Using The 10 Hiking Essentials For Emergency Preparedness
Updated: Apr 15
I work at an outdoor store so when Covid-19 started I was witness to countless people's realization that they weren't prepared for an emergency or natural disaster. The demand for recreational gear dropped off but I was helping people get dehydrated food, water purification systems, cooking systems, lighting, and other survival gear. While the Coronavirus outbreak didn't cut us off from food, water, and power, it highlighted for many of these people how poorly prepared they were if a natural disaster or power outage struck.
If you are an outdoors person you should know about the 10 Essentials for hiking. We've got an article about them and why you should never go on any outdoor adventure without them but you probably didn't realize they also lay the groundwork for emergency preparedness. Staying alive and healthy in unexpected situations is the same whether it is in the backcountry or on lockdown due to a pandemic.
Survival means not dying. It seems simple but many people confuse it with living off the land or other romantic ideas. If you are living through an emergency the only priority is to keep you and your loved ones alive. The goal of survival is to stay alive long enough to get out of the situation or for help to get to you.
Priorities Of Survival
Just like in the emergency room you need to triage your survival needs so you address the most pressing threats first. To help assess this it is important to understand the Rules of Three.
Rules Of Three
As a general guide, this is the time you have to address these situations. Due to environmental factors, these can vary such as extreme cold for exposure or extreme heat and exertion for water requirements. It is just a way to prioritize your needs.
3 Minutes without oxygen - Render first aid if needed
3 Hours of exposure to the elements - Seek shelter and warmth or cooling to maintain core body temperature
3 Days without water - Find and process drinking water
3 Weeks without food - Find and process food
Skills and Strategy
All the gear in the world means nothing if you don't know how to use it. You can take courses, watch Youtube videos and get out and practice the skills. When under stress you will default to your level of training so if you have no training you are screwed. You don't want to have to make a fire in the wet for the first time when your child is hypothermic. With training and practice, you can just act.
One of the most important skills to work on is keeping calm. You can do this by exposing yourself voluntarily to more and more challenging situations. Do things that you are scared of and step outside your comfort zone. By doing that you increase your tolerance to stress and develop skills to manage fear and panic. Nothing is ever improved by panicking but don't expect that you will rise to the occasion if you haven't trained yourself to manage fear.
I use rock climbing and other potentially high-risk past times to recalibrate my fear-o-meter. This will be a lifetime pursuit but like any training, over time you get better at it.
Skills To Practice
Map and Compass Navigation
Mindfulness and Anxiety Management
Using The 10 Essentials As A Blueprint
Below are the 10 Hiking Essentials you should always have with you when you go on a hike or into the backcountry. The categories listed may not all apply depending on what type of emergency you encounter but can be life-saving if you need them.
You should always have a week's supply of non-perishable food on hand. The average adult needs a minimum of 2000 calories per day with larger people needing more. This is just to maintain weight and doesn't factor in increased activity. If you are sheltering-in-place like during the Corona Virus outbreak then aim at the low end but if you have to go on foot with all of your gear due to a natural disaster then the number of calories you will need can double.
Choose foods that are easy to rehydrate like freeze-dried meals, instant rice, energy or protein bars, oatmeal, and instant mashed potatoes. Dried meats like jerky and pepperoni are good as well. For a home-based stay then canned goods of all types are great but you wouldn't want to have to carry them in your pack if you have to leave your home.
For the Covid-19 quarantine, food will be the main thing to stock up on so you don't have to leave your home as often. The more times you hit the grocery store the more likely you are to come in contact with the virus and possibly spread it.
We can go 3 weeks without food but only 3 days without water so having a ready supply for both drinking, cooking and cleaning is of utmost importance. Between drinking and cooking, you should have 4 liters per day per person. A 7 day supply will then work out to 28 liters. You can store it as cases of bottled water or have some large containers such as 5-gallon jerry cans, to store it in. Water will eventually go stale so it is a good idea to turn it over every 6 months.
Having rain collecting barrels can give you water for cleaning and can be disinfected with bleach for drinking and cooking. Use 2 drops of bleach from an eyedropper per liter. Let stand for at least 30 minutes. The water should have a slight chlorine odor. If it doesn't then add another drop per liter and wait another 30 minutes.
Wild water sources can also be used but if you live in a city beware that chemical contamination is a risk in addition to bacteria, viruses, and parasites.
Read our article on Water Purification for more information on how to process safe drinking water.
First Aid & Hygiene
A well-stocked first-aid kit is just part of your system to stay healthy during an emergency. Your first aid kit and training are there to deal with injury and illness but you can do a lot to avoid its use with a good strategy and hygiene practices.
