We've all seen beautiful photos of rugged places and wanted to get out there and see them for ourselves. But some of the prettiest places are harder to get to than you may realize, and being in the backcountry has inherent risks. Every year hundreds of unprepared hikers end up missing, injured, or worse — sometimes even putting the lives of search and rescue volunteers at risk. It's extremely important that we follow a few simple safety guidelines when we're in the backcountry — accidents, while unlikely, can happen to anyone at any time, and being prepared and responsible might save your life.
Research and preparation
Do you know what the trail conditions are like? Do you have the right footwear? Have you checked the weather forecast? Are you physically fit enough for the trail? Will you have enough daylight? Many of the trails around BC can be very challenging and physically demanding, and deep snow can linger on the upper slopes well into July. Resources like Vancouver Trails, AllTrails, BC Parks, and the Washington Trails Association are extremely valuable, and chances are good there's something similar for your area. Knowing what you're heading into can help you prepare for the unexpected.
Tell someone where you're going
Leave a note with a friend explaining where you're going, the route you're taking, who is with you, and your expected return time. In the unlikely event that you get lost or injured the police and SAR will know where to start looking for you, decreasing your exposure time and increasing the likelihood that you'll make it out alive.
Bring food and water
I mean, obviously you're bringing a ton of treats and snacks... but don't forget to bring a lot of water too. If you're hiking a steep trail on a hot day you can lose several litres of water easy, and being dehydrated when you're miles from anywhere isn't the best way to spend an afternoon.
The 10 Essentials
Even with the best planning and great weather things can go south, so carry a few items with you in case of an emergency: a flashlight or headlamp with extra batteries (trails can often take longer than expected and most rescues are just hikers who get caught out after dark), a signalling device such as a whistle, extra clothes in case the weather changes or you're forced to spend the night, a pocketknife and firestarter, a lightweight emergency shelter (or even a large plastic bag), extra water and food, a basic first aid kit, some sort of navigation system (compass or gps), and a communications device.
Don't rely on cellular reception
Most of BC doesn't have cell reception, and its extremely likely that your hike won't either. Many of the mountain valleys are narrow, and sometimes you won't get cell service even on short hikes near the city. Bring your phone, but plan on being out of reach.
Watch where you're going, note trail markers, blazes, and signs, and keep an eye on the time.
There are a lot of bears here in BC, and we've come across many while on the trail. While they're usually exceedingly shy (most times you're near a bear you won't even know it) and more scared of you than you are of them, they can attack when surprised or if they feel threatened. If you can, travel in groups and make noise while you're hiking, especially in thick brush with low visibility or near loud creeks that might obscure your noise. If you do see a bear, stop and assess the situation. Are there cubs nearby, or a cache of carrion it might want to protect? If the bear hasn't noticed you, consider slowly backing away the way you came, or if you must continue make some noise and give it a very wide berth. If the bear has seen you and is making a lot of noise huffing and snorting and stamping and bluff charging, chances are it's just trying to tell you it needs more space. Try to appear non-threatening by remaining still and calm, speak in an appeasing voice, and increase your distance. But if the bear is approaching quietly there might be a problem — it may just be curious, but it might also be testing its dominance or see you as prey. Talk firmly, get out of its path, and if it continues to follow you shout at it, make yourself look large, and prepare to stand your ground and fight for your life. Bear attacks are rare, and they are less aggressive than dogs or spiders or snakes, but they are strong and unpredictable and it's often a good idea to carry some bear spray or other deterrent just in case.
Another issue is storing all food, garbage, and other attractants securely and out of reach. If you're camping, store food and do all cooking and cleaning at least 200ft from where you'll be sleeping. Keep all food, garbage, pots and utensils, toothpaste and other fragrant toiletries in a bear-proof canister or hang it from a tree 10ft off the ground and 6ft from the trunk (instructions here). If bears come to associate people with food they can lose their natural fear and become aggressive and dangerous and might have to be killed. Please don't let that happen.