Think ahead before you step off on a hike. Leave an itinerary for loved ones, and and list your plans in case of emergency. If you prepare thoroughly before stepping off into the wilderness, you will have the best chance of returning safely. That old “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” thing.
There are tons of hiker checklists; I’ve seen some lists stretch to multiple pages. Some checklists are so involved that a casual backpacker or weekend camper doesn’t know where to begin and will ignore them.
The Backcountry Checklist below, taken from the Adirondack newspaper Embark, covers the basics and includes other reminders. In particular, it alerts hikers, backpackers, and campers to get the short-term weather forecast and to get current information from the local forest ranger. Just think of all the tragedies that could have been prevented in the backcountry if one had done these two things before stepping off. Even if a storm has ended and it’s sunny and mild out, a Ranger can tell you what rivers may give you trouble, what trails may be closed because of damaged bridges, what other problems to expect.
Note the item–non-cotton clothes–on the list. We’ve all seen young people, and children, in cotton T-shirts climbing mountains. Clueless. You need to wick off that sweat, especially if it turns cold and stormy. I once saw a young hiker and his girlfriend, both in commercial T-shirts, heading up a mountain path in the afternoon. I stopped to ask their intentions, and before I got a word out, he asked me if they would be able to make it up to the peak and back before dark. The young woman was drinking from a 20 oz. Seven-Up bottle. That’s the only liquid they had!
I would add two other reminders to this list: 1) Be physically ready if you plan to do serious hiking. 2) Hike with friends.