Hiking tips for surviving the unexpected

Hiking is an ideal way to experience nature. But as with any journey, precautions must be taken to ensure your safety.

Hiking tips for surviving the unexpected

Creating a quick shelter

  • Look for shelter in the form of small caves and rock overhangs protected from wind.
  • Where there are no such natural shelters, construct a simple lean-to by lashing branches together to form a frame and then cladding the frame with leafy limbs, grass or bark.
  • With a shelter from the wind, rain and cold you can survive for days, even weeks, provided you have a supply of water.
  • Even if there are no rivers or creeks in the vicinity, careful examination of your surroundings will often yield water. You can sometimes find water beneath the surface layer of silt in a seemingly dry creek bed.
  • In stony country there are often cliff-top depressions that hold shallow pools of water, and soaks and seepage lines occur at the base of escarpments or just below the surface of the soil. These can be found by looking out for pockets of lush vegetation.
  • In arid areas, a solar still is a worthwhile option.
  • Dig a hole half a metre (1 1/2 feet) deep and a metre or so (three feet) wide. Line the hole with vegetation and place a container in the centre of the hole. Then cover the vegetation with a sheet of plastic and place a stone in the ­centre of the sheet. On a sunny day, condensation will collect on the underside of the plastic and run down into the container. A thin plastic drinking tube can be used to extract the water from the container.

Prepare a survival kit

For walks off the beaten track, especially in flat terrain with few landmarks, a ­reliable compass is an essential tool. Hiking in remote country requires more care than does a walk on a well-marked track in a near-city nature reserve. Apart from a map and compass, always carry a survival kit, which should include emergency rations and a first-aid kit.

  • A simple kit, small enough to fit in a pocket, should include signalling tools, such as a whistle and a small mirror, waterproof matches, a pocket knife, a compass, some fishing line or cord, a few safety pins and some adhesive bandages.
  • A larger kit should be stowed in your pack, even on day walks. This should contain emergency rations (including a water bottle), a bivouac bag (or equivalent shelter), a first-aid kit, nylon rope, water purification tablets, paper and pencil.
  • In dry country, carry the makings of a solar still.

Signalling for help

Signalling for help can take many forms.

  • If you are simply separated from your group and believe that a search party may be within earshot, give three short blasts on your whistle, repeated as often as necessary every few minutes. Two answering blasts mean that someone has heard you. Stay put and repeat the signal to guide the searchers to your position.
  • A signal fire is an effective way to attract attention over longer distances. By day, use green, damp vegetation to create a strong plume of smoke. At night, use dry fuel to make bright flames, but take great care not to cause a bushfire.
  • A signal mirror flashed three times towards a passing aircraft or towards various points on the horizon is another tactic that is often effective.

If you are lost, stop and take stock of the situation, and be guided by your common sense. Remember these tips and be prepared for an unexpected hiking problem.

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