5 Ways to Feel Safer in the Backcountry

It is a strange feeling in this day and age to not be connected to world around you. As someone who keeps their phone no farther than an arms length away at all times, it is a huge adjustment to be completely disconnected, but also an incredibly freeing experience. Education is your power when you want to feel and be safe during your outdoor adventures. Here are a few ways to prepare yourself and hike with confidence.

  1. First Aid Training

Give yourself the tools to problem solve efficiently and confidently. It’s a wonderful idea to have First Aid Training in every day life, and incredible to have in the outdoors. Standard First Aid is great, and you can even expand your knowledge with Wilderness First Aid as there could be hazards in the outdoors that you may not see in day to day life.

It’s also a good idea to familiarize yourself with your first aid kid. I carried a first aid kit for years without ever opening it, and if I was ever faced with an emergency situation, I likely wouldn’t have known what was in it. Practice splinting and bandaging so you can help yourself and others in case of an accident. You’ll feel more confident and better equipped to adventure out of cell service range.

A mock first aid scenario in Wilderness First Aid

2. Build a Solid Trip Plan

I have mentioned before that the West Coast Trail felt like a breeze because I had researched it down to the kilometre so we would have no trouble with navigation or tide tables. I have also been on the flip side and found myself taking many wrong turns or not knowing what to expect due to lack of research. There is information available everywhere now, especially on Apps such as AllTrails, to learn exactly what you need to know about your adventure. If you know what you’re in for, you’ll know how to pack and be mentally prepared for your journey. It’s also important to create a trip plan and share it with someone who will know when to expect your return.

Write or type out your plan and send it to someone who will look out for your arrival and ensure that you have made it back safely. Let them know where you will be going, how long you expect to be there, and what to do if they do not hear back from you by the chosen time.

West Coast Trail information board

3. Research the Area and Local Wildlife

A question that I see often on hiking groups is concern about wildlife encounters. Whether it’s bears in the forest or rattlesnakes in the desert, there is always the potential for running into wildlife. Instead of hoping an encounter doesn’t happen, prepare yourself for what to do if one does. Research different species you’ll find in the area, what their behavior is, and what to do if you happen across them on the trail. Carry bear spray, wear closed toed shoes and long pants, or whatever else is recommended in the area and you might feel a little better about the rustling in the bushes.

It’s also a great idea to read up on current trail conditions and reviews from other hikers. You’ll often find out little bits of information that make your hike safer and more enjoyable, such as which direction to travel first, what to avoid, and which beautiful spots you must see. It’s good to know beforehand if the trail is under a lot of snow, if a bridge has been washed out, or if there has been a lot of wildlife active in the area.

A mama bear and her three cubs

4. Know Your Gear

You know what is ridiculous? The fact that I have had a compass in my pack since 2017 with not a clue how to use it. Fortunately I have been able to work on my skills, but it makes me wonder what else I throw in my bag because a hiking book told me to, and not because I actually know how to use it. In Search and Rescue training, the instructors are constantly reminding us to try out our gear before we find ourselves in the middle of nowhere with it with no idea how to properly set it up or make the most out of it.

Confidence in your gear and your pack means that you know which tools you have at your disposal in case of emergency. Try setting up your tent in your backyard for a night, cook dinner on your camp stove, or do some compass and navigation work in local parks. Make note of which gear you use often and what my sit in your pack untouched so you know what you want keep and what can be left behind.

5. Invest in a Satellite Messenger

I have hiked through areas of no cell service plenty of times without much worry. It can be either scary or nice to be fully cut off from contact from the outside world. That being said, if something was to go wrong, it’s comforting to know that you can still contact emergency services or loved ones if you needed to. I recently purchased a Garmin InReach and have just started bringing it on adventures with me. While the price may seem a bit steep, it could be an invaluable tool in an emergency, and may be a good idea if it is within your budget.

There are many different devices to choose from, from simpler emergency beacons all of the way to two way messengers with GPS and tracking capabilities. Research which device would be best for you, for me I wanted to two way messaging option to be able to send my family ‘I’m okay’ messages. I was also able to find a device second hand but in great condition on a buy and sell website and save myself a few hundred dollars.

