.