Taking a trip into the back country is incredibly rewarding. Being so far from the congestion and distractions is an amazing feeling. Whether you fly, paddle, hike or even drive into a remote spot the feeling of being alone is hard to replicate. But it is important to remember that it is not without risks. Over the years there are certain measures that my group has taken over the years to try to be as safe as we possibly can, and I thought I would share.
This was the Boy Scout motto for a reason, its smart. Prior to heading out on a first ever back country canoe trip our group took a 1 day wilderness survival and navigation course through WSC Survival School WSC Our instructor Dave Arama met us at a local park and taught us how to make fire, build a shelter, filter water and navigate with a compass and handheld GPS. It was very helpful and a lot of fun. Was it overkill? Maybe. But its easy to get turned around in the bush and while you may never have to spend a night away from your cabin or campsite wouldn’t you rather be prepared just in case?
Leading up to our first ever fly in my brother Dave (Leader Cheapskate)and Mark (The Jigging Gnome) took a Wilderness First Aid Course. Think of it this way if you have any sort of medical issue on a back country trip there is going to be a period where only those you are with (or yourself) can help you. You may have to wait for your outfitter to fly in or hold tight while someone paddles for help. The course was 2 days of intense training ranging from basic body system principles, patient assessment, treating shock and hypothermia, airway management, how to stock a good first aid kit to properly cleaning and dressing wounds, setting fractures with makeshift splints (i.e. 2 sticks and some fishing line) and even how to properly immobilize and secure a suspected spinal cord injury. The instructors were great and did an excellent job explaining how these situations can arise in a wilderness /off-grid situation. Luckily we have never had any major injuries on our trip but those guys did save me some serious discomfort when I got an infection from a small cut on my thumb on our first fly in trip Our First Fly In Report
Set the Tone
Whether I am camping with my family or flying into a remote lake for a week with my group I have a little ritual. After we have arrived at our destination but before we start hurriedly unpacking and setting up we pause, crack a cold one (or a cookie) and remind ourselves “We are here to have fun but lets be smart, remember an injury can mean the end of this trip we have been thinking about for months” On our fishing trips we like to have fun. We enjoy our alcohol, we like hanging out at the fire. Nothing wrong with that at all. I also don’t want to be a nag for any of the guys and I am sure they don’t want to nag me. Generally reminding ourselves at the start that “help is not close by, don’t be an idiot and ruin the trip for all of us” is all we need to remember that while we are there to have fun, we need to be smart.
Pack the Gear
There are 3 things I believe every group should have on a backwoods trip:
A way to communicate with the outside world in an emergency. Could be a satellite phone, could be a SPOT or other emergency beacon or if your area has cell service a well charged phone with a back up power source.
Adequate first aid kit. Adequate simply means you have enough supplies for everyone in your group and that your supplies are tailored to your location and activities.
A pocket-sized survival kit. There are a trillion articles out there on the right kit. There’s even a whole movement around using an Altoid’s tin to create one. I pinned a few here Andrew's Pinterest Board. My rig is basic, its just a small zip pouch that holds a pocketknife, a lighter, matches, cotton balls and a whistle. Personally, I have found anything bigger than that small bundle is uncomfortable and gets left behind. Other great ideas I have read about are small bags which are kept in each boat on fishing trip
A good map of the area you are in - most outfitters will supply you with a good map but we have typically done our own research and created our own - well in truth Willy has done all the work- he's a good man!. For Ogoki lake we sectioned the lake off so it was easy to say "hey let's spend time in area 6 C today" so everyone was orientated.
If this post was specific to fishing trips, I would have added a 4th item – two-way radios. We always have one radio for each boat, determine a common channel to use and charge them or check the batteries every night. It allows us to be aware of where everyone is at and if there are any problems. They are also great for trash talking and requesting cigars but that’s not really safety related.
In 2018 we did a fly in fishing trip on Ogoki Lake Ogoki Lake Trip Report. Ogoki is a huge body of water, much larger than we were used to on a back-country trip. One our third day we had ventured father from the camp. Dave and Colin had decided to head back to the cabin as they were low on supplies and let us know on the radio. I had decided I would head back in as well and using my hand-held GPS and map got my bearings and headed out. As I made my way back, I eventually saw Dave and Colin coming up behind me which seemed odd as they had a pretty big head start. I let them catch up and as they pulled up next to me, I heard “Oh man, so glad we saw you, we got totally turned around”. Turns out that they didn’t have a GPS on board, there were two in another boat and for some reason their radio wasn’t connecting. No big deal but it may have been. For the rest of the trip we created a new routine – does every boat have a GPS, all the radios working, every know where we are heading today. After that we had no more issues.
So, if you are planning a trip to the backcountry anytime soon, Be Prepared cause its all fun and games until someone gets a hook in the eye.