author Neil Stawski
Backpacking strips away the comforts of home and leaves hikers with nothing but their gear, their endurance, and their wits. While this makes for a great adventure, it can also lead to dangerous situations. Whether you are taking in the views of the bluffs at the Mississippi Palisades or the moss-covered stone canyons at Starved Rock State Park, be prepared for life on the trail by taking these safety measures before you depart and explore one of the many trails that Northwestern Illinois has to offer.
What to Bring
Preparation is the key to safety on the trail, and packing smart is the first step to making sure you’re ready for everything the mountains have in store for you. On top of your camping and hiking gear, here’s everything you need to pack for a safe trip:
- Trail map (TrailLink lists all the trails in Northwestern Illinois) or guidebook and compass for navigation.
- Personal locater beacon for emergency signaling and letting loved ones know you’re safe.
- Headlamp and extra batteries for finding your way in the dark.
- Water filter or water purification tablets for hydrating safely.
- More food than you think you need.
- Warm clothing layers for bundling up when temperatures drop.
- Sunscreen and sunglasses for protection from high-altitude UV rays.
- Avalanche transceiver, probe, and shovel for surviving an avalanche.
- Fire starter for a fuel-free survival fire.
- Bear canister for keeping food out of wildlife’s paws.
- Hiking first aid kit for dealing with minor injuries on the go.
Staying Safe Outdoors
The mountains are nature’s playground, but their beauty doesn’t come without risks. Here’s what you need to know to stay safe on vacation.
Always bring a trail map and compass on any hike. Acquaint yourself with the route ahead of time and let someone know where you’re going and your timeline. Wear comfortable shoes designed for hiking, weather-appropriate clothing with extra layers, and sunglasses and sunscreen to protect yourself from high-altitude UV rays. Pack more water and food than you think you’ll need. If you’re headed to a remote area, consider purchasing a GPS locator beacon.
Few things take your breath away like encountering a wild animal in its natural habitat, but there are some creatures you only want to see from a distance. Research what wildlife is prevalent along your route and how to handle encounters. The right way to handle a bear or mountain lion run-in is different from a coyote or a snake, but in general, you should always keep your distance and make noise while hiking so you don’t catch a dangerous animal by surprise.
Avalanches claim about 150 lives every year. If you’re heading into avalanche terrain, make sure you know how to stay safe by taking a course on avalanche safety. You can sign up to learn how to recognize dangerous terrain, test snowpack stability, locate buried victims, and protect yourself if you get caught in an avalanche.
Securing Your Home While You’re Away
A safe backpacking trip doesn’t start at the trailhead — it starts at home. Take steps to secure your house before you leave to keep it safe from criminal activity, fires or floods, and other unpleasant situations.
Lock all doors, windows, and other entry points. Stop mail and newspaper deliveries while you’re away, and schedule lawn care or snow removal during your absence. Put lights on timers to create the appearance of an occupied house and leave a car parked in the driveway if possible. If you don’t have a home security system, now is the time to invest in one.
Unplug non-essential appliances and turn off power strips to avoid unnecessary usage and prevent a home fire. Prevent water damage during winter by keeping the heat on and shutting off the main water supply valve. And don’t forget to empty the refrigerator and garbage cans before you go — while it won’t prevent a home disaster, it will make for a more comfortable home upon your return.
By knowing what to bring, how to stay safe throughout the trip, and securing your home for while you’re gone, you can have a great adventure that will be sure to make memories for a lifetime.