My Garmin Inreach Explorer

More Quick Tips to Adventure Safely

  • Clap, shout, or sing as you make your way along the trail so that you don’t surprise wildlife
  • Ensure that you are drinking enough water and stopping for breaks. (Powdered Gatorade or electrolyte tablets are a great addition)
  • A Search and Rescue trainer of mine always says ‘two is one, and one is none’ in terms of gear. Think to yourself about what you would do if you were suddenly without a core piece of your gear and consider carrying a backup.
  • Brainstorm what multiple purposes a single item may have. For example, the mirror on your compass could also be used as a signalling device,or maybe even a fire starter.
  • Adapt your First Aid Kit to your adventure style, if you are often travelling in a group you may consider adding enough to care for multiple people or different medical conditions.

Is my list missing anything? What makes you feel safer in the back country?

Safe & happy exploring!

Jewell Pass via Prairie View Loop – Kananaskis, AB

With restrictions beginning to lift and new safety procedures being set in place, my cousin Anya and I decided to head to Banff for the weekend to get a few nights of camping and a few quick hikes in. We were careful to follow all of the safety protocols, and wore masks whenever necessary as well as packed most of our food to eat at our camp site instead of in restaurants all weekend.

Unfortunately I was sporting a few nasty blisters from a earlier trip and mentioned to Anya that I would be taking it easy hiking-wise. We decided on a trail in the Kananaskis area and set out in the morning. ‘Taking it easy’ turned in to a 22km adventure, which was a lot of fun but maybe not the best foot care I have ever practiced.

Barrier Lake, Kananaskis AB

We decided to hike Jewell Pass via the Prairie View Trail. This is a moderate 16km trail that turned out to be much longer than expected when we were turned away from the parking lot. The Barrier Lake parking lot fills up quickly, and we were waved on by the parking attendant immediately, so we decided to park a few kilometres up the road and hike to the trail head along the lake side. We found our way back to the parking lot rather easily, and counted nearly ten empty parking spots on our way (sigh!). We were glad to be there and get started though. The lake is lovely for day use, and has picnic tables and washrooms. You begin on a gravel road crossing the Barrier Lake Dam and travel up a small hill to a bench, then continue following until you see a posted trail sign at an intersection.

Heading up the Prairie View loop section

I packed my day pack with plenty of water and snacks, a light jacket because the clouds were looking a little grey and the wind was beginning to pick up, and most importantly my trekking poles. I found poles to be most helpful on the second half of the trail when we were heading down over loose rocks and uneven terrain. I also brought my regular day pack essentials such as my first aid kit and bear spray.

The first lookout point

As suggested on AllTrails, we decided to travel counter clockwise, which turned out to be the best route. The first half of the trail is a steady incline with switchbacks, but it’s also very wide and well maintained. We stopped for a few short breaks, but found it quite easy to make our way up to the lookout point. The first half of the hike was busy, but we only ran in to a few other hikers and mountain bikers for the Jewell pass section. The entire trail is well marked with plenty of signs posted along the way to help navigate the many trails that overlap.

Piper the mountain dog

The second half was a lot quieter and a little more technical, but still well maintained. We crossed a few beautiful little bridges and enjoyed walking through the trees. There was some evidence of bear activity as the berries are in season now, but we kept talking as we hiked and didn’t run in to any furry friends.

Bridges on the Jewell Pass portion
Jewell Pass section

Eventually the trail meets back up with the ‘Stony Trail’ portion that seems to also be used for horseback riding. My puddle loving dog pranced through all of the water on this trail and spent the rest of the weekend smelling like a barn (sorry we had to share a tent Anya ๐Ÿ™‚ ). The last bit is out of the trees so be aware that you’ll be in the sun for a while if itโ€™s a warm day.

The race back to the car with sore feet

We made it back to the car with a few more kms than expected, but happy as can be. I would absolutely recommend this hike to a beginner who is looking to try longer trails, and also suggest that hikers try to get to the parking lot earlier in the morning before it fills up.

Happy exploring!

