Summer is for picnics, hikes, outdoor concerts, barbeques … and enjoying the wilderness.
Camping with family or friends can be a great way to spend a weekend or a week. But unlike picnics, outdoor concerts or barbeques, camping or hiking in wilderness places can turn from a fun out into a very scary experience in just a few hours or even minutes.
As long as you stay within a recognized campground, you have very little to worry about. You can get rained or hailed on or wake up and find the temperature has dropped 20 degrees, but none of these is a life-threatening issue. Sure, you might get cold or wet but there's always a fresh change of clothes waiting in your camper or tent.
When in the wilderness, the most important thing to remember is that nature is not always a kind, gentle mother. The morning can be warm and sunshiny with not a cloud in the sky. But that does not mean that by early afternoon, conditions will not have changed dramatically.
How can you forecast bad weather? Wind is always a good indicator. You can determine wind direction by dropping a few leaves or blades of grass or by watching the tops of trees. Once you determine wind direction, you can predict the type of weather that is on its way. Rapidly shifting winds indicate an unsettled atmosphere and a likely change in the weather. Also, birds and insects fly lower to the ground than normal in heavy, moisture-laden air. This indicates that rain is likely. Most insect activity increases before a storm.
The first thing you need to do if bad weather strikes is size up your surroundings. Is there any Shelter nearby – a cave or rock overhang – where could you take refuge from rain or lightning? Probably you already know this, but never use a tree as a lighting shelter. If you can not find decent shelter, it's better to be out in the open than under a tree. Just make as small a target of yourself as possible and wait for the lightning to go away.
Next, remember that haste makes waste. Do not do anything quickly and without first thinking it out. The most tempting thing might be to hurry back to your campsite as fast as you can. But that might not be the best alternative.
Consider all aspects of your situation before taking action. Is it snowing or hailing? How hard is the wind blowing? Do you have streams you must cross to get back to camp? Were there gullies along the way that rain could have turned into roaring little streams? If you move too quickly, you might become disoriented and not know which way to go. Plan what you intend to do before you do it. In some cases, the best answer might be wait for the weather to clear, especially if you can find good shelter. If it looks as if you will have to spend the night where you are, start working on a fire and campsite well before it gets dark.
What should you take with you? First, make sure you have a good supply of water. If you're in severe conditions such as very hot weather or are at a high elevation, increase your fluids intake. Dehydration can occur very quickly under these conditions. To treat dehydration, you need to replace the body fluids that are lost. You can do this with water, juice, soft drinks, tea and so forth.
Second, make sure you take a waterproof jacket with a hood. I like the kind made of a breathable fabric as it can both keep you dry and wick moisture away from your body.
Another good investment is a daypack. You can use one of these small, lightweight backpackers to carry your waterproof jacket, if necessary, and to hold the contents of a survival kit.
Even though you think you may be hiking for just a few hours, it's also a good idea to carry a couple of energy bars and some other food packs. A good alternative to energy bars is a product usually called trail gorp. Gorp, which tastes much better than it sounds, consists of a mixture of nuts, raisins, and some other protein-rich ingredients such as those chocolate bits that do not melt in your hands.
It's always good to have a pocketknife and some wooden matches in a waterproof matchbox. If by some unfortunate turn of events, you end up having to spend the night in the wilderness, matches can be a real life saver, literally.
Taking a compass is also a good idea. Watch your directions as you follow a trail into the wilderness. That way, you'll always be able to find you way back to camp simply by reversing directions. I also suggest sun block, sunglasses and by all means, a hat to protect you from the sun and to keep your head dry in the event of rain or hail.
Surviving bad weather does not have to be a panic-inducing experience – if you just think and plan ahead.