To make that family backpacking trek safe and fun, get everyone in shape first, dress right and know what hazards lurk in the wilds. The best training for backpacking is walking, not leisurely strolling. To work up to a real backpacking trek, carry a full pack (equal to at least one-fifth of body weight), even on neighborhood hikes. Start by carrying smaller amounts, gradually adding weight as muscles strengthen.
People who live in the flatlands and plan to go backpacking with a family in mountain country should lug a full pack up and down stairs 50 or even 100 times, one or two times a week. Not an especially delightful way to spend a weekend, but you can make a family competition out of it.
Outdoor clothing must be flexible enough to provide cooling, warmth and dryness. The key is to dress in layers. Start with a basic layer that allows body heat and moisture to dissipate. For nights in high country, add an extra T-shirt, a second shirt, an emergency pair of long-Johns and a spare pair of pants. Sleeveless down vests are best all around, but a hiker needs something extra in the rain.
Hikers call blisters “hot spots.” As soon as you detect a hot spot, stop. Take off boots and socks and cover the sensitive area with a layer of smoothly applied moleskin. It’s available at the drugstore. Carry antibiotic ointment and a padded adhesive bandage in case the blister bursts. If the blister has already developed, apply both, then turn back.
Uncontrollable shivering, exhaustion and drowsiness are early symptoms of hypothermia. Movements become uncoordinated, speech slurs and skin takes on a bluish tinge. Soon, victims experience an overpowering numbness.
If hypothermia has started to set in, remove any wet clothing and wrap the victim in blankets, warm clothing or a sleeping bag. In serious cases, share the swaddling with the victim to provide additional body heat.
Warm food and liquids heavy on calories should be given if the victim is conscious. Medical help is vital for hypothermia when a victim doesn’t respond to first aid measures.
Safe drinking water should also be considered when planning a hike. Just because a wild creek looks clean doesn’t mean the water is safe to drink. The remotest streams and lakes offer the greatest threat of giardia, an intestinal illness caused by a microorganism spread by the feces of beavers and other wildlife. Boiling is the best protection.
Hiking and camping tips
Remember these safety tips when going on a family backpacking:
• Allow adequate time to complete your hike and get home before dark.
• Before exploring a new area, talk to local experts about potential hazards.
• Don’t wear new shoes, but do wear footwear appropriate to the terrain, long pants and high socks. Wear bright-colored clothing.
• Carry a large plastic trash bag, whistle and flashlight. The bag can serve as a coat or shelter. The whistle and flashlight carry farther than your voice if you must call for help.
• If you’re lost, stay put. Choose a tree near a clearing and arrange rocks or limbs in the shape of an arrow in the clearing.
• Before leaving, tell someone your destination and when you will return.
• Handle knives, axes and hatchets with care.
• Before starting a campfire clear away all nearby brush and review the instructions for using your camp stove or fire starter. Keep youngsters away from the fire.