Here is our article on building your own first aid kit.
Good body and food hygiene can go a long way to avoiding contracting bacterial and viral illnesses. As we've all learned washing your hands for 20 seconds can do a lot to avoid the spread of pathogens. Alcohol-based hand sanitizer used between washing is also effective.
Having a good stock of soap, hand sanitizer, disinfecting wipes, rubber gloves, and bleach are all part of keeping safe from viruses like Covid-19 and Norovirus. Foodborne illnesses like Ecoli and Salmonella are also reduced by good hygiene practices.
Feminine hygiene products should be in the kit as well. Aside from the obvious use, pads can be used in first aid.
We would be remiss if we didn't mention an adequate supply of toilet paper. Get a soft kind like Charmin. Your butt is worth it. And if you use disposable wipes don't flush them. They can clog the sewer system which can lead to even more health problems.
Depending on the type of emergency you are facing, your sun protection can be your house but if you are forced from your home then a broad-brimmed hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen can keep you from getting sunburn. Depending on where you live and time of year, this will be a greater or lesser issue.
Again this one is dependant on whether you have to leave your home. If you do you should have a regional paper map and a compass so you can navigate where ever you need to get to without electronics. If there is an emergency center you need to get to or you need to get out of town but don't know the route, you can add to your risk needlessly.
Tools and Repair
Whether for first aid, starting a fire or preparing food the right tools can make all the difference. My tool kit consists of a fixed blade knife, a folding saw, a Swiss Army knife, and a Leatherman multi-tool. With this, there isn't much I can't do.
I also carry a small sewing kit and duct tape to be able to repair gear.
If you are home this is easy but if you have to move then having something as simple as an ultralight tarp can keep you dry and out of the wind. Experienced backpackers can just bring their tent which has the advantage of usually being free-standing. But if you are in an urban setting and have to travel on foot you can often find shelter as well.
While the power is still on you can cook at home but if you are without modern conveniences then being able to make a fire is very important. Fire offers heat, light and allows you to cook and disinfect water. Backpackers can also use their camp stove for this so make sure you have extra fuel canisters and don't use it indoors.
Whether it is a power outage or you are on the move, when the sun goes down you better have a way to see. Headlamps are the most versatile but consider carrying a small lantern for area lighting. Every person in your group should have a light source and extra batteries. When equipping your family aim to have everything use the same size battery if the units aren't rechargeable. If you use rechargeable lights then carry a battery bank to recharge them during the day.
Transporting Your Gear
Having an internal frame backpack of 50-80 liters is a great item to have even if you aren't a backpacker so you have a way to carry all of your gear if you have to leave your home. If you only need it for emergencies then consider getting a surplus military pack with a load-bearing frame. It will do the job and save you some money.
Beyond your first aid kit, if you have any specific medical needs you should make sure you have a stock of medications. We take for granted how easy things are but if you have medications you need such as being diabetic then an interruption in our way of life can be life-threatening. Talk to your doctor about the longest duration you can stock up for at aim to have at least a 30 day supply.
Don't Forget Your Glasses
As a glasses wearer myself, don't forget whatever eyewear you need be it glasses or contacts. If you wear contacts then bring your glasses as well as changing contacts with dirty fingers can be a bugger. Make sure you have a spare pair of glasses in case your main pair gets damaged.
I have a second pair with Transition lenses that darken into sunglasses when it is bright out, acting as both a spare pair and eye protection in the sunlight.
During an emergency, you can't count on TV and the internet to still be up and running so it is good to have a few ways of getting information. A battery-operated or crank radio allows you to get emergency updates even during power failures.
While mainly used for communicating in the backcountry, a satellite communicator like the Garmin Inreach can let you reach out during cut off of the usual pathways. You can get current weather updates and send for help even during a power outage.
Don't Forget Your Pets
So far we have talked about the people members of your family but your fur babies matter too. Stock up on extra food including canned goods and kibble. If your pet has medical issues keep a stock of medications to cover for 30 days.
The Wrap Up
If you use the Hiking 10 Essentials as your base for building up your emergency kit for the home you are off to a solid start. The needs of a lost hiker are similar to an emergency survivor. Staying warm, dry, hydrated and fed covers most of the survival needs during an emergency. Add to this keeping clean and well-rested and you are going to mitigate many of the issues you can run into. When the world goes sideways it is your job to keep yourself and your family alive long enough to get help or for the emergency to pass. Don't be paranoid but be prepared.
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