4 crucial backpacking tips when going solo

backpacking tips
Backpacking tips include going with somebody, though there are safety precautions to consider if you decide to go alone. Generic backpacking photo by Werner Gillmer/Shutterstock

Backpacker Gregg Hein, who spent six days in the Sierra Nevada waiting to be rescued after breaking a leg, cited four things he would do differently—and will do differently the next time he’s on the trail. They are backpacking tips as crucial as water and food.

“One person’s blunder hopefully will help somebody else,” Hein said at a press conference after his rescue. Some background:

Hein, 33, was backpacking solo in King’s Canyon National Park in California. On Saturday, July 5, he was descending 13,600-foot Mount Goddard when he dislodged a boulder that crashed into the back of his right calf, causing a compound fracture.

The experienced outdoorsman told The Fresno Bee that his foot was soon “dangling” and that he had to grab it so it wouldn’t rip off.

He slide down several ice fields, drank melted ice, ate crickets, moths, a couple of ants and some water bugs, and thought about losing his leg, and possibly even his life.

backpacking tips
Gregg Hein cited four things he’d do differently. He hopes others will take to heart these backpacking tips. Photo is a screen grab from his press conference

Hein had told his father he wouldn’t be home until Monday afternoon. He said he knew the soonest somebody would start looking for him was Tuesday since search and rescue deems a person missing after a day.

The search began on Wednesday, the day his father called the Fresno County Sheriff’s Office to report him missing, according to the Bee.

Thinking he’d find hikers closer to Evolution Valley and knowing he had to get farther down the mountain, Hein had abandoned his backpack on the side of Mount Goddard and taken with him a poncho, pocket knife, cords, whistle and bivvy sack as he crawled to a lower location.

For four days he lay near the edge of a small glacier, icing his leg, which he stabilized with hiking poles wrapped with a belt and cord. On Wednesday, he crawled about a mile toward Davis Lake, hoping his new locale would help rescuers find him.

On Thursday, he saw helicopters, but rescuers didn’t spot him.

“Having been flown over multiple times that day, it was kind of wrenching, and not being able to be seen,” he told reporters. “I’m waving my bivvy sack like a smoke signal trying to get people to notice me. Both the helicopters flew within a 100 yards of where I was and were not able to find me, and someone getting kind of passed over when you want to be found is kind of hard.”

At around 7:30 p.m. Thursday night, a Park Service helicopter landed to deploy rescuers on foot and landed 50 feet from him at Davis Lake. The crew finally spotted him.

backpacking tips
King’s Canyon National Park photo by Miguel Vieira/Flickr

Hein didn’t hesitate when asked what he would do differently:

1. Include a signal mirror among his essentials. Signaling rescuers would be far easier than attempting to wave a bivvy sack.

2. Take a GPS transponder devise. NOAA reports that through July 18, there have been 57 people who have been rescued this year thanks to the use of such devices. Hein could have avoided spending six days waiting to be rescued.

3. Make sure to have more medical gear.

4. Apply for a wilderness permit so there is documentation of a proposed route, and make sure loved ones are aware of that route, too.

Of course, most backpacking tips–hiking tips, too–begin with the instruction of never going alone.

backpacking tips
Among backpacking tips is following a trail. Photo by Yuriy Chertok/Shutterstock

The Fresno County Sheriff’s Office Search and Rescue offers a list of essentials and things to consider when hiking or backpacking.

The Essentials: matches or butane lighter in waterproof container, map and compass, candle, extra clothing, extra water, whistle, first aid kit, knife, tarp for shelter, headlamp or flashlight, ground insulation.

Things to consider:

Tell Someone Where You Are Going. A timetable, itinerary, vehicle description, a list of outer clothing and tent colors, and a copy of a map of where you are going should be left with family friends, etc.

Party Size. A party of four is ideal. A party of two should be considered the minimum. Soloists must understand the risks of “going it alone.” Make sure you have enough experienced people along to manage a group of novices.

Companions. Choose them carefully. Consider experience, judgment, and physical condition. Parties with members of similar abilities usually perform best together. The slowest person should set the pace for the group.

Planning. A must. Current information from maps, guidebooks, park and forest service personnel and those who have been there before can be helpful in trip planning.

If you become lost. Stop and think! Backtrack if possible, trust your compass. Don’t travel more than a short distance unless you know where you are going. If a search is initiated for you it will start at the point you were last seen. If conditions make travel impractical, seek shelter. Make your location visible with brightly colored items, fire, smoke, stamping words out in the snow, etc. Make noise. Use a whistle, firearm, shouts, etc. Three sounds in a row (whistle blasts, gunshots, etc.) is recognized distress signal. Shelter, warmth, and water are more important than food.

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, Hein’s father had warned his son against backpacking alone, and hopes he’s learned his lesson. Apparently he has, telling the Chronicle his risky days of hiking alone are behind him. But he won’t stop hiking and backpacking.

“As soon as I can get back to trail running and hiking, I’ll be out there,” he said. “It’s my community.”

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