Boondockers: Make sure your hike is a safe one

By Bob Difley

Some time back a 59-year-old woman went missing in a Northern California state park. She went missing for six days before a man and his son found her. When she was finally rescued from where she had fallen from an unmarked trail into a ravine, she said she was uninjured but could not climb out of the ravine and could only wait, hoping to be rescued. Luckily, other than the misery of being unable to sleep at night because of the cold, she was only treated for hypothermia.

There was a small stream in the ravine that supplied her with drinking water but she had no food, no emergency supplies and no cell phone. The nights were very cold and she had only a hooded sweatshirt for warmth. She had told nobody that she was going for the hike, nor where she was going. Her rescue was only accomplished by a great number of volunteers fanning throughout the park, where she was known to hike, and hoping to get lucky.

This hiker’s dilemma should raise the alert flags especially for boondocking RVers who, by the very nature of their love of open country, back roads, backwoods and isolated locations, are at risk of serious problems if they do not take some precautions when camping, hiking, biking or wandering out in the middle of unpopulated areas.

Think of this: You find a terrific isolated canyon out in the desert to boondock, a couple miles off the main road and completely out of sight from the road. There are no other campers around, no hikers pass by, no ATVs. I don’t have enough fingers and toes to count the number of times I have found and boondocked in just such a place.

Now suppose you go out wandering around, exploring the area, up and down canyons and over ridges. What if you were to fall? These desert hills are made up of loose soil and rocks that easily slip and slide from under your feet, easily dispatching you in a head-over-heels sprawl down to the bottom, with possibly a broken leg, or – as the woman hiker found – you are simply unable to crawl out. How long do you think it would take someone to find you?

I have been lost in the desert. I always thought I was smart enough not to be so stupid. I was wrong. After a few turns and twists, the canyons and the terrain start to look eerily similar, and you can’t tell whether you are headed toward your rig or away from it. Luckily, after wandering and climbing ridges to look around, I always found my way back – hungry, thirsty, tired and feeling humbled.

You can keep these possibly life-threatening events from happening to you with a few simple procedures to follow before you set out:

1.  Always let someone know where you are, where you are going and when you will return.

2.  Keep a survival day backpack stocked and ready to go whenever you head out the door for a hike. In it keep the following items:
• Light windbreaker
• Compass
• Cell phone (most have GPS built in)
• Mylar NASA survival blanket (retains 90% of body heat, waterproof, windproof)
• Several energy bars, trail mix
• Matches or lighter, a few sheets of paper (to start a fire)
• Sunglasses
• Sun hat
• Water bottle
• Sunblock
• Small first aid kit
• Multi-tool pocket knife

3.  Leave a note on your rig where you went hiking, when you left, and when you expect to return so that searchers have a chance of finding you.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking, “It will never happen to me.” I’m sure the woman hiker did.

You can find Bob Difley’s RVing e-books on Amazon Kindle.



10 Thoughts to “Boondockers: Make sure your hike is a safe one”

  1. Sum Tin Wong

    Leave a note on your RV where you are and when you should be back. Seriously? Use your imagination what happens next.

  2. Will

    Can’t say enough about the Garmin InReach. We also use it for a tracking device while we’re underway. Our kids and friends can follow us on a Garmin provided webpage map. The gizmo leaves “cookie crums” on the map every 10 minutes. We take it on every hike, too.

  3. Tommy Molnar

    I’ve read differing opinions on the Garmin locator. Most of the glowing reviews came from people who have never had to actually use them, but like the “piece of mind” they got from having one. Others complained of poor customer service from Garmin and subscription issues.

    So, I just won’t get lost . . .

    Ok, please see the tongue in cheek here!

  4. Mike

    Small LED flashlight would be a necessity, it can get pretty dark out there as well as the ability to put up a signal .

  5. Stuart S

    So, my new “Going-for-a-hike” day pack carries:
    Garmin inReach,
    USGS map,
    Compass (lensatic if you have one),
    Matches & Candle,
    Mirror (metal?),
    Personal locator beacon,
    Space blankets,
    Band-Aids & Tape (adhesive or duct)
    Water (Water filter-straw?), and
    Energy bars/snacks.

  6. Stanley Sokolow

    Better than a personal locator beacon would be a satellite communicator like the Garmin inReach, which is what I have. It lets you send out an SOS signal that gives your GPS location coordinates to a 24 hr x 7 days/week emergency dispatch center that can call out search and rescue. But also it lets you send text messages to people on your contact list, communicate with the search & rescue people with 2-way text messaging to give more specific details about your emergency and location, send a link to your contacts showing your location on an online map, etc. The basic service costs about $15 per month, which you can activate or suspend monthly according to your need, plus a small annual fee. You can also get medical evacuation insurance through Garmin for a reasonable fee. It’s much more than just an emergency beacon. It only needs a clear view of the sky so it can “see” the satellite when it passes by. Cell phone signal is not needed. To learn more, search for Garmin inReach online.

  7. Debra

    Carry map and compass and know how to use. GPS phone apps will consume the battery quickly. But one can set a waypoint at the trailhead then turn off the app to preserve battery. If needed the waypoint can be used to help navigate back. This works well in desert that is mostly flat. Of course if you fall in a ravine won’t do much good. So always carry all the items listed in the article and be prepared to overnight.

  8. Bob Minor

    Not sure about leaving a note on the RV – that just tells unscrupulous thieves you’re away and could be gone for hours. I guess it depends on where you are.

    Whistle is a must, so too a small mirror. Depending on location (obviously you would need to be relatively open) a reflection from a mirror can travel 10s of miles.

  9. Bob Godfrey

    I would also suggest considering a purchase of a personal locator beacon. They’re not cheap but will send an emergency signal to a satellite which will trigger emergency response crews virtually anywhere on the continent. We purchased one years ago for not only hiking but for use on our boat besides our standard emergency transmitter. How much is your life worth? PLBs are very compact and efficient and will save your life.

  10. Lanny Collins

    One very important item left off the Bob Difley boondocking list is a “whistle”. You can whistle much much longer than you can holler and it can be heard from a longer distance.

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