Nut Point Trail, Lac La Ronge Provincial Park

The Nut Point Trail is a beautiful 30km out and back trail located in Lac La Ronge Provincial Park in Saskatchewan. It can be hiked in a day, but I recommend doing an overnight trip to give yourself time to enjoy the beautiful camp spot at the end of the peninsula. You do not need to book a backcountry camping site, but you do need a provincial park pass to get in.

Piper and butterflies

The area is well marked and it is easy to find the trailhead, you will hike just over 15kms in to the camp spot, although I have heard that people occasionally choose to camp at the portage at the 7.5km mark. My friend Lindsay, the two dogs, and I packed up and set out on a hot +25 degree celsius day.

I packed my bag the night before with my usual gear for an overnight hike. The camping area at the end does not have a cache or canisters to keep food away from wildlife so be sure to pack some rope to hang up your food. After speaking to a local I packed a swimsuit because he said that the camping area was also a perfect swimming spot. I’m also glad I brought bug spray, although they weren’t too bad so long as we kept moving. Most importantly, I brought my camp shoes so that my feet got a rest and my soggy hiking boots had some time to dry out.

My gear for the night

The trail is rated as difficult and I found it to be challenging terrain, it was good to have my trekking poles when manoeuvring over the rocks and roots. We passed lots of muddy areas that the dogs adored but left each of us with soggy boots. There are also plenty of open spots where the heat can get to you so make sure you have plenty of water and sunscreen. There is spotty cell service along the trail, and we noticed plenty of boats driving past the peninsula which made us feel more comfortable as we were the only tent set up that night.

June enjoying every mud puddle

After a very long 7.5kms in the sun, we made it to the portage at the halfway point. There are a few picnic tables and spot off to the left where a group of teenagers was jumping off the rocks into the lake. The dogs got a good opportunity to cool off and we had a moment to drink some water and eat a quick snack. I have read in other posts that people sometimes opt to camp here, but we didn’t see much room for a tent set up.

The half way point

The difference in terrain along the trail is breathtaking. We hiked over rock, through water, over roots and moss. We admired the blueberry plants along the trail, which was another reminder to be bear aware, but didn’t end up seeing much more than the odd squirrel. We saw quite a few hiking back from camping, and they said that there were about 5 tents set up there the night before, but we were the only ones heading out that day.

On the trail, hoping to find some squirrels

My absolute favourite spot on the trail is around the 11km mark. A small trail veers off to the perfect spot to dip your feet in the water and sit on a shelf of rock. I was excited to stop here both days.

Around km 11, the perfect spot for a break

At last, we arrived! We were thrilled to finally make it to the end of the peninsula. There is one camp fire spot that seems more permanent and plenty of smaller fire rings set up around from past campers. The local I talked to was right, the swimming area was perfect! We started the trail later in the day, but next time I would probably start first thing in the morning so we would have more day light to enjoy the beautiful spot.

Lindsay enjoying the water

We set up camp and settled in to eat some dinner. The dogs quickly ate the kibble that I had packed for them and then conned me out of part of my sandwich with their puppy dog eyes. How could I resist? I packed a pre-made s’more that may be my new favourite hiking treat in lieu of my usual chocolate bar.

Piper enjoying the campsite
Camp treats

We were exhausted from the long day of hiking, and ended up in bed pretty early. But I was told later that the northern lights were incredible, so they may be worth staying up for next time I find myself on this trail.

Lindsay setting up camp

I probably should have warned Lindsay that the two person tent we were sharing would also have two soggy dogs in it. She might not have had the best sleep, but hopefully she forgives us. In addition to the cramped tent, it was quite warm and windy through the night and we found ourselves up early and ready to head home. The trek back to the car was much nicer in the cool morning air, although the bugs did come out a bit more.

2 people and 2 dogs in a 2 person tent

Finally we arrived at the parking lot. I was exhausted, with sore feet, and a long 5 hour drive ahead, but so glad that we had tackled the trail. I am so thankful to have an adventure friend like Lindsay who is always in to try something new. We stopped for a well earned Slurpee and made our way back home.

Happy fam

Happy hiking!